Bonnie Koppell

  • Years of Service: 36
  • Branch of Military: U.S. Army
  • Rank:  Colonel
  • Wars Involved in: Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq

My career in the US Army began on 22 May, 1978, when I took the oath of office and swore to defend the Constitution of the United States of America.  I was a 22 year old rabbinical student, a 2LT in the Chaplain Candidate program.  Upon endorsement by the Jewish Welfare Board (JWB) as the first female ever approved, I completed the Chaplain Officer Basic Course in 1979.  Upon graduation in 1981, controversy over the endorsement of female rabbis led to a several year delay while the JWB resolved this issue.  Thirty six years later, I now serve as a Colonel and Command Chaplain of the 807th Medical Command (Deployment Support), headquartered at Fort Douglas, UT.

There have been so many highlight along the way, including a Team Spirit exercise in South Korea, 2 summers in Germany, and several deployments to provide Jewish religious support in various combat theatres- twice each to Iraq for Passover and to Afghanistan for Chanukkah.  I have also had the privilege of traveling to Kuwait for seders and speaking engagements.  In support of Operation Noble Eagle following the events of Sept. 11th, I served a year of active duty at Fort Huachuca, AZ as a Military Intelligence Brigade chaplain.  It was a challenging opportunity to be the first Command Chaplain of the 63D Regional Support Command.  In 2013, I received a Master of Strategic Studies from the US Army War College. I also was honored to receive a Legion of Merit medal from the 63d RSC.

Serving Soldiers and Families has been a humbling privilege.  The role of the chaplain is unique- a confidential advisor to every troop, from the newest recruit to the most senior commander.  As a rabbi, it has been deeply rewarding to bring the strength and comfort of Jewish spiritual practice to far-flung corners of the world.  I will never forget a Sergeant confiding, “I didn’t realize how much I longed to connect with my people,” and another bright-eyed young woman joyously saying after seder, “It’s almost like being at home.”  Pro Deo et Patria- for God and Country!


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