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Butts County native recognized for historic role

Alice Henderson holds a plaque she received while in the U.S. Army. Henderson served as the first female chaplain in the U.S. Army. She was commissioned with the designation in 1974.

Alice Henderson holds a plaque she received while in the U.S. Army. Henderson served as the first female chaplain in the U.S. Army. She was commissioned with the designation in 1974.

Native Butts County resident Alice Henderson was commissioned as the first female chaplain in the U.S. Army in 1974, and today she is still being recognized as a history maker in the United States armed forces.

She said the Army is currently drafting a documentary spotlighting her as the first black-female chaplain in the armed forces, and the first female chaplain, of any race, in the U.S. Army.

Henderson said most of her Army memorabilia was recently collected for a display at the American Military Museum in Charleston, S.C.

The documentary, according to Henderson, will spotlight the accomplishments she achieved during her 13-year tenure in the U.S. Army and will note her as a part of American history.

Reflecting back on her military days, Henderson said that she experienced a lot of negativity regarding her designation, such as racism, sexism and inferiority issues from other officers, but she said that she is glad that she has had an opportunity to make history, and serve her country, despite her adversities.

She said that it all started when she became an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) minister while at school at what used to be Clark College, now Clark-Atlanta University, and the Interdenominational Theology Center in Atlanta. She said that at the age of 19 she was offered the position as a minister at a church in Forsyth with only 19 members.

She said even with all the credentials required to be an AME minister, she was not able to lead even the small flock of 19 without a car and declined the position.

Soon after declining the offer to pastor the Monroe County congregation, she said that she was asked by one of her professors while still in theology school, at ICT, to join the armed forces to possibly become a chaplain.

“At first I didn’t want to go to any part of the armed forces at all,” Henderson said. “But after some careful consideration and thought, I decided to talk to some recruiters of several branches of the military.”

She said that the first branch she was interested in was the U.S. Navy, then the Air Force but finally the U.S. Army invited her to join their branch as their first female chaplain.

Henderson said that her first assignment, after completing chaplain school at Fort Hamilton, N.Y., and was at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Henderson said that her responsibilities included offering spiritual and emotional support for troops in the U.S. Army.

After her 14 months at Fort Bragg, Henderson said that she was moved to Camp Humphries in Korea as the chaplain for the 19th Aviation Battalion.

While there, she said that she started a troop choir which grew to more than 200 members, and included prostitutes from the Korean cities that she helped to reform.

After her stationing in Korea, Henderson said that she was re-stationed at Fort McClellan in Alabama where she became the chaplain for the 12th Military Police Battalion.

She said that this assignment was one of the most rewarding because she, being the first female chaplain of the U.S. Army, was working alongside Gen. Mary Clarke, who was the first female commander of a post in the U.S. Army.

For eight more years, Henderson said that she was stationed in several other places including Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, Baumholder, Germany, and her final assignment at Fort Benning.

She said that being a chaplain in the armed forces was the best thing she could have done for herself regarding ministry, because it made her a multi-cultural minister, who is able to preach to all denominations and religions.

She said that during her time in the Army, she earned lots of respect. She said that many high-ranked officers in the military called her one of the most influential people in the U.S. armed forces.

Henderson is a resident of Indian Springs.

She said that there is not a tentative date yet for the release of the documentary.


CORRECTION: An article in the Sept. 26 edition of the Jackson Progress-Argus, entitled, “Butts County native recognized for historic role,” contained incorrect information. Alice Henderson said the Army’s documentary will spotlight her role as the Army’s first female chaplain, of any race, though she was not the first female chaplain in the armed forces. Further, she said when she finished seminary at age 26, she was asked to pastor a five-member church, which she declined. It is the policy of the newspaper to correct errors of fact that appear in its pages.