Mildenhall Chaplain changes lives for three decades

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Alexandria Lee
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
“I knew my life’s calling, but I tried to run from it as far as I could for as long as I could,” said Chaplain Capt. Kennie Neal, 100th Air Refueling Wing chaplain. “I knew I was called to minister the Gospel, and my ministry was the Air Force.”

Chaplain Neal spent 23 years in the enlisted force and decided to see what the officer side was like from a spiritual perspective.

“I never thought this would be my life,” Neal said. “I didn’t believe I would be able to answer my purpose. The Air Force has been a huge building block for me to build the confidence to lead others on the same journey to grow their relationship with God.”

In 1988, Neal joined the Air Force Reserves at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois as a part of security forces before cross training as a personnelist. After nearly a decade as a reservist, Neal went active duty as a recruiter for nearly another decade.

“I’ve always been a part of the church since my childhood, it’s where I met my wife and where I was also a youth minister,” Neal said. “But it was in the military where I heard my calling and accepted it. I asked God what he wanted from me, and asked that my desire line up with His plan. I saw there was a huge lack of participation from the military chaplains in my unit when I first started out. As a security forces Airman, chaplains could have helped me and I’m sure countless others if they were more involved. That’s where I saw myself, filling in that gap.”

Once Neal accepted his call as a minister, he knew God would make a way for him to follow his dream and become an Air Force Chaplain. While helping young men and women better themselves by joining the Air Force, Neal attended night seminary school.

“Chaplain Neal has been a huge impact on my military experience,” said Airman 1st Class Clarence Bennett, 100th Maintenance Squadron non-destructive inspection apprentice. “As a young Airman you sometimes feel overlooked, but Chaplain Neal makes sure we’re heard, that I’m heard and understood.”

Neal puts his faith into work by ensuring Team Mildenhall’s Chaplains Corps are directly involved with the Airmen, so they provide a better quality of life for them.

“The Airmen are not only the backbone to our Wing, but the Air Force; that’s why the Young Airmen’s Council is so important to me,” Neal said. “That’s how we make a change. The council touches young Airmen to lead and take charge, which is where I see my difference taking place. I get to see young Airmen grow not only through their careers, but as a leader.”

Bennett agreed.

“I have grown so much since joining,” Bennett said. “The council builds you up in leadership and public speaking. Our advisors encourage us to follow through with plans and commitments because it’s not just about ourselves, it’s about our team.”

Chaplain Neal participates with Team Mildenhall Airmen in a variety of ways, not only as the YAC leader but as a confidant as well.

“I have been a mentor to many and a life coach to some,” Neal said. “When Airmen come to me, young and old, sometimes they need help repainting their picture when they want to get out - or give in. I try to help them hold on, and show there is hope for them. Airmen are our biggest resources and they are the chaplain’s sole focus. We are here to give them whatever guidance they need -- religious, spiritual or mental.”

“That is what keeps me going after 30 years in the military -- the Airmen,” he said. “To God be all of the glory.”