Col. Leah Botona Boling took seat Sept. 12 as the first female and person of color to serve as director of the Air National Guard Chaplain Corps at the Air National Guard Readiness Center at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. Though her military chaplain service began more than 19 years ago, Boling’s dedication to guiding others through chaplaincy has been a life-long passion.
Boling first felt drawn to serve the faith when she was just a little girl living in the Philippines. Growing up in the City of Mati, Boling often witnessed a woman in her community, named Lola Pada, helping hospital patients as a volunteer chaplain.
Years later, Boling was working as a college intern at the Bureau of Customs in the Philippines when she was approached by a missionary and mentor who asked if she felt called to ministry. This divine intervention sparked Boling’s fond memory of Lola Pada and, ultimately, led to her forfeiting the internship to begin a journey toward chaplaincy.
Once graduated from the Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary in Baguio, Boling moved to Honolulu to work as a hospital chaplain and soon met her husband, Jeff — an Airman stationed on the island.
“My husband actually told me about military chaplaincy and suggested I look into enlisting,” Boling said. “I didn’t think it was for me until I found out my Sunday school teacher was the wing chaplain at the 154th Wing. He introduced me to the Air National Guard.”
Boling continued to contemplate if military service was right for her up until the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
“When I saw the attacks on our nation, I cried the entire morning and prayed,” Boling said. “I felt a resolve to help and knew I had the skills, both for mental health and spiritual healing, to help people get through this.”
In April 2002, Boling swore in as the first female chaplain in Hawaii Air National Guard history.
“Military chaplaincy is similar to a church pastor,” Boling said. “The only difference is that my church is bigger than the steeple because my church is wherever in the world Airmen are. I baptize. I marry. I bury. I counsel. All the great work that pastors do, I can provide for Airmen anytime, anywhere.”
As the first female ANG chaplain corps director, Boling believes that her perspective may offer new outlooks for National Guard decision-makers.
“My own viewpoint, my own experience is so unique and that’s the thing about diversity. Everyone has their own story and way of seeing the world,” Boling said. “Whether it’s diversity of thought, gender, ethnicity, religion or even sexual orientation, diversity in leadership is important because it reflects our population and brings so many powerful experiences to the conversation. Diversity is important because it’s the right thing to do.”
Boling says that her Filipina heritage will also play a significant role in how she will lead the ANG chaplain corps forward.
“In Filipino culture, we have a concept called Bayanihan,” Boling said. “Growing up, I’d see people in my community work together to literally pick up a neighbor’s house with their bare hands in order to carry it to a safer or better area.”
This Bayanihan spirit speaks to community members joining together to achieve great feats; a metaphor that Boling translates to working with her fellow wingmen to accomplish the mission.
“That teamwork, that Filipino family concept, that Bayanihan, I’m bringing that to the table as the [ANG] director of chaplains.”
Boling acknowledges that her ascension to this role is a significant milestone for Air Guard leadership diversity. Moreover, she hopes that breaking this barrier will inspire young girls, women and people of color to also aim high.
“Whatever you want to accomplish, whatever your goal is, it’s attainable. You just have to put in the work to get there,” Boling said. “Connect with mentors, friends and family members who will validate you, support you and give you honest feedback. Maximize your education and use your own experiences to help others. Above all, speak your truth, be genuine and do the best you can to be the best you can every day.”
Today, Boling’s term is underway serving as advisor to the ANG director and Headquarters Air Force chief of chaplains on all matters pertaining to religious freedom, accommodation, morale and readiness of chaplains across the enterprise.
“I bring the female perspective, the mother perspective, the Filipina perspective and, most important, the Leah Botona Boling perspective. As I sit among all of the directors at the Air National Guard Readiness Center, I’ll use pieces of each perspective to make sure that every decision we make is nurturing, caring and in the best interest of our Airmen,” Boling said.