Michigan National Guard Engineer Finds Passion as Religious Affairs Specialist

Feb. 16, 2021 | By Webmaster

Michigan National Guard

Story by 2nd Lt. Ashley Goodwin

WASHINGTON - It was a chance meeting with her former recruiter that kept Sgt. Krystal Melton serving her community and nation in the Michigan Army National Guard.

Melton had been in the Michigan Army Guard for six years serving as a carpentry and masonry specialist, as well as heavy equipment operator, and was at the end of her enlistment contract. She wanted to serve as a chaplain, but the master’s degree she needed seemed unattainable. And the majority of her first six years, Melton traveled as much as three hours for weekend drills.

It all piled up, she said, and she was frustrated.

Melton determined it was time for a change. That’s when she ran into her recruiter, Master Sgt. Ty Sweet, while attending an event designed to encourage Soldiers to stay in the service.

“Why are you getting out?” she said he asked her. “You love the Army and serving Soldiers.”

While that moment happened three years ago, she remembered it clearly.

“I didn't know how to respond, other than explaining that I felt like I had reached a dead end,” said Melton.

After listening to Melton’s frustration, Sweet looked into things and found three different locations where units needed a religious affairs specialist, an enlisted Soldier who aides a chaplain in his or her duties. It wasn’t the same as being a chaplain, but it was close. One unit – the 3rd Battalion, 126th Infantry Regiment - was located only ten minutes away from her home in Wyoming, Michigan.

“My recruiter introduced me to the leadership,” said Melton. “And over the last three years, I’ve enjoyed serving as their RAS.”

Melton reclassified from her previous military specialty and has not looked back. She described her first years as a chaplain’s assistant as formative to her self-development because she poured her heart into the Soldiers in her unit.

From the beginning, she felt supported by leadership, she said. Her previous unit made the transition very smooth and she was welcomed immediately by the then unit commander, Col. Ravi Wagh.

“His mammoth hand swallowed mine as he greeted me,” laughed Melton. “He told me, ‘Sergeant, no matter where we are in the field, you just tell us when, and we’ll take a knee and say a prayer.’"

Prior to attending the training to become a religious affairs specialist, Melton learned by asking questions and studying the chaplain.

“My role quickly unfolded to be all-things support for the chaplain - force protection, navigator, report administration, logistics coordinator and morale builder,” said Melton. “It was my role to battle-track and ensure that the chaplain was able to reach as many Soldiers as possible.”

Going through training solidified Melton in her role. Back at her unit, she and the chaplain traveled site-to-site during training events. In the middle of the woods, they would do 'rounds,’ checking on the overall well-being of Soldiers, mentally, physically and spiritually, and offering religious services as needed.

“I learned how to integrate with anyone, anywhere,” said Melton. “I gained a fearless approach to seeing people for who they are, not what rank they are. In my role, I do my best to reach people where they are at and leave them better than I found them.”

Melton has since moved on and is part of the unit ministry team with the Michigan Army Guard’s 177th Military Police Brigade and is currently serving in Washington as part of the U.S. Capitol security mission.

Melton’s experience in Washington is her first mission with a brigade-level element.

“It is bigger and more complex,” expressed Melton. “I watch in amazement as every section has such an important piece in the overall mission.”

No less important is the role of Melton and the chaplain as they rotate through the lines to check in with Soldiers and how they’re doing while on-mission.

“We do our best to talk with 50 to 70 Soldiers per day,” said Melton with a smile.

Within this mission, there have been unit ministry teams with units from seven different states. Melton found there were several chaplains without RASs and RASs without chaplains.

“We have been able to pair the teams together and allow the newer RASs to cross-train with chaplains from different states,” said Melton. “Some of them are so new that they have not had the opportunity to truly support their chaplain or their unit. They have texted me, thanking me for the opportunity to learn more in their role. We plan to offer training within the week to help them understand how important they are.”

As Melton did her rounds, she chatted with a Soldier who had previously been an RAS in the Navy.

“He mentioned that based on our conversation this week he was really inspired to get back into the field,” said Melton, beaming with excitement. “It felt so special to forward him an open position within the 3-126th Inf. Regt.”

Occasions like this remind Melton of why she extended her enlistment with the National Guard three years ago.

“Whether it’s through conversations in the field or in a [church] service, I truly enjoy being able to uplift and serve other Soldiers,” said Melton.