Blessed chaplain assistant finds peace in helping others

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Melissa B. White
  • 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
"Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier." - Mother Teresa

And just like that, one Airman's life was changed forever.

The story begins with a little girl named Ratna, which means "gem" in Hindi, who was born into an Indian family with a high social status, but she was different - she had a cleft lip and palate and was born with a twin. So, they gave her away because, in her culture, she was seen as a blemish to the family's name and prestige.

At her second home, she was a house girl or servant. One day, she was hungry and ate some food when she wasn't allowed; she was punished by being burnt with fire from head to toe. She ran away.

"I was living off the streets of Bombay," she recalled. "I remember seeing a woman coming to me. She was dressed in a sari that was all white with blue stripes over her head. And I remember her picking me up and wrapping me in blankets ... and I just felt so safe."

Tech. Sgt. Elizabeth R. L. Man was that little girl. She was taken to an orphanage in New Delhi by the Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. There, she was adopted by an Army nurse in 1974 and was now part of a family that would be hers forever. Her mother gave her the name Elizabeth, naming her after Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton to whom she prayed every day for a child she could adopt. Sergeant Man's family grew to have three more siblings, other children adopted from India and America.

Looking back, she doesn't know her biological parents, she never met her twin, she doesn't know where she was born - maybe Bangladesh or Calcutta - and she doesn't even know her real birthday. Her birth certificate has two different dates: Jan. 2 and June 2, but she celebrates the latter. Her year of birth may even be off by about four years based on an x-ray of the growth plate in her wrist when she was younger.

"I think I'm completely normal and that nothing I've been through is strange or different," Sergeant Man said. "I've been through a difficult life, burnt, given up, abandoned, but you know what? It's made me who I am today. I have found refuge in God and I know he has a purpose for me here. I feel like ... I was put here to help others."

Currently assigned to the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, she has definitely found a way to reach out and help others; she is a chaplain's assistant.

Sergeant Man joined the Air Force nearly 17 years ago, but the Air Force wasn't her first choice. She said she first signed up to join the Army to be a licensed practical nurse, but she would have to wait a year before she would be able to leave for training. So she turned to the Air Force, which guaranteed her to leave right away if she went in the open administrative career field.

"I've always wanted to join the military because I grew up a military brat," said the sergeant who claims Salinas, Calif., as her home because that's the place she lived the longest, 10 years while her mother was stationed there.

She went off to Air Force Basic Military Training in March 1994, but she had no clue what her job was going to be. One day, her military training instructor handed her a piece of paper that, when she turned it over, all it read was "chapel."

"After that I remember going to my rack, which is what I called my bed in basic, and crying," she said. "And I prayed and said, 'Lord, if this is your will, than put peace within my spirit. Then I went to the chapel and had an interview with the staff for a job as a chaplain's assistant. After that, I prayed in the sanctuary and I was like, 'Why me? Why this job?' And then I came out and signed the paperwork saying that I didn't want the job and I went back to the squadron.

"After I graduated, I found myself on a plane and I thought I was going to Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., to personnel school, but I got off the plane at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.," she continued. "A lady came up to me and told me I was going to be the class leader for the chaplain assistant class and my jaw dropped. I was like, 'are you kidding me?' She asked me where my bags were, and I told her they were at Keesler .... and they were."

Sergeant Man said her name ended up being on the roster for both courses, but she decided to stay at Maxwell AFB to go through the chaplain's assistant course.

"I love doing it for him and I think this job is a stepping stone to a bigger and better plan he has for me," she said. "I like being able to work with people and being proactive by getting to know them and what their likes and dislikes are and just being able to make their horrible days better."

As a chaplain's assistant, she helps provide administrative, religious and program support for chaplains. She organizes bible studies, training for topics such as suicide awareness back at home station, visitations to base units, and is on-call 24/7 as a first responder to incidents where her support is needed.

"She has a big heart and she always puts others before herself," said Senior Airman Otis Williams, a 451st AEW chaplain's assistant. "She knows her job very well and she has a lot of qualities I would like to obtain someday. She is a great role model."

With a little more than three years left, she plans to retire from the military at her 20-year mark. She hopes to have a family someday and also wants to continue caring for people, but in a different capacity as a trauma care nurse.

"My needs are always secondary to those around me because everyone else always comes first; I don't know how to be selfish," Sergeant Man said. "I feel like I was called to help those in need."

No matter whether she's a chaplain assistant or working hands-on with patients, she spreads love wherever she goes and people always seem to leave happier when they meet her ... maybe that one moment may change their lives too just as hers was changed by a small act of kindness.