USAF’s top Chaplain Corps’ NCO left the barre behind
Story by Brian Lepley on 09/19/2019
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas Like most teenagers, Angela Carter had life all figured out, spending 40-plus hours a week ballet dancing.
“Starting at age 11 I danced pre-professionally all over,” the master sergeant remembered from her office at the 37th Training Wing. “At the Virginia School for the Arts, Ohio’s Ballet Met, American Ballet Theater; I was very intense in that. That was my love.”
As the JBSA-Lackland Religious Affairs Superintendent, she’s familiar with the saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”
“I stayed a straight-A student. I tried out for arts colleges but performing arts schools are extremely expensive,” she said. “I couldn’t afford college and my parents were in the middle of a divorce during my senior year. I was working normal teenager jobs; I didn’t want to join the military.”
What ballet lost, the Air Force Chaplain Corps gained. Carter is the 2018 Gerald Cullins Award winner, recognized as the USAF’s Outstanding Religious Affairs Senior NCO.
She manages the Air Force’s largest chapel program with three distinct audiences, Basic Military Training, Technical Training, and Installation Ministries.
“My team is quite large,” Carter said. “We support 19 different faith groups; have two chapels and a ministry center, with 14 chaplains.”
According to Col. Leslie Janovec, Joint Base San Antonio senior chaplain, Carter’s management of it is heavenly.
“She quarterbacks the largest budget of all Air Force chapels, overseeing execution of $2 million in contracts and 132 resilience programs, which positively impact 7,000 military members and their families, providing spiritual nurture and care,” Janovec said. “She is heavily involved in base and community programs, recruiting and training 453 volunteers for 25 different outreach programs, and raising funds that assists low-income and special needs families.”
Carter was born in Spain to two activeduty enlisted Airmen. Her family settled near McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, when her mother got out and her father went AGR.
When her dancing future derailed, she found herself where she swore she’d never be, in an Air Force recruiter’s office.
“I’m looking at my life. I didn’t want to live with my mom or dad and I was really mad at my dad, so I pulled the teenaged “I hate you” thing,” Carter said. “I decided to join the military.
“I just wanted a college education and I wanted out.”
A few weeks into basic training, she and her fellow new Airmen got the jobs list.
“Everybody said If you don’t want security forces, don’t leave a line blank.’ You get 10 selections so I filled them up with medical jobs and had one line open,” Carter said. “I chose this career field not knowing what it was, but it was better than security forces, so I wrote it down.”
While growing up, her family did not attend church.
“Never. We never went. My parents grew up in the old Catholic church so I think they were just over it,” she said. “My brothers and I were baptized when we were newborns but I think that’s the only church we ever saw.”
It was 11 years into Carter’s career when she ended up at Lackland, selected as a Military Training Instructor.
“I got my letter in 2014 that said, congratulations, you are the number one, non-volunteer Military Training Instructor,” she said. “I was so mad. I had an attitude. But once I’m in it, I’m in it. I ended up loving it. I actually extended, ended up doing almost five years.”
Carter earned a reputation as a problem solver in the Air Force’s Basic Military Training center at JBSA-Lackland.
“She is a go-getter. When she gets to an assignment, she gets her feet on the ground and gets things done,” said Tech. Sgt. Arnold Perez, a JBSA-Lackland chaplain’s assistant. “I served with her when we were first-term Airmen 14 years ago.”
Janovec knows Carter’s drive to do good work extends outside the chapel’s doors.
“She spearheaded embedding and utilizing Religious Affairs Airmen in BMT and Technical Training squadrons, who became force multipliers and sensor nodes for commanders,” the senior chaplain said. “Master Sgt. Carter also led a climate Tiger Team advising Air Education and Training Command, which resulted in brand new curriculum and courses.”
The Cullins Award is Carter’s first career field recognition, which she values because of the awards she’s won outside her job: as an IMT, for field training, at Airmen leadership School and the NCO Academy. Carter earned her bachelor’s degree in her eighth year of service and completed her masters while she was an IMT.
“I always felt I had to prove something. Maybe that’s why I give 110 percent in everything I did because I was trying to show people I was capable, I was competent and committed,” she said. “I’m always working on self-improvement but now I do it for me, not for show.”
Perez remembers when Carter was his sponsor at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, and soon she will be moving to Lackland’s Freedom Chapel to be his supervisor.
“She’s high speed and she’s someone who takes care of her people and I’ve learned the right way to do that from her,” Perez said. “If she doesn’t know the answer you need, she’ll go find it.”
When Carter looks back to that teenage ballet dancer that had it all figured out, there’s no regrets. She’s learned how to take care of herself.
“I thought I knew where I was going and I see dance going away, I don’t know where I’m going at all,”
she said. “That world (dance) is extremely competitive, but now I feel like I don’t have anything to prove to anybody anymore.
“There was a path of discovery outside of the world of dance for me in the Air Force. I’m extremely grateful for what the Air Force has provided.”