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Nevada Air National Guard commissions its first African-American Chaplain

Ch. Tim Gregory (left) and Christena Gilliam (right) pins 1st Lt. Shay Gilliam’s insignia on during his commissioning ceremony at the Nevada Air National Guard Base on Oct. 1, 2014. Gilliam is the Nevada Air National Guard's first African-American Chaplain.

Ch. Tim Gregory (left) and Christena Gilliam (right) pins 1st Lt. Shay Gilliam’s insignia on during his commissioning ceremony at the Nevada Air National Guard Base on Oct. 1, 2014. Gilliam is the Nevada Air National Guard's first African-American Chaplain.

Reno, Nev. -- On October 1st, the Nevada Air National Guard commissioned its first African-American Chaplain during a ceremony at the 152nd Airlift Wing here in Reno.  Friends, family members and co-workers gathered in the Wing's auditorium to see Chaplain 1st Lt. Shay Gilliam receive his lieutenant bars and take his commissioning oath.

"The conversion of chaplain assistant Shay Gilliam to Chaplain as a first lieutenant is a huge gain for the men and women of the Nevada Air National Guard," said Lt. Col. David Manson, the 152nd Airlift Wing's chief of staff.  "We couldn't be more excited to have Shay and his ministry as part of the Chaplain team for the future challenges our unit may face," Manson continued.

"Becoming a chaplain means that I get to do some good things for the Air Force which have eternal value," said the newly-commissioned Gilliam.  "God put me on this road, I'm just trying to follow His directions," said the South Carolina native on pursuing this new path in his life.

Other Chaplains were on hand for the ceremony.  One was the previous 152nd Airlift Wing Chaplain, Ch. Col. Tim Gregory. 

"Over the past 9 years, Ch. Shay Gilliam has faithfully served the 152nd Airlift Wing and the Nevada Air National Guard as a chaplain assistant.  In this capacity, Ch. Gilliam made vital inroads into airmen's lives and established ministries that supported service members' families.  In his new capacity as an Air Force Chaplain, Ch. Gilliam's ministry will continue to expand as members and their families are able to be encouraged and inspired through his broader ministry role," said Gregory.

Gilliam hopes to help the organization in his new capacity by using his expertise.  "Chaplains serve their people, but to God, we are the people's shepherds. We are accountable to God for how we minister to people and how we foster their spiritual relationship with Him. Even if people do not want to have a relationship with God, we still feel responsible to care for them in their greatest times of need," were some of his thoughts on his new role.

Being the first African American chaplain in the Nevada Air National guard made Gilliam feel both surreal, and more than a little humbled.  He also noted that he is a "student of culture" and how culture enhances the "flavor" of an organization.  He hopes to bring a little "flavor" to the voice of the chaplaincy.

Prior to commissioning, Gilliam served as a chaplain assistant with the 152nd Airlift Wing.  He was superintendent in charge of Chapel Operations for the Nevada Air National Guard and recently fulfilled a year-long deployment with the 152nd Airlift Wing's Intel Squadron.  As a Chaplain Assistant, he received the prestigious awards of Top Graduate in his Chaplain Assistant Apprentice Course and the Air National Guard Chaplain Assistant of the Year award in 2012. 

Before his time with the Nevada Air National Guard, Gilliam served on active duty with the 9th Air Refueling Squadron at Travis AFB, Calif. as an in-flight refueling operator.  He accrued over 2,400 flight hours and served on numerous deployments and temporary operations.