If you were to use all of her titles, you might end up calling her Ms. Reverend Doctor Chaplain Lieutenant Colonel Myrtle Bowen.

A living, breathing definition of hard work, intelligence and dedication, Bowen, currently holds three posts: she’s a civilian engineer for the U.S. Army at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, a chaplain with the U.S. Air National Guard in Washington D.C. and pastor of Galbraith AME Zion Church in Northwest Washington. And not only does she hold those posts, but her designation to each of them represents a historic milestone.

Bowen was honored March 4 as part of the celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Women in Military Chaplaincy at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. The event marked the opening of an exhibit entitled “Celebrating 40 Years of Women Chaplains: A Courageous Journey of Faith and Service.” She is featured in a mural at the museum in two locations as part of the exhibit.

On the civilian side, she was also recently honored as a STEM professional for her 27 years of service at JBM-HH as part of the National Women’s History Month commemoration. Bowen, chief of the master planning division at the facility, oversees projects for space management, real estate, architecture and master planning.

On Palm Sunday, Bowen led the members of Galbraith through a rousing service that included traditional gospel hymns and a dynamic sermon. Adorned in a long white robe, she greeted her congregation with a cheery “Good morning, beloveds in Christ,” added her voice to hymns including “What A Friend We Have in Jesus,” then delivered a dynamic message entitled “What the Master Needs.” Punctuating her points with jabs in the air and raising her arms skyward, she urged the congregants to use the gifts and talents that God gave them to serve Him.

“God needs what you’ve got!” she told the congregation to dignified applause and cheers. “God needs your talent! God needs your resources! God needs your time! God needs your commitment! God needs what you’ve got because He gave it to you and He wants you to give it back to Him!”

In an interview after the service, Bowen explained that her drive is an effort to do just what she discussed in her message—give back to God. She credits God for the talents that have led her to excel in military and civilian service in three male-dominated fields.

“I realized early on that I was like that old E.F. Hutton commercial. When I spoke, people listened,” Bowen said. That ability to gain people’s attention helped her move through the ranks to her current high-profile posts.

She has been a member of the ministry for 19 years. Galbraith, where she took the helm in 2009, is her fourth pastoral appointment and the first time in the church’s 170-plus-year history that a woman has been in charge. Bowen has also spent 27 years as a civilian architectural and civil engineer for the U.S. Army and is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air National Guard. She currently serves as the wing chaplain of the “Capital Guardians” of the Washington D.C. 113th Air National Guard, where she provides spiritual leadership to some 1,200 service members in charge of the keeping the skies over the capital safe.

Asked about her firsts, she sighed and smiled, then ticked them off: the first woman to pastor Clinton AME Zion Church in Rockville, which she did from 2005 to 2009; first Black woman to hold her post with the D.C. Air National Guard; the first African American to serve as chief of the master planning division at JBM-HH; first woman appointed to senior pastor of a major city AME Zion church in her division.

“I have three full time vocations,” Bowen said. “It doesn’t leave much time to sleep.”

Bowen had both clergy and hard work in her blood. Born in Hartford, Conn., she was raised in a Baptist family. Her father, Eugene, was a deacon in a Baptist church in Suffield, Conn. Her mother was a missionary who was ordained after Bowen. Her older brother, Eric, also pastors a church in Connecticut.

Bowen described herself as a good student who initially wanted to be a pediatrician. She attended a tech high school where she was a member of the tennis and track teams and the ski club. After graduation, she headed to North Carolina A&T, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering in 1985. She also holds master’s and doctorates from the Howard University School of Divinity.

She began her civilian career at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina, where she designed an electronic gate to separate Fort Bragg Army Base from Pope, according to a story in the JBM-HH {Pentagram} newspaper.

She was working as an architectural engineer and serving in the ministry when she decided to join the military. On August 8, 1998, she was officially sworn in to the U.S. Air Force.

“It started with a passion to serve God and country in an unusual way,” she said of working three jobs. “I enjoy building buildings, and I enjoy building people.” She is also “building for God’s kingdom,” Bowen said.

She also admits that she drives herself hard to do a good job. “I strive for perfection, but I’ll settle for excellence,” she said.

Bowen admits that her schedule does not allow her much free time. Her pastimes include going to the theater, sports and traveling, especially to locations where she can indulge in the ocean. Her travels for fun and business have taken her to South Africa, Liberia, Ghana, England, Germany, France and Korea.

“I’m working on my second passport,” she said.

Bowen said she wants to continue to advance. She hopes to advance to the rank of general in the military and acknowledges that she would be thrilled to serve in a higher capacity within her faith.

Though she is ambitious, the mark she hopes to leave goes back to giving to God, the theme of her Palm Sunday sermon on March 24. Asked about her legacy, she said wants to be remembered as someone who “was a builder of God’s people.”


Zachary Lester

AFRO Staff Writer