White wins award for patriotism

— When Cmdr. Jane Bingham was called to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom in April, there was one thing she knew she didn't have to worry about: her full-time job in Colorado.

Bingham has been a chaplain for the Navy Reserves for almost 20 years, but for the past eight years, she also has worked as a therapist and a program coordinator in Walden for Colorado West Regional Mental Health.

When she was called to serve, her supervisor at the time, Routt County Human Services Director Bob White, supported her every way he could, she said.

"I've always had his support," Bingham said. "It's not just that I'm in the reserves. He's that kind of employer, from my perspective and my experience."

Bingham said she valued his support so much that when she found out there was a national-level award for especially supportive employers, she nominated White.

On Monday, Bingham presented the award from a division office of the Secretary of Defense designating White as a patriotic employer.

"I don't have words that can express the honor and gratitude," White said after receiving the award. "I kind of saw it as just my duty to figure out a way to help her go do her duty."

Bingham said she felt called to become a clergyperson in her early 20s when she was talking with her church's minister, and the idea just clicked.

"It was something that I didn't have any control over at all. It was a calling," she said.

A few years after completing college and seminary school, she visited the military booth at a church conference and was asked which branch she wanted to chaplain.

She pointed to the Navy, and when the military representative asked her why, she joked because she'd look better in that uniform than any of the others. To her surprise, the Navy was looking for ministers and wanted her.

This year will be the 19th that Bingham has been on the reserves.

"I almost made 20 without getting a phone call," she said. "Always ready but never needed."

But on April 9, she got the call. She responded April 10.

She served the Third Marine Air Wing and was stationed at a Marine Corps air station in San Diego. She provided spiritual and psychological support to the 24,000 Marines who were deployed to Iraq to provide air support for troops, bring supplies and transport out the injured.

She worked with the returning Marines and their families to help the soldiers' transition from life as a "warrior" to life as a familyman or woman.

"We're dealing with 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds who had never experienced anything like that before," Bingham said.

For each flight that returned, there was a party welcoming the soldiers in the hangar. The parties brought in the crew's families and friends, as well as veterans from Vietnam who wanted to see what it was like to be welcomed back from war, Bingham said.

Although the work was challenging, it was rewarding and valuable, Bingham said.

It also was rewarding to honor White for supporting her, she said. White was thankful for the honor, and credited Bingham as he accepted the award.

"Folks like you, that are not only able to wear your many hats but to serve them with honor, do all the rest of us proud," he said.

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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