Episode 110: The first 2 women appointed to the Church’s Military Advisory Committee discuss serving Church and country
Army Lt. Col. Sonie Munson, media operations chief for U.S. Northern Command, and Andrea Wagenbach, who works for the U.S. Department of Defense, talk about their service on the Church’s Military Advisory Committee
Episode 110: The first 2 women appointed to the Church’s Military Advisory Committee discuss serving Church and country
Army Lt. Col. Sonie Munson, media operations chief for U.S. Northern Command, and Andrea Wagenbach, who works for the U.S. Department of Defense, talk about their service on the Church’s Military Advisory Committee
For the first time in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, two women are serving on the Military Advisory Committee. This committee was established by the First Presidency during World War II to help support and minister to military members, chaplains and their families. Now, Army Lt. Col. Sonie Munson, media operations chief for U.S. Northern Command, and Andrea Wagenbach, who works for the U.S. Department of Defense, lend their voices and wisdom to the 11-member committee. They join this episode of the Church News podcast to talk about their experiences and desire to serve both the Church and their country.
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Army Lt. Col. Sonie Munson: The unique and wonderful thing about this very specific committee is it has individuals from across all services. Everyone has an equal seat at the table to bring up ideas and recommendations to help the people that were there to serve. And I think a lot of the Church is definitely like that. When you go into a committee-type situation, if you have your heart set on serving those individuals, Heavenly Father has a tendency to guide the path. And our job is to serve and help the Church improve the service that they give, regardless of the faith, because chaplains in the military are servicing all faiths, not just our Church, and they’re required to give comprehensive religious support to anybody that is in need.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
For the first time in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, two women have joined the Military Advisory Committee, Army Lt. Col. Sonie Munson, media operations chief for the U.S. Northern Command, and Sister Andrea Wagenbach, who works for the U.S. Department of Defense have been called to join the 11-member committee that advises Church leaders on military matters. Both women join this episode of the Church News podcast to talk about their experiences and their desire to serve both the Church and their country. Welcome, ladies, to the Church News podcast.
Army Lt. Col. Sonie Munson: Thank you.
Sarah Jane Weaver: It’s so great to have you here and I’m hoping we can just start and have each of you tell us a little bit about yourself. Why don’t we start with you, Lt. Col. Munson?
Army Lt. Col. Sonie Munson: Yeah, sure. And please call me Sonie. I’m OK with that. So, I am originally from Nebraska and I joined the military while I was, actually, still in high school. I joined the Army Reserve and I’ve served since I was 17 years old and now I’m 42. The first half of my career, I was an engineer officer. And during that time frame I did four deployments, combat deployments, three of them to Iraq, one to Kuwait, for an overall total of 43 months. And my second half of my career I’ve spent as a public affairs officer. I am married to my husband, who I also met in the Army, when we were both privates going to training, back in 1998. We ended up getting married about five years later, right before I took my commission to join the Army on active duty. And he he followed me around for, coming up on, 19 years. And we have one son, his name is Bastian. He’s 10 years old. And we currently live in Colorado Springs and we have lived all over the world, as well.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, Sister Wagenbach, can we call you, Andrea?
Andrea Wagenbach: Please do, that’s great.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, hopefully now you’ll be willing to tell us a little bit about yourself.
Andrea Wagenbach: Sure, I grew up in New Jersey. I went to junior high in high school there. And I have four sisters and they all went to school out in Utah and so I kind of took a little bit of a different path and I went to University of Virginia. I served a mission in Russia and then I came back and went to grad school at Georgetown University. And I stayed. And shortly after that — I’ve worked with the military my whole life with the exception of, I think, a year and a half right out of grad school. Most of that, though, was done as a contractor. And a couple of years ago, I switched and became a civilian employee at the Department of Defense. So, I worked for nine years for the Navy, and four years for the Air Force and then for the past 10 years for the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, that is just amazing. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to do this podcast to get to know you all even a little better. Sonie, let’s start and talk with you. I’m so fascinated. You’ve been deployed four times for 43 months, you met your husband in the military and I’m hoping you can just talk to us a little bit about what it takes to serve your country in that way and how you decided to make that commitment.
Army Lt. Col. Sonie Munson: Well, I have to be honest. It’s a team effort. I could not do anything I do without my husband. I love him lots and he’s supported me a lot throughout these last 19 years and he’s followed me around all over the world. So, for me, I initially joined the military to help — and this is actually kind of common theme for some military members — to help them get their life started. But I stayed this long, because of the people that I’ve served with. I grew to love them. I grew to love the mission, just like probably any other organization that people work for. And the organization has also done a really good job of taking care of my family. And so I’m very grateful, also for the opportunities that they have given me. And so for me, I would probably say it’s kind of like the wearing of hats. At certain times of my life, my military hat takes priority. At certain times of my life, my responsibilities as a mother, or as a spouse, take those responsibilities. And same thing as a volunteer within the Church or in my community. And a lot of women have to do this, no matter what their job set or skills are. It is just figuring out how to do the right balance for the things that matter most in your life.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and it was so touching to hear you talk about the support that you have received from your husband. I think all of us can look at our lives and say so much of the success we have, happens because other people support us or give us opportunities or help us and take loads off of us. Now, Sonie, I read an article in the Church News about you being at BYU and praying to know if you should serve a mission and the answer that you got was one that you could serve the Lord and the Church through the military. Can you share that experience with us?
Andrea Wagenbach: Yeah, it’s actually kind of funny. Because you know how everyone gets answers to revelation in different ways. And so for this very specific one, and for any large life decision I have made, any PCS, any job switch or serving the mission, I learned at a very early age to go to the Lord with those hard questions to help seek guidance. And I would sometimes come with recommendations or ideas.
So I was 21 years old. I was at BYU. I wasn’t married yet and so I thought, “Well, maybe I should probably serve a mission.” Because my patriarchal blessing says that is something that I might potentially do in my life. And so I prayed about it. And the answer I got was, “No, but you’ll get your answer later.” And I said, “What? That doesn’t make any sense.” And so doubting Thomas again, I asked again. I get the same answer. And I said, “Well, that’s really weird. OK, I’ll just wait, because that’s what He is telling me.” And we were sitting in Relief Society one day, and that was when we were studying the lives of the prophets. And the prophet that we were studying was Thomas S. Monson. And it was a discussion on missionary service and so they asked for a volunteer to read. Oh, OK. I raised my hand, and volunteered to read and the sister that was leading the discussion said, “Well, you’re reading the wrong part. Can you read the right page?” So I immediately flipped over to the correct page, read where I was supposed to, but then got the distinct prompting, “You need to turn that page over.” So I turned that page over. And on that page, President Monson is talking about there’s more than one way to serve a mission, and one of those is in the military, because President Monson did not serve a mission. And that is when I realized that I was OK. I was already an Army Reservist. I had been throughout college since I was 17. And that was the one key indicator that I probably needed to switch to active duty. So I switched my life plan career trajectory, based off of that prompting, and here I sit 19 years later, still serving.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, now, Andrea, I also want to hear about your story, because you did serve a full time mission. And I’m interested in how that experience shaped your life and your testimony.
Andrea Wagenbach: Well, it was a very unique time to go on a mission. I went on a mission to the former Soviet Union about three months after the coup and at the time, it was still the Finland Helsinki East Mission and that meant the mission president lived in Finland and the missionaries were in Russia. And it got set up a month after I got there and as you can imagine, it was very unique. Everything was very new. The Church was just going in and we were just setting up all the organizations for the Church. And so it was an amazing experience. But I think just to get on my mission, I had a really big faith building experience that happened just before I started.
And at the time, I was 10 months before I turned the age to go on my mission. My father lost his job. I was at the University of Virginia and I had to sit out of school for the first time and as a 20 year old, I don’t think I knew really what to do with that. I didn’t have any skills yet and I had to figure out how to make money for my mission. I wanted to make sure it was the right thing to do. And it was very, kind of, daunting to, kind of, look at that and be like, “What do I do?” And I remember, at the time, that [Elder] Richard G. Scott had given a talk on learning to recognize answers to prayer, which, to me, is one of my favorite talks that deals with that space of what to do when you don’t get an answer. He gives his beautiful explanation about how God will guide you when He hasn’t given you an answer yet. You don’t have a yes or no and He’s prompting you to grow, and to learn and to act and faith.
And so I remember for eight months, I had to walk around looking for a job every day. And every day, I’d hold that talk right in front of me and I would read his words. And every day I would sit there and wonder, “Am I feeling what he says?” And it really became this experiment on the word on Richard G. Scott. And every day, I kind of built my life around this talk. And every day, I had to go around looking for a job and I did find one, but I had to get a second one. And I remember, every day for eight months, I was looking. So I was getting closer to where I had to go on my mission and I got to the very last step when I had to have an interview with my stake president and I still didn’t have a way to pay for my mission, even though every day in my life I had been trying to have faith. And I remember looking at this talk and saying it says if you have peace, you should go forward. And I remember saying, “Do I have peace?” And I said, “Yes, I have peace.” I called my stake president, set the interview. And a half hour before I left for my interview with my stake president, when I had to tell him how he’s going to pay for my mission, a woman called and gave me a job after eight months of looking. And I was able to go and tell them how I was going to pay for my mission. And I made so much money for the next three months that I had enough money for my mission. And what I discovered is that exercise in faith, to me, was such a big lesson to learn.
But what happened when I went to Russia, I was sent into Latvia, when the country opened. I was there with some wonderful elders, and we were the first sister missionaries in there. The first members were baptized the week I got there. We weren’t allowed to tract. There weren’t any members. There was nothing. You kind of go there and you’re like, “What do I do?” And I remember the Spirit prompting me very clearly that that summer before my mission had been given to me to learn how to deal with that space. And so I went and did the same thing I did and I think that that was a very beautiful testimony-building experience to me not only that God was guiding me, but that He was also preparing me and when the time came, I was ready. And I think that understanding and knowledge of how closely God was really with me, really has stayed with me my whole life and trusting Him, as I’m walking the path that He wants me to walk.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And ultimately, you ended up working with the Department of Defense. Talk to us about how you made that decision.
Andrea Wagenbach: Well, I think part of it was staying on the East Coast. I did have a kind of pivotal experience after our mission. At one point, I wanted to go out to Utah. I didn’t have any money again. I remember thinking, “Heavenly Father, I don’t have any money and I missed all the financial aid deadlines.” And I said, “You know, I think I should go to Utah a lot cheaper, and I think I should go, but if there’s any reason I should stay here, please help me find the money.” And I remember my parents really wanted to help me, they just didn’t have any money. And their tithing was the same amount of my tuition. And they went to the temple and prayed about it and they paid their tithing. And the next day in the mail, the University of Virginia gifted me, out of the blue, enough money for my entire semester. And it was the exact same amount of their tithing. And so I took that as an answer to my prayer to stay on the East Coast. And I think that was very pivotal for me, because it was a natural step to go to Georgetown and it was a natural step to stay in D.C. and work at the Department of Defense. There’s a lot of military people there.
So, I think that was very pivotal, but my first job in the military actually was kind of a little bit like being on a roller coaster. I was working for USAID. And one of my friends just told me she wanted me to come interview for a job and it happened to be with the Navy and I had five people interviewing me and we spent about five minutes on important questions. They decided I was right and for the next hour, we talked about basketball. That was my interview. So I worked with these really fun guys when I first started and it was a lot about sports and I had to know all my colors on my sports teams and stuff. So it was a little funny how I got started, but that was my first interview with them.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I think that is a remarkable experience, because it shows how the Lord directs our lives and how especially your story about tithing, and what a sweet lesson your parents taught you, how faith shapes our lives. Sonie, I’m interested in how faith has shaped your life.
Army Lt. Col. Sonie Munson: Well, so I’m a convert to the Church and as a child we went through some pretty difficult things. My mother passed away when I was really young. So we were Christian, if you consider Christian putting up a Christmas tree and decorating at Easter time. And so my dad remarried after my mother passed away and my dad ended up eventually getting divorced to her. During that pivotal time period, after that divorce, my dad decided that we needed religion in our life. And my father took us to lots of faiths to try to see what one would work for us. And apparently, to my father, I was only 12 at a time, none of them fit. And then, as we were looking at churches, sister missionaries came to our door while tracting, and my dad let them in. And the sister missionaries, when I was 12, were able to answer those really hard questions. “Where do we go when we die? What is my purpose in life? Why am I here?” All those questions that I’ve been questioning since my mother had passed away when I was 4, somebody was actually able to answer. And then I distinctly remember the first time I prayed. And so prayer, for me, is a very key component to my faith, because that’s guided me since my initial faith journey on decisions that I have made, revelation that I’ve needed, comfort or lifting of burdens, as well.
And then, as a new convert, as you know — I think the reason I stayed active, I’m the only member that’s active in my family, is because I had a really good Young Women’s leadership. I was given a calling and one of the distinct things that my Young Women’s president advised me on, was the importance of loving and fellowshipping everybody, no matter how different they may potentially be. And so I really grew to love the girls and the community that I was serving, because it gave me some friends, it gave me some stability that I hadn’t had for the majority of my childhood. And then I also had a really good seminary teacher and so as I was getting to a point where I thought, “This Church has given me so much.” I decided to apply to BYU. And my bishop thought I was crazy, but when I prayed about it, I got the answer that that’s where I was to go. And it’s the only college I applied for. And I got in, which was wonderful. And then, ever since then any key decision, like I said, for me, has been a lot of prayer and revelation, whether that’s personal, at my house, or on the really big decisions I will go to the temple, because I get answers that are a little more clear there.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And all of us have things in our life that are hard. Life certainly isn’t ideal or perfect for anyone. Andrea, I’m interested, because you were working in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, 2001. And I’m interested in what that day was like for you, especially as you were working with those people who are connected to the military.
Andrea Wagenbach: So I was working at the Washington Navy Yard at the time. And I actually lived right next to the Pentagon and when the plane hit the Pentagon, I was at work and so I was across the Potomac River in my office building right next to the Washington Navy Yard. And my window was facing the Pentagon and so I, actually, was sitting there watching it happen when the plane hit and I couldn’t see it very well. It was kind of far away, but I saw the smoke. And of course, I’ll tell you what really, really strikes me from that day is I have so much respect for men and women in the military. And I, mostly, have worked with either military or retired military. That day in my office, that was mostly, there was a meeting there. We had some very senior Navy leaders there in the office and at the same time we had a lot of my co-workers were retired military. And it was really very — I don’t think I knew how to handle it — it was scary, and I think I just kind of froze. But these wonderful men and women around me that were trained that had given so much of their life to serve, you just saw that training snap into action. And all of a sudden they were organized and they were forming groups and out the window I saw a group of Navy military leaders, very senior leaders, get together to run across the water to The Pentagon. All of the Metros shut down. There were so many people, no one could travel. And these men that wanted to get over there to help and to see them get together to jog was just so beautiful. And these people that I was with in my office building pretty much shepherded me out and explained where I needed to go and how I needed to go home. So I eventually walked home across the water. And as I said, I was living next to the Pentagon. So I was actually walking towards the plane and when I got close to my house, it was very, very smoke-filled and, the air was really thick. And I had to walk right next to the Pentagon. And the thing I just remember more than anything that day is the constant acts of service that people were trying to help me, trying to get me home. Most people, the doctors were trying to get over to the Pentagon to help everybody that needed help. I’m sorry, little tender, it’s just so beautiful when you see something that difficult, and so many people come together. And I have so much respect for the men and women in our country who work so hard to defend us and I really think I saw the beauty of it that day.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And Sonie, I’m hoping that you can respond to this, as well. You know, in April 2003 general conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley talked about times when conflict arises. And he says, “There are times and circumstances when nations are justified, in fact, have an obligation to fight for family, for liberty and against tyranny, threat and oppression.” You have done this four times in active duty. You, obviously, would also have feelings about 9/11. Can you share some of your feelings as you actually have fought for our nation?
Army Lt. Col. Sonie Munson: So this may sound a little different, but I’ve gone and done what I’ve been asked to do and specifically when it came to deployment to Iraq. When you’re a young, let’s see, how old was I? My first deployment I was 24 years old. And the way that the Army works, they send you through some initial training. And then you go to that school, and then you get assigned to a unit and you’re in charge as a platoon leader. So, I caught up to my unit who was already deployed and I got assigned to be a platoon leader. And the part that terrified me more than anything was being responsible for the human being. The best description to describe it, is the same feelings I have towards my son. I want to take care of them, I want to develop them and be able to help this country that’s struggling. And so as an engineer officer, the part that’s beautiful about that job was I was able to provide a lot of essential services, whether that be for our infantry service members that are actually going out and doing patrols to try to bring some stability to a country, and then then coming back to having a roof over their head versus a tent.
Or like on my third deployment, I was able to watch the country of Iraq start to reestablish those essential services. It’s kind of eye-opening when you serve in those capacities when you see people that don’t have the things that we take for granted in the United States, whether that be water, trash pickup, medical services. When you don’t have those essential services piece, it makes it hard to sustain life and to improve. And so it was kind of an honor to be able to help them get back to some normalcy in their life. And I know as I’ve done a lot of deployments, that I’ve had very distinct impressions sometimes. The one that always stands out to me the most, because the thing, again, like I said, that terrifies me the most was losing one of my service members. And there were times where I would volunteer to do the convoys, so that I wouldn’t have to send my service members out. So then I knew that they’d be safe. And I prayed about it every time before I went on deployment about, “How do I help protect my people, that people might attack us?” And the distinct answer I got was, “If you stay faithful to your covenants, every single person that works for you directly will come home.” And every single one has come home on every single one of my deployments. Now, that doesn’t mean I didn’t lose some of them later due to the impacts of war, and the things that they were asked to do and the things that they saw, but it was wonderful to know that that one simple ask protected hundreds of people that I was in charge of on those four deployments.
There were also very distinct impressions, sometimes, in regards to very specific things that I needed to do to protect my people. I had one where I got the distinct impression that I needed to get a specific piece of up-armor equipment on our Humvees. And there was none of that equipment available. And I kept getting that impression, “You need to get this piece. You need to get this piece.” So I started to work around the network that I had on the base that I was at, and was finally able to get those pieces of equipment up armored. And the next mission they went on. They got blown up by an IED and hit on the exact spot where I had that up-armor put on and not a single one of them passed away or was injured. And so, I do know that the Lord works in mysterious ways. And the importance of being able to listen to those promptings and to do the things that’s asked, whether that’s on the military side, or from those promptings from Heavenly Father, have definitely helped me with my career.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Thank you for sharing that. I want to shift a little bit and Andrea, have you tell us what the Church’s Military Advisory Committee is and what sorts of matters are discussed during committee meetings.
Andrea Wagenbach: So, it’s an advisory committee and, currently, we meet twice a year, although I think we’re going to start meeting four times a year. And it’s the combination of asking the members of the committee what we should discuss and what problems they believe need to be solved and then discussing them together. I think the whole purpose of the Military Committee, of course, is to take care of the families and the members of the military and make sure that they’re cared for and that they are strong on the covenant path. I’ve only been on the committee, of course, since April. So we’ve had two meetings, so far, and we’ve talked about the orientation that we give military members, we’ve talked a little bit about garments, how to support our new female chaplains, we’ve talked about self reliance, we’ve talked about resources for military families. And it’s been a wonderful experience to hear how much the members of the committee care about the military members in the Church.
Sarah Jane Weaver: That is amazing, Sonie, the Church News did a series of articles last year on the council system of the Church. And out of that series, we talked to a lot of senior leaders about one way leaders can receive inspiration. And it’s this council system, where you have people from different backgrounds and experiences, and they sit around the same table and they all share perspectives. And ultimately, decisions are formed. Have you had any experiences on the committee that would reflect the council system of the Church?
Army Lt. Col. Sonie Munson: I think that’s the preponderance of, kind of, what we do. The unique and wonderful thing about this very specific committee is it has individuals from across all services. It also has retirees, it has chaplains, it has, obviously, Andrea and I. And the part that’s really cool about making sure that it incorporates all services, is each individual service has its own, unique culture and it also has its own, unique potential challenges that they have. But the overarching thing that I think is interesting about how the Church and how the Military Advisory Committee works, is everyone has an equal seat at the table to bring up ideas and recommendations to help the people that we’re there to serve. And I think a lot of the Church is definitely like that. When you go into a committee-type situation, if you have your heart set on serving those individuals, Heavenly Father has a tendency to guide the path, whether it be from one individual or three individuals. And I know Andrea and I kind of talked about this a little bit too, as we both came on the committee, it was very unique to see some of the individuals that came onto the committee at the same time as us, had some very similar experiences and some very similar backgrounds in regards to community service-type jobs or community awareness-type jobs, whether that’s public affairs or whether that’s a foreign affairs officers. So those individuals that know and understand that people matter and our job is to serve and help the Church improve the service that they give, regardless of the face, because chaplains in the military are servicing all faiths, not just our church, and they’re required to to give comprehensive religious support to anybody that is in need.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Each of you have given your lives two careers that are largely chosen by men. What is it like to be just one of a few women in the workplace?
Army Lt. Col. Sonie Munson: Well, I think you might see that a lot more across society than you may think. In the military, there’s roughly 16% of those that serve in the military that are female. And the one thing that I think is phenomenal about having diversity, is everyone comes with different ideas, just like the same thing with the Military Advisory Committee, we all come with different ideas, to try to progress the work. With diversity comes strength and a lot of people do realize that, that while I’m an opposite sex, I’m still a valued member of the team and having that diversity, or those different people, help us actually progress and get better at servicing those that we need to to help and support.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And, Andrea, have you had a similar experience?
Andrea Wagenbach: Yes, I’ve had some wonderful co-workers. They have been mostly men. I mean, I, they’ve been a lot of fun. Like I said, when I first got my job, half my interview was about basketball. And I think when I first started working, this group of men I worked with, they hired me as an intern that I got paid with by a nickel to help organize bowling and all these fun things. And I had to know all the colors of all my sports teams and I didn’t and I often failed my tests they gave me. It was so much fun and it was crazy and half the time, I had no idea what my answers were for my sports teams. But, you know, it was, it’s always been a lot of fun with my co-workers. But they’ve always been very supportive.
I definitely think there have been times when I feel myself, you know, I’m a little different. And I kind of joke about this, but I’ve always been very open with my co-workers. And sometimes I just talk more than they do. That’s an example. I don’t want to be stereotypical, but sometimes I just did. We had a very open relationship with my co-workers. Sometimes I’d say, “OK, Andrea, enough talking.” I’m like, “OK.” We were always very open about that. I think it was great, but sometimes when you have differences with people. That’s the best way to handle it is to be very respectful, and just be open and talk it out.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And I want to be really transparent here, because this issue was one that’s very hard for me, particularly, to talk about, because certainly you are not on the Church’s Military Advisory Committee, because you’re female. You were asked to serve on that committee because you were qualified. And so I don’t want to parse men and women entirely, but I do not, also, want to ignore the historic nature of having both of you be the first two women to serve in that capacity. And you know, my boss Sheri Dew, she’s the executive vice president of Deseret Management Corp. and a former member of the Relief Society general presidency. She says that when both men and women are represented at the table, better discussions occur and better decisions are made. You were referring to that earlier. Have you noticed that men and women see things differently?
Andrea Wagenbach: Yes, I read a Wall Street Journal article one time, and again, I want to be careful on stereotypes, as well. But this particular article really resonated for me and it said that men value efficiency and women value collaboration and through my experience working for many years, most of my life, mostly with men, it has been something I’ve had to learn. And I’ve found more often than not that many of the men that I work with like to have short meetings and they really do feel good if it was to the point, they got out of it and it was effective. And I sometimes want to go in meetings and I want everyone to feel like they’re part of a team and I want people to feel valued. And so I end up wanting to talk more and I ended up wanting to find out more about how people, what their perspectives are and it takes me a lot longer to do that than to get to the end result of being effective and efficient. And so, I do feel like there are differences and when those are valued, I think they’re incredibly important to bring together. And again, I want to be careful, because I don’t want it to make it sound like that’s how all men and women are, but that is something that I’ve had to learn to do, is recognize that when I go to a meeting, I have to just, sometimes, put everything aside and just be efficient and effective. But yet I also value the tendency to bond and to create bridges, as being very strong perspective and being able to understand when people are maybe spending more time, because that’s what they want to do I feel like is is incredibly important and being able to understand what these different gifts bring, when you can bring them all to the table and work in unity.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I also want to lean into this fact that you are the first women to do this. Todd Linton, who’s the director of Military Relations Chaplain Services Division of the Church, he said this, he said, “These women are both pioneers in their respective fields, as well as in the service to their country, their communities and to their God.” And so, what does it mean for each of you to be a pioneer? Let’s start with Sonie.
Army Lt. Col. Sonie Munson: Well, I did read that quote, I kind of giggled a little bit, I’m like, “That’s not me. I’m just me.” And I think a lot of that has to do, there’s been, there have been women that have served in some form or fashion, whether that be a support role, since the Revolutionary War in our military. Now, that actually wasn’t codified until 1901, when they set up the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. So we started in the Army, but then they really started to see service during World War I. In fact, women were allowed to serve openly in the U.S. military before they were even allowed to vote. So this desire to serve in our military is something that’s existed since the beginning of our nation. And the desire to serve is definitely something that women love to do. So, I don’t necessarily feel I’m a pioneer in that part. The part that I feel kind of a pioneer on is, because I am a faithful member of the Church. I’ve been in the military almost 24 years in some form or fashion and I have, specifically in the army, I have only run into two other females that were active members of the Church. So, I think that’s more of the pioneer piece, for me, is the fact that I’m serving and I’m faithfully serving the Lord at the same time.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Great, and Andrea?
Andrea Wagenbach: Well, I think I still very similarly to Sonie. My first reaction is, “Well, I’m, I’m just living my life,” right? “I’m just doing my best.” But if I can just, maybe, share one experience that I think depicts what I feel about this. There was a time, once in my life, I lost my job. It was just, my contract went away. I was working at the Pentagon, and it kind of evaporated. And everything I did was wrong. And so I kind of laugh about this, because when I paid my tithing, I was talking to the bishop and I accidentally paid 100% of my salary instead of 10%, wiped out my bank account. So no money and my heater broke, my car broke and of course, the Church gave it back to me, but it took me a little bit. My bank account was empty. Everything broke, my car broke, my heater broke. I can’t explain it. There was this time in my life it was so clear that Andrea Wagenbach made so many mistakes. I was just doing everything wrong.
And I went to the temple and as I was sitting there in the temple, the temple presidency bore testimony that we would be blessed for coming to the temple and the Spirit testified to me that I would be blessed temporarily for going to the temple. And it was very clear that that promise was going to be given to me when I was in the temple. And the next day I had many job offers and I ended up getting this job offer and it was great. I was at a hockey game, in fact, and my next wonderful job I had for five years came from that. But then what happened after that was really interesting. I had space and time, because I had this job, but they didn’t call me back for six weeks. And I just got this incredible prompting that I needed to go to Germany, to the town of Wagenbach. That’s where my father’s family is from. And 10 years earlier, I had gotten this book, this family book, from this tiny little courthouse. And I had this prompting that I needed to go back. So I didn’t plan it. My sister’s a flight attendant, I had no idea where I was going. I don’t speak German. I got on a plane and flew to Germany the next day. And I started walking around these little towns in southern Germany and knocking on doors and the first person I met ended up being an extended cousin. It was great. I went in her house and they had this pedigree chart, 500 years of my family history. It was amazing. And then I went knocking doors and ended up meeting someone that helped me find it. I ended up having 2,500 names for my family that I ended up doing temple work and just some incredible, beautiful experiences.
And I say this, because well, this isn’t my work. This is something outside of this, right. This was an incredibly beautiful experience that I had that was testimony building that started with me doing everything wrong and it was so clear from this experience that Heavenly Father blessed me. And I’ve always loved the talk that Elder [John C.] Pingree gave in 2017, “I Have a Work for Thee.” And I love it, because he said that every one of us has a meaningful role to play in furthering God’s work. And Heavenly Father can use us to make important contributions and He always uses ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things. And I love that message that is to every single person. And I feel like being a pioneer is really taking God’s hands and putting every single bit of trust we have to walk with Him and put our faith in our Father in Heaven and go where He wants us to go. And I feel like when those experiences I have, it’s so clear that it’s Him. And the best thing we can do is just hold on and have faith in our Father in Heaven.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Wow, well, I think that is a good place to wrap up the podcast. We have a tradition at the Church News podcast. We always ask our guests the same question and we always give them the last word. And so I’m hoping each of you can answer the question, “What do you know now?” Let’s start with Sonie and then end with Andrea and answer the question, “What do you know, now, after serving on the Church’s Military Advisory Committee?”
Army Lt. Col. Sonie Munson: I think for me, kind of hitting and reiterating what Andrea said, God has a purpose and a plan for everybody. We are ordinary people trying to help others, so we can help progress the work and take care of those individuals that need help the most. When I was given a calling in December, the first person I called was my bishop from when I was a child and my Young Women’s president, because they’ve kind of tracked me and helped me develop my faith. And I said, “It all makes sense now, that I went through all of this, so I could help in a very unique manner because of the experiences that I have had in the military to help serve our military members, our family members, our DOD civilians, no matter their faith, to try to help the work, progress and go forward.” I’m just me, doing the job that Heavenly Father asked me to do.
Andrea Wagenbach: So, I loved the question you talked about earlier about different voices and the strength that it brings and I think my testimony has grown about that principle since I’ve been on the Military Advisory Committee. First of all, I’ve felt so much love, as they brought me on, and so much value to the voice that I could bring. I feel my difference. I’m not only one of the first women I’m, I believe, the first civilian. I’m not an active duty officer. I’ve worked for the Department of Defense my whole life, but I’ve been in one of those roles where we support our military officers and we do all the processes and things that help them. And I’m also single, when there’s a lot of people that are married and I remember praying when I came onto the committee, and they say, “Well, they think I’m here for a reason.” And as I prayed, I’ve felt some very distinct promptings on things that I could contribute and as we counsel together in the last Military Advisory Committee, I think I realized that because I am a civilian, I tend to stay in my jobs for long periods of time and I learned processes and I learned procedures. I had a calling for five years, stake welfare and self-reliance specialist, and that’s one of my assignments now, is to help self-reliance for the military. And so I think it’s almost been a testimony-builder to me to say, “Oh, I do have a different voice and I do have something important to offer.”
And I remember counseling with [Relief Society General President Camille N.] Johnson encouraging us to work in unity and how beautiful that is that we get to interact with her and hear her counsel. And I remember, as I was saying the words about some of these promptings that I had, that I felt inspired, as I was talking to Todd to say, “I feel like we have so much untapped potential for our sisters. There’s so much ability to connect.” But then I also felt inspired to say that every step forward that we make for our sisters, we need our brothers and our priesthood leaders to feel more valued and to feel more important so that we can step forward together in unity. I was counseling with Sister Johnson about that and it was such a beautiful experience to feel the prompting of the Holy Ghost teaching me in that counseling moment, like you said, and it was beautiful to me to feel the testimony of how valued and important all of our voices are, and yet how much the Spirit can teach us to work in unity with that. And I think my testimony has grown so much about that principle, just as I’ve felt the love as I’ve come on the committee and as I felt my own promptings.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host Church’s editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast and if you enjoyed the messages we shared today. Please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer KellieAnn Halvorsen and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on TheChurchNews.com.