The Illinois Army National Guard (ILARNG) offered a hearty Shalom, hello, to the ILARNG’s newest Chaplain, newly commissioned Capt. Rabbi Aaron Melman, of Northbrook, Illinois, the head rabbi at Congregation Beth Shalom (CBS) in Northbrook.
“I am still in awe,” Melman said during his commissioning ceremony March 17 at Camp Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois. “I’m also excited with a bit of trepidation as I serve our state, country and God.”
Chaplain (Col.) Stephen Foster, Illinois National Guard State Chaplain, welcomed Melman to the Chaplain Corps during the ceremony.
“The Army has great confidence you will serve our troops and nurture their souls and just assist them to grow closer to God,” Foster said. “We are so excited about what God is doing through you and the plans he has for you in the future. We’re going to work together and do great things.”
Melman thanked his wife, Elisa, who attended the ceremony virtually; son, Jordan and daughter Hannah, as well as his congregation at CBS for their support in his decision to serve.
Melman received a direct commission as a captain in the Illinois Army National Guard and will attend the Chaplain Basic Officer Leader Course later this year.
“I am incredibly honored and humbled as I begin this new adventure,” Melman said to those gathered electronically. “Without your support, I wouldn’t be able to serve in this capacity.”
Melman’s service as a student rabbi with the New York Fire Department in 2001 played a role in his ultimate decision to seek out information on serving in the military.
“I was at Ground Zero on September 12,” Melman said. “As a student rabbi, I was able to provide a sense of comfort to the firefighters, first responders and others who were on site. That ability to provide even a little comfort to them pushed that piece of me who wanted to serve. It ultimately propelled me to this day.”
Melman, a native of Toronto, Ontario, is no stranger to military service as his father served in the U.S. Army Reserves.
“I’ve always thought about serving in the military,” Melman said. “The opportunity to serve in my state seemed like the right fit. I will have the opportunity to serve troops in the Chicagoland area, so serving in Illinois Army National Guard made perfect sense. This is a spiritual call to duty.”
Melman said he attended a webinar on chaplaincy in the Armed Forces in October 2020 and later talked to a friend who served as a chaplain in the Massachusetts National Guard.
“He told me if I was service about this, he had contacts in the Illinois National Guard,” Melman said. “I came to Springfield in November and met with my recruiter, filled out an application and started the ball rolling.”
Even as a native Canadian, Melman’s family has ties to the Illinois National Guard.
“I had a late cousin who served in the Illinois National Guard in the 1960s,” he said. “He was activated for duty at the Democrat National Convention in Chicago.”