The first chaplain ever assigned to the White House military office, U.S. Navy Commander Stan W. Fornea, was recognized as Southeastern's 2011 Alumnus of the Year. A U.S. Navy Chaplain who served under both presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama accepted his honor at the Southeastern Louisiana University Alumni Association November 5, 2011 as the university's 2011 Alumnus of the Year.
Navy Commander Stan W. Fornea, a native of Bogalusa and 1979 Southeastern graduate, told the audience that the shaping of his life began at Southeastern.
"This school started in me a love for study and the pursuit of learning," said Fornea, the first chaplain ever assigned to the White House military office. "That education has helped shape me and broadened me by enlarging my own frame of reference. It reinforced for me the philosophy of life as a journey." He added: "It started here for me, and universities must never underestimate the potential to open a young student's mind, to explore and feel the world around us."
Fornea is an ordained minister in the Episcopal Church of the United States. After receiving his degree from Southeastern in history and social studies, he earned a Master of Divinity Degree from New Orleans Theological Seminary, a Master of Theology Degree from Duke University, and a Doctor of Ministry Degree from Vanderbilt University.
Fornea previously served under former President George W. Bush as command chaplain at the Presidential retreat at Camp David, part of the Naval Support Facility in Thurmont, Md. In his autobiography "Decision Points," Bush describes Fornea as a source of solace, resolve and spiritual direction during the summer of 2006, a time the President described as the "worst period of my presidency" because of the ongoing Iraq War.
He joined the military after 12 years of parish ministry work in Mississippi and Texas and has spent 15 year serving in the military. Among various assignments, he served as deputy command chaplain for multi-national forces at Camp Liberty and the International Zone in Baghdad.
It was the military, he said, that greatly expanded his view of the world. "For me, the greatest catalyst for change has been the decision to live out my work mission in the context of military service, and it has directly challenged, corrected and expanded my appreciation of the diversity and pluralism of the young men and women who serve," he said.
"From the U.S. to Greece, from England to Uzbekistan, from Italy to Jordan, from Croatia to Iraq, from Camp David to the White House, and in a dozen other countries, I have been dramatically shaped by the world in which I found myself. I am discovering that different is not to be feared, that to not understand a person doesn't make him or her inferior."
Fornea said it has been a privilege to serve two presidents. "I have seen President Bush shed tears in recognition of the enormity of sacrifice paid for by having those serving our nation," he continued. "I have witnessed President Obama take full days to walk the halls of Walter Reed and Bethesda medical centers to honor those who had been wounded.
"All of us can find some means by which we serve one another," he added. "I am convinced that service and sacrifice open the door to life's journey."