Soldiers in the U.S. Army have a higher calling to serve their country. Chaplains heed that same call, with an added responsibility to minister the word of God.
The “calling” can be defined by something experienced in one’s heart, like God has formed a person for a specific purpose, said Maj. John E Scott, Army Chaplain.
“Its always been a calling to serve God and country,” said Capt. Al F. Rivera, Army Chaplain. “It brings me great satisfaction to be able to do both.”
Wherever in the world the U.S. Army is conducting operations, a Chaplain is there, said Rivera.
The U.S. Army’s Chaplain Corps celebrated its 241st birthday on July 29, 2016.
Founded in 1775, the Chaplain Corps was championed by a major figure in American history.
“George Washington was a driving force,” said Scott. When Washington was asked to lead the Army, he insisted on having Chaplains travel with Soldiers.
“Chaplains went through the evolution, really,” said Scott. “From being volunteer civilian clergy not in the Army, to being clergy in the Army without rank.”
To provide Chaplains with a defined role and salary, the Chaplain Corps became how it exists today, said Scott.
Chaplains are now commissioned officers that go through the same training as other Soldiers. Chaplains are ordained and endorsed by a civilian church for ministry.
Over the years, more then 25,000 Chaplains have served in the U.S. Army.
Chaplains have served in all of America’s wars and combat engagements.
Nearly 300 Army Chaplains have laid down their lives in battle.
Assignments for Chaplains include both military installations and deployed combat units.
In 2015, the active Army had 1,545 Chaplains that represented over 100 recognized faith groups, including Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Roman Catholics.
For Soldiers looking for spiritual support outside of what the unit’s Chaplain can provide, Chaplains will look into the local community or utilize other resources, said Scott.
“That’s really what the Chaplain Corps was designed to do,” said Scott. “To facilitate the free exercise of religion for Soldiers.”
Looking at the total Army to include reservists and National Guard, the number of Chaplains balloons to over 3,000.
Religious Affairs Specialists, an enlisted Soldier or Non-Commissioned Officer that helps facilitate operations and logistics for the Chaplain, is a pivotal member of a Chaplain’s team.
The Religious Affairs Specialists also provide security while the Chaplain is in a combat zone, as Chaplains are unable to wield a weapon.
Religious Support Specialists were previously known as Chaplain’s assistants.
Religious Support Specialists make the Chaplain’s mission possible, said Rivera.
“Chaplains and Religious Affairs Specialists perform their ministry in the most religiously diverse organization in the world,” said Rivera.
“Its so religiously and ethnically diverse,” said Scott. “Really, you are getting shaped and trained everyday.”
There are different facets to a Chaplain’s mission. Along with advising the commander on religion, ethics, and morals, Chaplains provide weekly religious services and counseling, said Scott.
“In counseling, the role is just so unique,” said Scott. “Soldiers you may have been with but may not know very will share their life with you.”
“Everything we do comes back to providing world-class religious support,” said Rivera. “Nurturing the living, honoring the dead, and caring for the wounded.”
Chaplains provide absolute confidentially, said Scott.
Whatever a Soldier speaks to a Chaplain about is held in the strictest of confidence, much like a Catholic Priest’s role to never repeat anything heard in confession.
“I’ve been there with people when they have lost friends, loved ones, had the privilege of dedicating babies… officiating weddings, ” said Scott. “When you recognize that’s a special moment, it encourages me as a Chaplain to treasure that and be very careful with the trust someone is putting in me.”
The value of the Chaplain Corps has grown as the Army has been in conflict, said Scott.
“Commanders are excited to have a good Chaplain in their battalion, brigade, division, during the hard times,” said Scott. “I think as the Army is stressed, the value of a Chaplain actually increases.”
The Chaplain Corps mission has remained largely unchanged since American independence.
“Overall, I would say its probably very similar to how it was in the beginning,” said Scott. “What has changed is the context in which we minister.”
With the retirement of Chief of Chaplains, Maj. Gen Donald L. Rutherford, the Chaplain Corps is in a state of transition.
Maj. Gen Paul K. Hurley has replaced Chaplain Rutherford.
“The Chief of Chaplains sets the vision and the focus for the Chaplain Corps,” said Scott. “For Chaplain Hurley, one of the big things he has been and will be emphasizing is being faithful to the call.”
“A personal goal of mine is be faithful to the calling,” said Scott. “Continue to be there for Soldiers.”
“For me, its just a privilege to be with America’s sons and daughters,” said Rivera. “There’s no greater privilege to serve god and country.”