RELIGION IN THE ARMY

This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri August 2nd 2017. If you would like to see the current articles as they are published, you may subscribe to The Belle Banner by calling 573-859-3328, or email tcnpub3@gmail.com, or mail to The Belle Banner, PO Box 711, Belle, MO 65013. Subscription rates are; Maries, Osage, and Gasconade County = $23.55 per year, elsewhere in Missouri = $26.77, outside Missouri = $27.00, and foreign countries = $40.00.
Our religion has been under attack from many sources. Some are attempting to use the separation of church and state as a vehicle to ban religion. The military has also been under attack, but so far has succeeded in avoiding showdowns. The Army in particular, has maintained a low profile, and tried to stay out of the limelight. The Army and the Marines are the only services that have combat soldiers. (Except Navy SEALS) Those soldiers go into combat to kill or capture an enemy, and may be killed themselves in the process. The phrase “there are no atheists in foxholes” came out of World War II. No one is sure who said it first, but it was used several times. Counting the National Guard and Army Reserves, there are over 2,800 Chaplains in the Army. Every battalion in the Army has a chaplain, who is a Captain, and a Sergeant Chaplain’s Assistant. At Brigade Headquarters the Chaplain is a Major, with a Staff Sergeant Chaplain’s Assistant, and at Division level, the Chaplain is a Lieutenant Colonel, with a Sergeant First Class, as NCOIC (Non-commissioned Officer in Charge) of the Division Chaplain’s Office. Many Army ceremonies start and end with a prayer. During my time in line units, the Chaplain was in and out all time. Especially in a combat area, they always seemed to be good natured, happy people who could boost morale. The famous “Patton Prayer” in World War II, didn’t happen exactly as portrayed in the movie “Patton”. General George S Patton, Jr, who cursed like a bar room sailor, was a devout Episcopalian who regularly attended service and read the Bible daily. In his discussions with his Chaplain about a prayer to ask for good weather, he said that God was a key element in victory, and that God had to be included.
The Army today is a much “cleaner” army than the one I left, all volunteer, all high school graduates, with advanced education pushed hard after they enlist, mostly clean records, and in general “good people”.
To be a Chaplain in the Army, the individual must have a masters degree in theology, and two years as a preacher, and have the recommendation of his dioceses, church, or denomination hierarchy. The Army has Protestant Chaplains of every denomination (Southern Baptist are the most numerous). There are Catholic Chaplains, Jewish Chaplains, Muslim Chaplains, and this spring, under pressure from liberal activists, the Army announced that it would consider the idea of Humanist Chaplains. Chaplains are assigned, after considering the personal desires of the individual, by the Army Chief of Chaplains, who is a Major General (two stars), but as mentioned above every battalion sized unit has a chaplain. A unit may have a chaplain of any religion or denomination. After being accepted by the Army, a minister is commissioned as a First Lieutenant or a Captain, depending on experience, and attends a 3 month Chaplains Basic Officer Course at the Chaplaincy Center at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. If the Chaplain is going to an airborne unit, they then attend Airborne School. Many Chaplains have gone to Ranger School, and there are several Chaplains, in Special Forces, who have completed the Special Forces Qualification Course to earn their Green Beret. In a combat unit, a Chaplain with a Ranger Tab, is accepted as “one of us”, and even more so in Special Forces units, if the Chaplain is wearing a Green Beret.
The Chaplains’ job is to administer to the spiritual and emotional needs of soldiers and their families. In doing that, the Chaplain becomes the primary advisor and counselor in matters of religion, morals, and morale. Any soldier can go see his Chaplain anytime. The first person the soldier sees is the Chaplain’s Assistant. He or she is like a screener, because if the soldier has specific problems that can be handled better by someone else, such as financial problems, the assistant may connect them with specialists in that area. The Chaplain’s Assistant may reveal what is told to him, only to the Chaplain. What a soldier tells a Chaplain is confidential between the soldier and the Chaplain. However, most Chaplains, in my experience, are pretty common sensed people. When I was a drill sergeant, in charge of a company of half males and half females, a staff sergeant came to me one morning, as I was moving the company to a range, and said; “I’m going to see the Chaplain, I’ve done fell in love with a trainee” ,turned and walked away. I was obligated to tell my commanders, but the company was already moving. In that case, the Chaplain went straight to the Battalion Commander, who immediately relieved the sergeant from drill sergeant duty, and got him away from the trainees.
Anyone can enlist to be a Chaplain’s Assistant. They are not Assistant Chaplains, they are assistants to the Chaplain. The Chaplain is a non-combatant, does not carry a weapon. The Chaplain’s Assistant is a combatant and does carry a weapon, because one of the assistant’s duties is to protect the Chaplain, in the field. That is Army MOS (military occupational specialty) 56M. It requires a four year enlistment, one year or two courses in computer keyboard, or pass a typing test at 25 words per minute, a valid state drivers licenses good for at least a year after enlistment, and be able to get a Secret security clearance. In other words, nothing bad, except a minor traffic ticket. The future 56M should be comfortable and solid with his or her faith. I never met one who wasn’t, but I’ve read of assistants who weren’t particularly religious, and did not like the job. He or she should be an outgoing people person, who enjoys talking and dealing with people. The Chaplain and the Chaplain’s Assistant are the Unit Ministry Team, and the troops look at the assistant as the junior member of that team. They will approach the assistant, especially in a combat area, and ask for encouraging words.
The future 56M attends Basic Combat Training with everyone else, from here that would be at Fort Leonard Wood, then seven weeks of 56M AIT(advanced individual training) at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. It is one of the easiest AITs, no overnight field exercises. That doesn’t mean no PT. Everybody in the Army does PT (physical training). In AIT they study English grammar, spelling and punctuation, typing and clerical skills, preparing forms and correspondence in Army style, roles and responsibilities of Army Chaplains, and religious history and background. They learn how to set up religious services, coordinate the Chaplains travels with the ongoing operation, how to safeguard privileged communications, and how to perform in crisis management. They learn how to use advanced digital equipment, maintain reports, files, and administrative data for religious operations, also how to receive and safeguard Chapel Tithes and Offering Funds.
In actual practice, the Chaplain’s Assistant often works like an assistant Chaplain. He doesn’t preach, but he does everything else, including counselling and consoling. Many young soldiers will confide in the assistant before the Chaplain, about everything from financial trouble, alcohol, drugs, to infidelity. Many troops look at the Chaplain’s Assistant as an easy job, and physically it usually is, but they don’t envy the assistant when he is setting up multiple memorial services in Iraq and Afghanistan. In combat Chaplain’s like to see as many troops as possible, and the assistants job is to be there protecting his Chaplain, but one of the assistants duties is to coordinate with the units they are visiting, to insure that he doesn’t get his Chaplain in real danger. However, they do like to be with the troops when the troops are in danger. Chaplain Phillip Nichols was killed in Vietnam in October 1970, by a concealed explosive device. Chaplain Tim Vacok was critically injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006, and died in 2009, as a result of those injuries. In August 2010, Chaplain Dale Goetz, hitched a ride on an up-armored Humvee, with a supply convoy going from one Forward Operating Base to another in southern Afghanistan, where he counseled soldiers. A roadside bomb killed all six in the vehicle. A Chaplain’s Assistant, Staff Sergeant Christopher Stout, was killed in Afghanistan in July 2010. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the assistants often led drivers in prayer, before a convoy. One Chaplain’s Assistant in Afghanistan, who already had two tours in Iraq, said that to be a successful Chaplain’s Assistant you must be willing to sacrifice your personal time and get to know as much as you can about your soldiers and the problems they face. He has apparently accepted the responsibility of being someone in whom the soldiers can confide.
This is a good Army job for someone solid in their faith, but who also wants to experience the military.

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