Morality: The Chaplain is On Point

             As I'm getting closer to raising my right hand and re-entering the Army as a chaplain candidate, friends and family with little military background or understanding have asked what a chaplain does.  As I share my understanding of the answer with them, there is a bit of a surprise.  It seems many people feel the chaplain is just in the Army for the Sunday service and funerals.  It's much more.  I wrote a brief discussion on this for a chaplain course in seminary and felt it might be insightful.  
          The United States Army has every expectation that its personnel will act with high integrity and moral fortitude.  However, both of these terms are ambiguous and somewhat undefined by the military.  How then is a soldier, noncommissioned officer, or commander to know what is required of him, her, or the unit?  To assist in this area, the Army has placed some of the responsibility with the chaplain.

            Of the seven Army Values, two specifically deal with morality: Integrity and Personal Courage.  The definition of integrity, according to the Army, is, “Do what’s right, legally and morally” ( 2009); personal courage means to, “Face fear, danger or adversity (physical or moral)” ( 2009).  A third Army Value is Respect, instructing soldiers to “treat people as they should be treated” ( 2009).  Another example of the need for interpretation of morality includes the Noncommissioned Officer’s Creed, which states in part, “I will not compromise my integrity, nor my moral courage” ( 2009).  Yet, these values and creeds don’t go into any further detail as to what is morality.  Because most people believe that morality find its roots in religion, it only make sense that the chaplain would be the person to teach the soldiers and advise command on it. 

            The chaplain is a staff officer, and as such, has “direct access to the commander” (AR 165-1, 4-5a 2004, 8).  In addition, Army Regulation dictates that, “Chaplains will advise the commander and staff on matters of religion, morals, and morale” (AR 165-1, 4-5a 2004, 8).   Therefore, it is safe to assume that the chaplain is expected to be the interpreter of situational events dealing with morality.  Commanders and soldiers alike should be able to approach the chaplain for moral advise, but in order for the individual to trust the chaplain, the chaplain must be credible, him or herself living a life of example in the areas of morality, integrity, and respect.

            In addition to being an advisor, the chaplain is also a watchdog.  Anne C. Loveland explains the chaplain’s moral and humanitarian responsibilities:
The chaplain manuals issued in 1984 and 1989 extend the chaplain’s purview to include illegal, immoral, or inhumane practices during combat.  Not only was he supposed to aid the commander in preventing such practices, but he also was specifically directed to report to him possible violations of the laws of war, as well as such practices as ‘dehumanizing treatment of friendly troops, enemy prisoners of war (EPW), or civilians; violations of codes of morality; illegal acts, desecrations of sacred places, and disrespect for human life (Bergen 2004, 242-243).
Anne Loveland’s statement clearly points out that the chaplain is not simply a provider of Sunday services or an administer of the sacraments.  The chaplain is also expected to provide advice to soldiers and commanders regarding the morality of their actions and behaviors.  And when soldiers and commanders exercise behavior that does not demonstrate the moral strength expected of them, regulation requires that the chaplain report the violations.

            War has a tendency to bring about some of the world’s worst atrocities.  When America commits these atrocities—such as the My Lai massacre or the torture and inhumane treatment at Abu Ghraib Prison—America looses credibility among the other nations of the world.  In addition, American soldiers could live the rest of their lives with the guilt of their behavior brought about from war.  For some, this proves too unbearable and they resort to drugs, alcohol, or even suicide.   And often the quality of life for the surviving victims of war crimes is greatly reduced.  The chaplain is not only responsible for the spiritual wellbeing of individual soldiers of his unit (or parish), he or she is also responsible for providing sound advice to the commander and seeing that the unit performs its mission with high moral standards.  When the chaplain fails in this particular role, little good can come from the remainder of his or her religious duties.           

Reference List
Bergen, Doris L. The Sword of the Lord: Military Chaplain from the First to the Twenty-First Century.  Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame, 2004. Soldier Live: Living the Army Values. (accessed February 19, 2009).
Headquarters of the Department of the Army. 2004. Army Regulation 165-1: Chaplain Activities in the United States Army (March, 25). By Order of the Secretary of the Army, Peter J. Schoomaker. U.S. Army NCO Creed. (accessed February 19, 2009).

*This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.
**Photo Info: "Staff Sgt. Miguel A. Martinez-Velazquez, chaplain's assistant noncommissioned officer in charge, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, shelters 3rd BCT Brigade Chaplain Maj. Paul Jaedicke from incoming fire during the role play training for chaplain and chaplain's assistants Aug. 3rd at the Joint Readiness Training Center. The chaplains and thier assistants are training for an upcoming deployment in support of the war on terror. (U.S. Army Photo by Pfc. Kimberly Cole, 40th Public Affairs Office) This photo is registered under a Creative Commons license: / CC BY 2.0