Army Chaplain: Worship, Counseling, Visitation, and Wartime Readiness

             Just before entering the Promised Land, Moses preached to the Israelites in Arabah.  Among Moses’ many directives were instructional laws for warfare.  He said, “And when you draw near to battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the people and shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: Let not your heart faint.  Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the LORD your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you victory” (Deut. 20:2-5, ESV).  Priests spoke first, then the commanders.  At Jericho, the priests blew the trumpets that led the people to shout and bring the wall down (Josh. 6).  These are but two examples of how God used priests among the Israelite warriors.  The chaplains of the modern American Army are not used in the same manner as the Israelite priests, but they still play a vital role to the force through offering worship services, counseling, visitation, and wartime readiness preparedness.  

            The mission of the Army Chaplaincy, in part, is to “Provide religious support to America’s Army across the full spectrum of operations” (U. S. Chaplaincy Corp 2009, Sec 2:1).  It is for this reason that the chaplain prepares worship services in both peace and wartime, in the garrison and on the battlefield.  On occasion, the chaplain must work outside what would be considered typical for clergy.  Rabbi Max Wall serves as a great example, having provided an Easter service in Bavaria at the conclusion of World War II (Bergen 2004, 210-211).  Indeed, in an Army rapidly growing more religiously diverse and serving in atypical missions throughout the world, the ability for a chaplain to remain flexible without violating his or her own religious tenants is paramount. 

            In recent years, counseling has moved up to a top priority of the chaplain corp.  Army Chief of Staff, General George Casey Jr. says,
After seven years of continuous combat however, our Army is out-of-balance.  The stress on Soldiers and Families has had an impact across the force.  Yet our Values remain non-negotiable.  Precisely for this reason, the Chaplain Corps’ mission of providing spiritual, moral, and ethical counseling is critically important (U. S. Chaplaincy Corp 2009, Sec 1:i).
In an effort to keep “spiritual, moral, and ethical counseling” in a position of high importance, the Army Chaplaincy Strategic Plan 2009-2014 requires the strengthening of existing support programs and the creation of more of them; in addition to recruiting higher caliber chaplains and opening more opportunities for soldier and family counseling.  Chaplains regularly find themselves counseling wounded warriors and their families, soldiers transitioning out of the Army, and career soldiers enduring multiple extended deployments.  Suicide rates are higher among soldiers than the rest of the population, and chaplains are serving on the forward front in efforts to prevent future suicides as well as other physical, mental, and spiritual hardships of the suffering soldier.

            Finally, to accomplish the first two primary areas of the Army chaplaincy—worship and counseling—the chaplain must put a greater effort into visitation.  It is the ministry of presence that allows the chaplain to serve the soldier’s needs, psychically, morally, and spiritually.   Hospital visits are just as important as meeting each solider on the battlefield as is time with the troops in garrison and training.  Presently, the chaplain must go to the soldier, no matter where his or she is, because it is becoming increasingly unlikely that the soldier will come to the chaplain.

            And through out all of the chaplain’s efforts, the reality of war must remain in the forefront of planning and training.  Not only must Army chaplains help prepare soldiers and their families for wartime, they themselves must be ready.  The Army Chaplaincy Strategic Plan 2009-2014 has come to realize that chaplains too must be ready to go anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice, at any time.  Without a doubt, in the face of a changing world, the Army chaplaincy must be changing too.

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.

U. S. Army, Chaplain Corp. 2009.  The Army Chaplaincy Strategic Plan 2009-2014. (Accessed February 28, 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.