Chaplains needed in National Guard

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Finding enough chaplains to minister to troops has become a difficult task.

The Kansas Air National Guard has two of its six chaplain positions unfilled, while the Kansas Army National Guard is faring worse, with nine of 15 slots vacant.

Officials with the Kansas Army National Guard describe the high vacancy rate as typical of other units across the country.

They said efforts to address the shortage, including a $10,000 sign-on bonus, $4,500 in tuition assistance and extending the age limit for new enlistees, had done little to help so far.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchMilitary / Armed ForcesReligion & Culture

Posted September 28, 2009 at 8:20 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Mad Padre wrote:

This doesn’t surprise me.  Military chaplaincy is a demanding calling but it’s rich rewards for those who are called to it.  I find it a wonderful and richly rewarding ministry, and I’m happy to correspond with anyone reading this blog who might be considering it.  I blog on military chaplaincy at and you can get in touch with me there.
Padre Mike Peterson
Canadian Forces

September 28, 9:32 am | [comment link]
2. Sick & Tired of Nuance wrote:

I think that one of the issues impacting the shortage of Chaplains in the US military is the perception, rightly or wrongly, that they may not invoke the name of Jesus in public prayer.  I could be wrong, but I think that many who might consider becoming chaplains would avoid such perceived constraints on the free exercise of their religion.  Make no mistake, for Christians; Jesus Christ is intrinsically divine and part of the Trinitarian Godhead.  If there is a perception that a chaplain may not invoke the name of his/her God because of their military position, I don’t think many will be inclined to volunteer to potentially go into harm’s way, only to be denied full expression of their faith.

September 28, 9:50 am | [comment link]
3. FrWes wrote:

Sick and Tired,
We are free to invoke the Name of Jesus for any voluntary assembly, and the current guidelines merely call for more generic invocations when they are at mandatory formations.  It’s not a big deal for me because citing Jesus to those who would be offended is lousy evangelistic strategy anyway.  When soldiers or airmen come to me to hear about our faith it is because of my gentle witness and the pastoral care I provide.  I have seen quite a few people come to faith through the compassion of chaplains, but never through faith imposed.

It would be great to cite the Name of Jesus every time I pray, but as our culture gets more secular, so does our makeup in the Guard, and I don’t mind being more subtle in certain situations as I reach out to these secularists behind the scenes.

The recruitment is a real problem.  For two years now I have been unsuccessful in finding a chaplain from the Fresno area to help me in my Fighter Wing there.  The benefits include about $23,000 in student loan forgiveness and cheap medical coverage through the military Tricare program.  This is great for anyone with a small parish, or for someone on staff at a church with a modest salary. 

The main obstacles are from the unwillingness of many to be deployed and the physical fitness standards we need to maintain.  In the Army you need to run 2 miles on a regular basis.  In the Air Force it’s 1 1/2 miles.  The waistline is another issue, with most of us needing to keep our fat rolls under 36” unless we can run like deer!  Another obstacle is misconception of the ministry.  This job is not primarily about “doing church” at my base or in the field, though that is a vital part of what I do.  The bulk of my work is pastoral care for those in crisis.  The Chaplain is the one who can intervene when a soldier’s wife files for divorce.  The Chaplain is the one who intervenes when an airman is suicidal, the Chaplain is the one who intervenes when an abusive commander is about to destroy the career of a good worker.  The Chaplain is the one who prays with a commander after he learns that some of his people have been killed.  The Chaplain is the one who talks with a young man who just lost his legs, wondering about the future.  The Chaplain is the one who prays with the nurse overwhelmed at the sight and smell of the burn victim she cares for.  The Chaplain is the one who escorts the body of a fallen comrade onto the aircraft for home.  The Chaplain is the one a soldier talks to as he grieves over friends lost in battle and over a marriage that failed. 

This is real ministry.  It is painful and joyful.  In it you WILL deploy and be separated from your family and church for a season.  Your church will be proud and resentful at the same time.  So may your wife be.  This is small potatoes compared to our soldiers on their third tour in five years.  I last heard that the Army is about 56% manned for chaplains right now.  I think the Air Force is about 80% manned.  They need out help.

September 28, 1:48 pm | [comment link]
4. Sick & Tired of Nuance wrote:

Dear FrWes,

Thank you for your service, sir.  Please know that my post was in no way a criticism of the Chaplain Corps, for which I have a very high regard.  Thank you for filling in the details about the services that Chaplains provide.

My comment was addressing what I think is a widely held perception about being a Chaplain and the potential impact that perception may have on recruiting Chaplains.

God bless,
a.k.a. Sick & Tired of Nuance

September 28, 1:59 pm | [comment link]
5. FrWes wrote:

Padre Mike,

I think we met at a chaplain conference in Baltimore last year.  It’s good to hear from you and I am honored to be your comrade in ministry!  Godspeed!

I can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

September 28, 2:03 pm | [comment link]
6. FrWes wrote:

Thanks Sick & Tired,
No offense was taken and I’m sorry if I left that impression.  I think you are right that people let their political perceptions get in the way of this ministry, forgetting that this is about pastoral care and encouragement of faith.  They also forget the great liberty and privilege we have been able to preserve in the Chaplain Corps with regard to the Gospel.  We must never proselytize, but we remain free to share our faith, or to offer advice for fellow airmen and soldiers who wish to share their faith.  When political forces sought to restrict our ministry, the godly leadership at the Top weathered the storm and preserved our rights as ministers.  Thank you for your service!

September 28, 2:12 pm | [comment link]
7. Sick & Tired of Nuance wrote:

Does anyone know how well the ranks of Chaplain assistants are doing as far as meeting their recruiting goals?  Is the shortage strictly confined to Chaplains?

September 28, 2:15 pm | [comment link]
8. Mad Padre wrote:

I think Fr. Wes has it spot on.  There are challenges that would-be chaplains must meet, and if you’ve spent any time in our rather sedentary profession, physical fitness can be one of them.  Those challenges are not insurmountable - I went from being 60 pounds overweight to the point where I was running (albeit slowly) half marathons during the runup to my recruitment into the CF.  For those of us who have families, it can be challenging for a spouse and children who never expected it to suddenly find themselves being military, and likely to be posted far away from friends, family and support networks.  Deployments are a reality, and they strain families sometimes to the breaking point.  Also, for those of us who are reserve chaplains, if you don’t have the support of a bishop and parish, it can be a hard life.  I finally went into full-time Regular Force chaplaincy after too many scars from my parishioners who couldn’t reconciles themselves to my other calling. 
I find that in public prayer, which is not that common an occurrence outside of chapel worship, saying “in Jesus’ name” is not forbidden, but I am always conscious that we are a multicultural, multifaith military and so I am careful how I pray.  A prayer addressed to “gracious God” or “sovereign Lord” seems to my mind just as reverent and heartfelt, and carries less risk of offending Jews, Muslims, atheists, etc.  In our Branch we have a motto, “Minister to our own, facilitate the faith needs of others, and care for all”.  If one is unable to tolerate the mystery of other faiths, or unable theologically to engage with other faiths (I had a chaplain friend who was asked by some professedly Wiccan soldiers to help them find a worship space in Afghanistan) then military chaplaincy is not for you.  As an orthodox and creedal Trinitarian Anglican, I know who my Lord and Saviour is, but I am also walking in faith that my calling includes showing God’s love to all I meet by word, gesture, and example.  It can be tricky sometimes -  working in a multifaith environment as a servant to all for me requires much theological reflection, grounding in the prayer and worship of one’s denomination, and in one’s own private devotional and scripture life.

September 28, 2:19 pm | [comment link]
9. FrWes wrote:

We are undermanned there as well due to a new requirement in the Air Force for Chaplain Assistants to be recruited only from those already in the military or from among veterans.  In other words no new recruits as Chaplain Assistants.  It’s still easier than for Chaplains because the qualifications are otherwise more flexible.  Thanks for asking.

September 28, 2:20 pm | [comment link]
10. TXVicar wrote:

There are certainly challanges to the ministry within the chaplaincy but the rewards certainly outweigh the sacrifices.  I think our colleagues in the National Guard and Reserve programs face the additional difficulty (especially those in single or small staff parishes) of having a split obligation that really puts the congregation in a bind if deployed.

As to Chaplain Assistants, the Army is in need and does not soley recruit internally or from prior service candidates.

Chap R

September 28, 5:16 pm | [comment link]
11. montanan wrote:

Thanks and a smart salute to all of you who serve.  Our parish prays for you regularly.

September 29, 2:44 am | [comment link]
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