Chaplains: Fighting the Three-Headed Monster

Not only are chaplains the most forgotten branch of service, they have to fight on three fronts. The first and most obvious is being with soldiers in combat. Second is fighting their own stresses and conflicts.

Third is dealing with the anti-Christian, anti-American attitudes and rules forced on chaplains and on soldiers by the US government. We will not discuss that very powerful and evil force in this article, but be aware that it is there, it is designed to stifle the message of salvation and new life through faith in Jesus Christ, and it is very effective. This evil force wears a disguise of compassion and respectability, but it undermines the cohesiveness and the safety of our military. Maybe we’ll talk about it and other extreme dangers to our military on another occasion.

The chaplains are the smallest component of the military: as best I can determine, there are about 6,000 chaplains in the Army, Air Force, and Navy. (Navy Chaplains serve the Marines and the Coast Guard also.) That’s for roughly 2.1 million active and reserve duty US military personnel, a ratio of about 350 to 1. Each chaplain has responsibility for a fair-sized “church”, in other words.

Arena One: Chaplains at War
“When Soldiers go to the field, the chaplain goes to the field. And when Soldiers go to battle, the chaplain follows.” From Bob Wichman, a 25-year chaplain…

“Wichman has been a chaplain for 25 years, meeting the spiritual needs of Soldiers in battalions, brigades, hospitals and even a military prison. He deployed twice to the Middle East and was also a chaplaincy resource manager at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he ensured 21 unit ministry teams had the supplies they needed to conduct religious services and complete projects like chapel renovations. That diverse background has prepared him for his new role overseeing religious-supply support to all Department of Defense chaplains.”

One classic definition of stupid is “He brought a knife to a gunfight.” While there’s room to debate the truth of that statement, it does make the point.

Imagine getting into a gunfight, not only without a gun, but without a knife! Now imagine that your opponents – emphasis on the plural – are armed with machine guns, rocket launchers, mortars, sniper rifles, grenades … that does begin to sound stupid, doesn’t it?

But that’s an important part of the reality of the US military chaplain’s job. It’s the most dramatic, most familiar part, to the civilian world. The part that most civilians probably think of when they hear the word “chaplain”. It’s FAR from the only part, but it is of primary importance. It takes a ferociously tough mind to go into a war zone classified as a non-combatant, facing those odds, without a weapon of any kind. Yet this is a core component of the mind of a chaplain.

Have you ever met a chaplain? Here are the stories of a few outstanding men in this demanding occupation:

Chaplain (Captain) Emil J. Kapaun, U.S. Army … will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his extraordinary heroism while serving with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy at Unsan, Korea and as a prisoner of war from Nov. 1-2, 1950.”

This man’s “extraordinary heroism” consisted, first, of ignoring “heavy enemy fire” to aid and comfort his comrades. His unit was surrounded, but there was an opportunity to retreat. In fact, all able-bodied US troops were ordered to retreat, but Kapaun refused to obey the order. He stayed with the wounded, and was captured along with them by the advancing Chinese.

I can’t say it any better than this quote:
“While imprisoned, Kapaun would bring food for the other men, build water purification systems and laundry cleaning structures with the skills he learned on his family farm as a youth, all while still tending to the sick and wounded in camp … Kapaun kept the men’s spirits high by leading them in spiritual services and prayer, even at the risk of punishment for doing so. He was feared by the guards for his outspoken resistance, but respected by his fellow captives. Upon the prisoners’ return from Pyoktong prison, they told stories of Kapaun’s courage, compassion and spirit, crediting him with saving hundreds of lives.”

That brings tears to my eyes. Courage, loyalty, patriotism, and undaunted faith blazes forth from those words like a lighthouse at midnight. It reminds me of a Catholic saying: “Per crucem, ad lucem!” – “From the cross flashes forth the light!”

Captain Kapaun died in Pyoktong prison camp on May 23, 1951, as a result of abuse from his captors and his wounds. That link also contains the astonishing list of medals and awards this hero of the chaplaincy earned over his time in service, but no medal is as impressive as the actual story of his life and death. May God bless him forever.


From “We Are the Mighty

One of six chaplains at that link who became heroes:
“Army Reserve Maj. (Chaplain) Charles J. Watters was moving with a company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade when they came under fire from a Vietnamese battalion. During the ensuing battle, he frequently left the outer perimeter to recover wounded soldiers, distribute food, water, and medical supplies, and administer last rites. On one trip to assist the wounded, he was injured and killed. He posthumously received the Medal of Honor.”

Again the incredible courage, loyalty to comrades, and strong faith that enable an unarmed man to face death with no regard for his own life. Amazing!

If you would like to read about life with the 173rd as seen by another of their chaplains, here’s a book I have recommended before on these pages

Arena Two: Chaplains Spiritual Services

This website is part of the U.S.Department of Defense’s Military OneSource network

“Chaplains are the military’s religious leaders, responsible for tending to the spiritual and moral well-being of service members and their families. The chaplain’s responsibilities include performing religious rites, conducting worship services, providing confidential counseling and advising commanders on religious, spiritual and moral matters … The chaplain team includes chaplain assistants and religious program specialists, both of which are enlisted personnel. The team’s main obligations to service members and their families include:

Conducting worship and administering sacraments
Performing other religious ceremonies and services
Visiting with service members
Developing religious education programs and religious youth activities
Conducting seminars and retreats
Accompanying service members into combat
Providing combat stress support
Advising commanders on religious and moral matters”

“Chaplains are not typically licensed clinical counselors; however, they adhere to absolute confidentiality and are prepared to help people with many life challenges including:

Work-related issues
Combat stress
Marriage and family
Substance abuse

That is a full plate, my friends. All the areas of concern a civilian pastor has, and at least some, probably many, of their “church members” have been exposed to the horrors of war and the extreme stress of long family separations.

As with Emergency Medical personnel, anyone who is looking for an easy, calm job should look elsewhere.

For those non-combatant soldiers we call chaplains, to those of you who do your best to fulfill your responsibilities to our warriors, we earnestly thank you. You have earned your nation’s gratitude. We pray that you may be effective in your service.

God bless all our Troops and Veterans. Thank you all for your service!

Have a blessed and safe RED Friday all.

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