One branch of the U.S. military has the advertising slogan, “The few. The proud. The Marines.”
A group in another branch might be called, “The cherished. The badly needed. The U.S. Army Chaplains Corps.”
Now, more chaplains are needed, and recruiters are seeking to find 400 of them at a time when the U.S. military is both expanding its numbers and undergoing constant scrutiny by international media for its activities in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Because chaplains have proved invaluable in assisting America’s soldiers, especially in war zones, U.S. military authorities have created many extra chaplaincy posts.
Signing bonuses are as high as $10,000 US for those who make the commitment, and who qualify outright.
According to Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Ran Dolinger, spokesperson for the U.S. Army’s Office of the Chief of Chaplains, 80 per cent of those serving in the U.S. military say they are Christian, with only 10 per cent indicating “no preference” for their religion.
Even then, Mr. Dolinger said that he learned “no preference” often means people are Christians but have no preference for which church they attend.
The greatest shortage of chaplains currently is among Roman Catholics. “Twenty per cent of those in the military are Catholic. If 20 per cent of our chaplains were Catholic, that would mean we’d have 300 but we’ve got only 91,” Mr. Dolinger explained.
The most effective recruiting comes from two sources. The first is the chaplains themselves as they return home to speak to their own denominations, colleges or seminaries. The other source is among those who already have military backgrounds and now want to do seminary training and then become military chaplains.
Mr. Dolinger served two tours in Iraq, one for eight months, the other for two. He said chaplains themselves often underestimate their own value at the front.
“When I am praying for those troops, they take it very seriously,” he said. He added, “If I am part of their convoy transport, they cheer because they have the feeling that God is with them.”
Mr. Dolinger said the greatest spiritual needs in war zones relate to the relationships between the soldiers and their families.
“There are people wondering how they are going to keep their marriages together or how they are going to help take care of their children back home,” he said. He added, “Certainly, there are sometimes the issues that come with taking another human life or losing a close friend, but for the most part it is about their families.”