Friday, November 13, 2009

U.S. Military – Getting It Right

The U.S. military has a proud tradition of chaplaincy. It is the job of military chaplains to address the pluralistic nature of the spiritual needs of its soldiers and sailors. A young marine recently stated that he was amazed at the chaplains in Iraq who went unarmed with his company into the “hot” zones where everyone else was “armed to the teeth.” It takes “guts” to fight but it also takes a special kind of courage to go into harms way. Yet, this is what the U.S. military chaplaincy corps does to address the spiritual needs of its combatants. The chaplain’s job is to help the soldier or sailor to make meaning out of whatever emotional or spiritual dilemma is facing them. This is a difficult task. The presence of unarmed chaplains also speaks volumes to those who may be of a “non-religious” nature. In living memory, chaplains have faced war with their service people as far back as World War II. This is an area that the military has some real skill in dealing with. America’s soldiers and sailors of many different religious persuasions have answered the call to serve in the military.

There are some faiths that are pacifist in nature which ought to disqualify individuals from serving in the military in combatant roles. Such individuals may serve as paramedics or in some other non-combatant position. The military may not be able to afford chaplains from every religious group, so chaplains must be screened so as to be flexible in their ability to support soldiers whose belief systems differ from their own.

Based on testimonies heard on public radio of soldiers who have been in Iraq or Afghanistan, soldiers repress their emotional side to survive in highly stressful combat situations. As a result, the religious moment in a service or a conversation with a chaplain may be a vital lifeline to the survival of the emotional and spiritual sides of America’s military heroes and heroines. The military should not make the mistake that is happening in America’s hospitals which are cutting back on chaplaincy staffing due to economic pressures. The emotional and spiritual needs of our fighters can not be left to chance. Keeping a strong chaplaincy corps is one area where the U.S. military is “getting it right” and should keep up the good work.

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