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Chaplain's Corner: 240 years of Chaplain Corps means a history of victory

By Army Chaplain (Maj.) Will Harrison | U.S. Army Support Element | July 30, 2015


The "Chaplain's Corner" offers perspectives to enhance spiritual/religious resiliency in support of Air Force and Army Comprehensive Fitness programs.

Comments regarding specific beliefs, practices, or behaviors are strictly those of the author and do not convey  endorsement by the U.S. government, the Department of Defense, the Army, the Air Force, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, or the 673d Air Base Wing.

July 29 is the 240th birthday of the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps.

In 1775, George Washington established chaplains as a necessary and vital component of military operations.

That event has caused ripples through history, impacting lives of service members, family members, civilians, and enemy combatants.

It was a small thing for a general to say that every regiment should have a chaplain, but it set a precedent and established a profession that has withstood the test of time as a valuable asset and a necessary institution.

We each have our own personal establishment date, and we mark it with some degree of recognition that the date of our birth is a day that is similar to any other day, but for us, is different from every other day. It affords us an annual opportunity to review our personal history and review what has gone well, and what has not gone well. It also invites us to set a new path and make our future better than our past.

The Chaplain Corps is replete with good history.

Some of it is very well known such as Chaplain Charles Watters or Chaplain Emil Kapaun, both recipients of Medals of Honor.

Most of the corps' history is of small victories in the life of the individuals to whom chaplains minister through words of encouragement, religious rites, or pastoral counsel that reorients people to God and renews their soul.

Every individual also has great moments of history in their life. Those moments are occasionally noticed by the public, or of such great achievement that other cannot help but notice.

Most often, however, our victories go unnoticed, even by us when we achieve them. Those daily victories over the difficulties and tragedies of life, the continued press to fulfill our purpose and do whatever it is each of us is meant to do, reverberate through our lives, and the lives of those around us.

We tend to minimize that victorious momentum, though, because the negative aspects of our history can drag us down so quickly and mercilessly.

We each have had moments of history that have been rather less than victorious. Indeed, they have been abject failures. We fall short and fail so many times, and suffer at the hands of others whose failures damage us, that victory can seem a pipe dream.

Every chaplain can tell a story of "that one chaplain" who failed so tragically.

The corps has had quite a few individuals who have stumbled and fallen, usually tearing the fabric of a unit and ripping lives apart in the process.

As chaplains, we don't like to talk about those events; they are painful and they continue to reverberate as the injured commander or betrayed NCO is hurt and wary of the next chaplain, and the chaplain after that.

As many chaplains learn through their first few assignments, it can take years to undo the damage of a single failure.

So what are we to do? Simply give up and quit? There are many who would have it that way. There are a number of prominent people who regularly call for the demise of the chaplain corps because of its failures.

But, as military leaders, political leaders, and courts have regularly said, chaplains are needed, and necessary to a successful military.

Thankfully our personal lives are not under such constant, venomous assault, but it can seem as though we are.

Our failures can pile up so high, the weight can be so much, that we collapse under the pain of what we have done, and what we have left undone. We can suffocate because of our trespasses and how we have been trespassed against.

Most religious groups throughout the world understand that this reality is not the way that life should be and that there must be some solution, something we can do about it.

Many people choose a way that is counter-intuitive. Rather than striving to do better, to get it right the next time, many people choose to start over, to start with a new birth.

If your history is less victorious than you would like, talk to a chaplain about getting a new start so that you can begin again with a new history and new momentum that leads to a future better than the past.