June 1, 2015 –
FORT JACKSON, S.C. - In April of 1775 a cleric from New England named William Emerson ministered to the minutemen at the Battle of Concord on the North Bridge, thus officially becoming the first chaplain of the Revolutionary War.
A few months later on July 29, the Chaplain Corps was formally recognized by the Continental Congress at Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Today, more than 3,000 Army chaplains, representing 140 different religious organizations, serve as religious leaders to Soldiers and their families, in peacetime and in combat.
Though their role as chaplain distinguishes them from combatants, nearly 300 members of the centuries old corps have lost their lives in combat to date. With the primary goal of the Army being to fight and win the nation’s wars; the goal of the Chaplain is to provide spiritual ministry to the troops.
“BOLC is about survivability,” said Maj. Andrew Lawrence, course manager of the Chaplain Basic Officer Leaders Course, U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School. “If they are not well versed on their Army Warrior Tasks then they become a liability on the battlefield and someone else is going to have to take care of them. That takes combat power away from the very unit they are supposed to serve. Chaplains simply cannot be a liability on the battlefield.”
It is for that simple but important reason that survivability has become the focus of all the Army’s chaplain candidates entering the Basic Officer Leaders Course at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. In order to train those necessary skills, the Army relies heavily on the Army Reserve’s 104th Training Division (Leader Training).
Since 1999, the Soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, 313th Infantry Regiment, 104th Training Division (LT), have been instructing warrior tasks and survivability in each USACCS class iteration. Those tasks include, day and night land navigation, communications, CBRN defense and movement under fire, just to name a few.
“By teaching these things it gives the chaplain an understanding of what we, as infantry Soldiers in a combat situation, are doing. In turn, it helps them understand what they need to do in order to protect themselves,” said Staff Sgt. Jim Ott, B Company, 3rd Battalion, 313th Infantry Regiment,104th Training Division.
“This also takes some of the pressure off the chaplain assistant,” Ott added.
During peacetime, the chaplain assistant helps coordinate and synchronize religious activities and provides religious support operations. During combat, that role takes on a whole new meaning as they shift from an administrative role to combatant whose primarily responsibility is the safety and protection of the chaplain.
“Typically in combat, my job is to place the chaplain in a position where I can protect and defend him or her,” said Staff Sergeant John Cushman, USACCS chaplain assistant and former Army Reserve Soldier.
“Every chaplain here is a new chaplain, whether they have prior military experience or not. It can be a challenge transitioning from a combatant to a non-combatant. The training they receive here at BOLC helps them to understand what they need to do in order for us to be effective in our jobs,” Cushman said.
With most of the chaplain candidates attending this BOLC class being Army Reserve or National Guard, encounters with instructors from the Army Reserve are especially impactful and add an additional training benefit.
“For the Reserve component and also the Guard, the 104th being here gives these candidates someone they can relate to and also gives them a sense of what their units are going to look like and how they operate,” Lawrence said.
First Lt. John Craber, Chaplain Candidate, 108th Training Command (IET), agreed with that assessment but takes it a step further.
“Having the 104th here has been a lot of fun for me in particular. These same instructors were out with me on a long weekend drill in April. I recognize a lot of them and they recognize me. They are all very knowledgeable and that has been an extra added benefit here in the school.”
“Beyond that, I think chaplains need to be with Soldiers. If the Soldier is down there getting muddy then we need to be right there with them getting muddy. Performing this training gives us an idea of what we can expect to go through when we get out there in the field,” Craber added.
In all, 60 chaplain candidates received training at the USACCS under the watchful eye of the 104th. With a professional training plan and a hefty dose of experience from Army Reserve Soldiers like Jim Ott, those candidates will now be able to focus on their job as minister to the troops while the Soldiers whose spiritual well-being they are charged, won’t have to focus on them.