Chaplains are some of the most misunderstood troops in the formation. Everyone knows that they have their own office in the battalion building and troops are generally aware that their door is intentionally left open, figuratively and often literally, but that’s about the extent of most troops’ interactions with them.
While it is true that one of their primary purposes is to provide religious aid to their troops, they offer the troops of their battalion much more.
Chaplains also provide services for the fallen, in whatever faith the troop held in life.
As odd as it may sound for troops who sport religious symbols on their uniforms, chaplains aren’t supposed to prioritize their own faith over any other. Simply put, a chaplain who is of a particular denomination must be well-versed in many religions so they can provide support to those of other faiths. For example, it’s not uncommon for a Christian chaplain to be knowledgeable on how to welcome a Shabbat for troops of Jewish faith.
Chaplains can accommodate the religious needs of troops but they aren’t allowed to proselytize (attempt to convert) any troop. When it comes to getting troops to attend services, they’re not allowed to do much outside of making a service schedule known. These restrictions on converting are essential to maintaining trust between troops and chaplain. A trust that must exist for chaplains to perform their other role: being the battalion’s first stop for mental, emotional, and moral support.
Entirely from personal experience, chaplains (or more likely, their assistants) seem to be the only ones in the unit who know how to make a decent cup of coffee. But if that’s what it takes to get someone who needs to talk in the door, it’s a good thing.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Carolyn Herrick)
Just as with a civilian religious leader, the unit’s chaplain is covered under clergy-penitent privilege. This means that anything that a troop tells the chaplain will be kept in confidence between the two (unless the information exchanged presents a clear and immediate danger). Chaplains are also not allowed to turn anyone away, so a troop could, theoretically, step into a chaplain’s office and rant to their heart’s content — and the chaplain will listen to every word.
Chaplains are there to assist with crises of faith, relationship issues, problems at work, and even things that could be legally held against them under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. More recently, chaplains have played an essential role in suicide prevention, too.
But if you wanted to talk religion with them, they’ll definitely have some advice for you.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Sadie Colbert)
No matter how bad things get, the chaplain will always be there. In fact, they aren’t allowed to stop you from talking to them, even if you’re going on for hours. They can offer aid and support for many matters, but they aren’t allowed to openly discuss your issues with anyone — no matter the circumstances. And they can quietly steer the troop toward proper help, if a troop so desires.
They offer this to every troop in the unit, all without a mention of religion.