US Military Chaplains: They Go Where You Go, Part 2

It has been noted here many times before that chaplains in the US military travel the world with US troops, even to one-off places [the South Pole].

It should go without saying that chaplains follow their troops into combat, as well.  Many are familiar with the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan and Part 3 of Band of Brothers, which dramatize the real-life service of chaplains serving under fire.  In the movies, they are unfazed (and unstruck) by the bullets landing around them:

From Saving Private Ryan, a chaplain gives last rites during the assault on Omaha Beach.

From Band of Brothers, Part 3 (“Carentan”), a chaplain moves from soldier to soldier providing last rites under fire as others find cover.

A recent Army article noted the training chaplains and their assistants go through to prepare them, as a team, for the combat environment.  In the vast majority of circumstances, US chaplains are unarmed but accompanied by a chaplain’s assistant charged with the chaplain’s security.

“Chaplains are non-combatants,” explained Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Harry C. Huey Jr…”As a result, there is a heavy burden of responsibility upon the chaplain assistant for the security of the chaplain in a deployed environment. Survivability training enables the chaplain to bring something to the table that supports the assistant in maintaining UMT security.”

In many cases, chaplains may have no prior military experience, and they may enter the military through “direct accession,” which basically means they go through a very abbreviated boot camp (if one at all).  It is imperative, then, that chaplains be explicitly taught how to conduct themselves in a combat environment — because the environment won’t cease to be combat just because they’re in it.

In this case, their training included a practical exercise:

Following three-days of training, the UMTs navigated a situational training lane exercise, moving thru a hostile environment to the casualty collection point to provide care for wounded Soldiers…Maintaining a low silhouette, the teams successfully negotiated the danger zone. Before reaching the CCP however, the teams encountered and reacted to two hostile role-players.

When they reached the CCP, they found five injured Soldiers and a priest needing various degrees of care. The teams quickly reacted and provided pastoral care.

The training is good, as it prepares them for what they may actually see in Afghanistan or other locations even now.

The “military director” for American Atheists, US Army Sgt Justin Griffith, recently referred to this as “Operation Human Shield.”  While he meant it pejoratively, it is likely the chaplain’s assistants would be willing to take a bullet for their chaplain (though they’d probably prefer no one to get shot at all).  Their job, after all, is to protect a fellow Soldier who is unarmed.

While Griffith is entitled to his mockery (in his defense, a lot of military training is easily mocked), he repeated his incorrect mantra from last year when he said:

Modern chaplains are specifically ordered to stay off the front lines.

He apparently qualified it with “modern” to rebut those who have pointed out chaplains have long been “on the front lines,” and some have even received the Medal of Honor.

Not only does no such “order” banning chaplains from combat exist, the opposite is true:  As routinely observed here, chaplains go everywhere troops go — including the front lines.

Despite Griffith’s staunch claims, two chaplains have died as a result of combat just in recent years — one as a result of a wound in Iraq, the other in Afghanistan.  (A chaplain assistant also died in combat in a separate incident.)  That Sgt Griffith disagrees with chaplains risking their lives to serve others does not create an “order” saying they are forbidden to do so.

Unfortunately, this discussion brought Griffith back to his George Costanza-like retort that “there are no chaplains in foxholes:”

The foxhole is a fighting position. Chaplains do not fight. If he somehow fell into a foxhole, it would actually just be a hole.

As noted above, combat does not cease to be combat simply because a person is a non-combatant.  A fighting position — or a fighting vehicle like a Humvee, MRAP, or helo — does not suddenly become a hole or “sedan” just because a chaplain is in it.

US military chaplains go wherever US troops go, where they protect their religious freedom and enable their ability to practice their faith.

They go where you go.  Even to the front lines.  As the LA Times noted a few years ago:

From the back of the MRAP, the chaplain piped up once more across the intercom.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me,” [the chaplain] said. “Thy .50-cal. and 240, they comfort me.”