August 30th, 2011
04:23 PM ET

Preparing clergy for war: army chaplains train by the hundred for the combat zone

By Eric Marrapodi and Chris Lawrence, CNN

Fort Jackson, South Carolina (CNN) – The summer sun beats down on camouflaged Kevlar helmets.  Weighed down by heavy body armor, men and women of the cloth are crawling through sand, under barbed wire and learning how to run with soldiers.

Explosions in woods simulate the battlefield as an instructor barks commands.

"You are not following simple instructions!  Cover me while I move!  Got you covered!  Let's go!"

This is the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where the Army trains clergy of all faiths how to survive in combat.

Once many of these chaplains complete this modified basic training they will head to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the explosions and gunfire are not simulated.

U.S. Army chaplain candidates train at Fort Jackson in South Carolina.

Here at Fort Jackson, on a range in the woods, there is a bevy of broken down cars and trucks to simulate an urban battlefield.

The army says being a chaplain in combat is among the most dangerous jobs because the chaplains move from base to base ministering to soldiers.

"Once you move behind the vehicle, the chaplain, who has no weapon, will stay behind the engine block or the wheel base. That is the safest place for you to be,” the instructor yells to the long line of chaplains who are readying to run this course.

On the battlefield, chaplains look just like any other soldier.

Decked out in camouflage and body armor, the only addition is a two-inch patch signifying their religious affiliation.  Christian clergy wear a cross, Jewish clergy tablets showing the Ten Commandments, and Muslim clergy wear a crescent.

A cross patch signifies a chaplain's religious affiliation.

What they do not have is a weapon.

Chaplains are unarmed at all times.

They travel in combat with a chaplain assistant who carries a weapon and protects the clergy member.

For this drill the chaplains are learning to hold onto the back of their assistant as they run from obstacle to obstacle.

The pairs have to stay low and move through the course two pairs at a time.  The chaplain assistants have to cover the others as they move.

“Cover me while I move!”

“Got you covered!”

Then they run and dive for cover.

Army chaplains must learn to run with soldiers.

"Hold onto him like this and you will not get separated or you will be taken out. You are the target of opportunity.  You stay on him!" The instructor yells when a chaplain is separated from his assistant.

This is about as far away from a suburban pulpit or seminary these clergy can get.

“In school I'm used to sitting at a desk and reading and writing, so it's definitely a little more physical,” 2nd Lt. Adri Bullard said.  She is a Methodist seminarian, pursuing a Master’s in Divinity at the divinity school at Vanderbilt University.

“Being in grad school and trying to get your (degree) takes discipline and the discipline is pretty steady throughout my life right now. Getting up early, staying up late. These big booms, that's the main difference.  You really don't have those going off at seminary or divinity school, hopefully,” she smiles and pauses as explosions punctuate her points.

She is the smallest person on the range and sports the biggest smile.  What she lacks in physical stature, she makes up two-fold in effort and energy.

Bullard is among 200 chaplains and chaplain hopefuls going through various stages of chaplain school at any given time.  In Bullard’s class of chaplain candidates, the group covers a wide range.  “We’ve got two of our students who are actually in their 50s and we have two that are 22,” said Chaplain Maj. Harold Cline, who is an instructor.

Regardless of age, the candidates are put through their paces.

“When you’re working with soldiers, they’re in good shape. That’s part of their business. If you’re going to minister to them and work with them, rub elbows with them, you’ve got to be in good shape as well.”

The U.S. Army employs around 2,900 chaplains.  About half are active duty and the other serve in the reserves.  Eight-hundred chaplains and chaplain assistants are deployed in the war on terror and 300 of them serve in the Middle East and Afghanistan, according to a spokesman.

In order to join the ranks, a member of the clergy also has to meet the ordination requirements of their own faith and be endorsed by them to join the military.

Bullard has at least a year of schooling to go before she can be ordained in her church to serve as a full-time minister and an active duty chaplain.

She said she felt the call to ministry in college, “(I) did some of that in a congregational setting, yet felt like there was something else I needed to be doing, maybe taking it to another level in another setting.  Military chaplaincy seemed to fit that.”

Even in training she sees a parallel between her spiritual calling and the military.

“You're helping to meet the most basic needs a person has to live and thrive and flourish.  I'm going to look for everyone around me and make sure they're drinking water. I'll go get them water if they need it.  And that's scriptural,” she said, referring to a passage in the gospels where Jesus talks about giving water to the thirsty.

“So I think it's pretty easy to do ministry out here in the beating South Carolina sun.”

The task at hand

In the Army, each combat unit is able to have a chaplain with them if the commanding officer wants one. They report to that commanding officer and are paid by the military for their services.

The chaplaincy corps had to grow in a hurry as combat operations increased in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade, said Chaplain Carlton Birch, the spokesman for the chaplain corps.

“Our country is becoming more pluralist,” Birch said.  “We’ve had our first Buddhist chaplain, now we have our first Hindu chaplain. Our chaplain corps has had to adapt.”

It’s a long way from the start of the chaplaincy corps on July 29, 1775, under George Washington.

Today army chaplains minister to soldiers of all faiths regardless of their own.  They hold services in remote areas, connect a soldier of another faith with a chaplain of their own, and conduct ceremonies to send a fallen soldier home.

“They are the listening ear, they are there in times of crisis and turmoil for the soldiers,” Birch said.  “The value we hold dear is to meet a person at their time of need.”

The danger of their job was brought home for many here last summer when Chaplain Dale Goetz was killed when an improvised explosive device struck the vehicle he was riding in Afghanistan.

He was the first chaplain killed in action since the Vietnam War.

“The danger is sometimes what gives us the credibility to minister to our soldiers.  They know we've been there.  We've been there with them.  We've faced the fear,” Chaplain Capt. Karlyn Maschhoff said.

Maschhoff is a seasoned chaplain with multiple tours to the Middle East under her belt.

She came to Fort Jackson for another component of training – moving from rookie status like Bullard to being a more senior chaplain and helping those new to this unique ministry position.

Before September 11, 2001, she was writing Sunday school material and doing mission work. “I came into the chaplaincy after the events of 9/11. That made a profound impact on me when I saw the need for chaplains,” Maschhoff said.

“It was a combination of patriotism and recognizing the needs of soldiers as they climbed on those planes to go to a place where they would be in harm’s way and I just felt the need to be with them, to go with them. That is what led to me accepting the call.”

During her prior tours in Iraq she has seen the worst of war on the battlefield and on the home front.

“My first deployment was in 2005-2006 and that was a tough period. There was a lot of loss of life, a lot of bloodshed and a lot of uncertainty. But then I also went back later in 2008 for a 15-month deployment and at that time you got to see things improving.  Incidents were happening, but you got to see progress.”

“Losing soldiers is always tough,” she said.  “Watching families struggle through a deployment, yet you come on, you struggle on together.  You get through the tough days together. You continue on. As a chaplain you bring hope for the future and that is our message to our soldiers, that it's a dark day but it's going to get better.”

Heading home the hard way

"In country if you're doing one of these it could be 100, 130 degrees, maybe even hotter," Cline barks as rookie chaplains learn how to send a soldier home the hard way, with a dignified transfer ceremony.

They practice with a flag-draped metal transfer case, identical to the thousands of cases used to send slain soldiers home from war.

Before the transfer case boards the plane for the long flight home, the chaplains say a prayer or hold a brief service.

“She may have moved on from this Earth, but she's still in my heart," a chaplain in training says as he looks over the transfer case.

Six soldiers pick up the case.  They snap their heels together and begin to move.

Chaplain Cline instructs chaplain candidates how to do a dignified transfer for a soldier killed in action.

"You do not want to be the chaplain who is walking too slow in front of an honors team,” Cline said.  “Why? They're carrying the body, they're carrying the transfer case, and even though the case is relatively light, it's got a body in it and it’s full of ice, so they're carrying a lot of weight.  Don't slow them down and don't make them hold that transfer case up while you're doing something ceremonial."

The chaplain candidate puts his hand on the flag, bows his head, and sends the solider off with a prayer.

Today is a drill, but the Army says in as little as two weeks, these trainees could be doing the real ceremony on an airstrip in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Days after our interview, Maschhoff was on a plane back to the Middle East to begin her third tour, fully confident of her mission from her commanders and from on high, “It's challenging and  you know there are tough times ahead, but you're there to do what you've been trained to do. You're there taking care of soldiers and it doesn't get better than that.”

–CNN’s John Person and Jonathan Schaer contributed to this report

Watch The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer weekdays at 4pm to 6pm ET and Saturdays at 6pm ET. For the latest from The Situation Room click here.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Afghanistan • Belief • Buddhism • Christianity • Content Partner • Hinduism • Iraq • Islam • Middle East • Military • TV-The Situation Room

soundoff (818 Responses)
  1. GDBnNH

    One last post from this long time atheist about the role of chaplains, this time from Stephen Ambrose's book, "D-Day.

    "Father Joe Lacy was on the beach, tending to the wounded. Lacy was described by one Ranger as a "Small, old fat Irishmman". The Rangers had insisted that he could never keep up with them, but he insisted on coming along. On the transport on the night of June 5-6, he told the Rangers, 'when you land on the beach and get in there, I don't want to see anybody kneeling down and praying. If you do, I'm going to come over and boot you in the tail! You leave the praying to me and you do the fighting"

    On the beach, men saw Father Lacy 'go down to the water's edge and pull the dead, dying and wounded from the water and put them in relatively protected positions. He didn't stop at that, but prayed with them and for them, gave comfort to the wounded and dying. A real man of God"

    Whether one believes in god or not, one has to admire the courage and dedication of men like Father Lacy. He and the Four Chaplains of the USAT Dorchester are truy heroes who never fired a shot in anger.

    Good night.

    August 31, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
  2. John Does

    Christian clergy wear a cross, Jewish clergy tablets showing the Ten Commandments, and Muslim clergy wear a crescent.

    I cant imagine how Muslim clergy wear a crescent and shoot at Taliban?? He will break all Al-Quran (Koran) rules.

    August 31, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • lee

      You didn't red teh whole article

      September 1, 2011 at 1:59 am |
    • Peace2All

      @John Does

      I think there may be a lacking in your understanding of this process.



      September 1, 2011 at 3:34 am |
    • Military Fiancee

      It clearly says in the article that the clergy do not carry weapons.

      September 1, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  3. Amistavia

    What a waste of taxpayer dollars!

    August 31, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
    • George T

      You obviously do not know what chaplains do for people. They provide counselling and a person to to talk to and give advice. With all the trauma in the military, not having chaplains would be dangerous. You should really look into what chaplains do before commenting.

      September 1, 2011 at 12:44 am |
    • Amistavia

      And you should look into what psychologists do. You know, the people who are actually qualified to provide those services. Keep your religion out of my government.

      September 1, 2011 at 8:17 am |
    • Dem Bones

      It's not just YOUR government, Amistavia. It's the government of the American people, people of many different races, religions and orientations. The role of the chaplain is not to prosthelytize to the non-believing soldiers, but to provide comfort and counsel to Christian soldiers in a worldview that they understand.

      There may be a separation of church and state, but that does not mean the state has to ignore the fact that many of its citizens are believers in what the church stands for. Quite the contrary. In fact, the state is required to make sure its citizens - and soldiers - have the opportunity to worship and seek religious counsel when desired.

      September 1, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  4. Paul Wright

    Jewish chaplains have patch showing 10 commandments? Why not Star of David?

    August 31, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
  5. lotsofstuffnotenoughtime

    Or helium, that works to; although the feds are starting to crack down on that. how dare you opt out of paying taxes!

    August 31, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
  6. Ivey Palmer

    My husband is an active duty Army Chaplain. Thank you for highlighting his ministry. I do wish to point out, however, that the only two Chaplains interviewed in this story are women. Since they represent such a minority of Chaplains, I just don't understand this and it makes me wonder what agenda CNN is pushing. Please stop trying to be politically correct and be real!

    August 31, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
  7. John


    August 31, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
    • Mike Gillett

      Chaplains are non-combatant due to the Geneva Convention that was signed by the US Government. It has nothing to do with being a christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, anti gun, anti religion. There have been hundreds of Atheist that have turned to a chaplain in times of need. The chaplain doesn't try to "convert" them to religion, they listen and help point the person in the direction to either resolve their issue or where to get help. The Chaplains I know don't care if you believe the same way they do, or even if you have any kind of religion... you are a person, some believe that they don't need anybody and that they can do everything on their own... that's great for them but it sure is nice to have someone that will listen to you when your dog gets run over, your pickup truck has a tree fall on it, your child is in the hospital and your in Iraq... let alone dealing with your best friends brains all over your shoes. In real issues, in real time, few ever need religion... and for that matter they aren't looking for theological answers to the mysteries of life... ontological questions are crazy in those moments. Someone else has probably answered these questions and I don't pretend to be an expert but people really say stupid stuff in these forums.

      August 31, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
    • lotsofstuffnotenoughtime

      I think it would be in everyone's best interest to find a quick painless carbon-monoxide related death, as soon as possible, before things get worse, which they will. I plan on drinking myself to death, which is fun; contrary to popular opinion. there also may be a portable BBQ in my bathroom in my future. give the future to the kids, I say. they can have it. Also, don't worry about the afterlife, lot's and lot's of cavemen, sumerians, aztecs, mayans, american indians, eskimos and barbarian proto-europeans died a long time before the salvation offered by jesus, mohammed, joseph smith, and L.RON HUBBARD. Rejoice, we're all going to the same place! which is no place at all.

      August 31, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  8. OIF Chaplain

    If a chaplain gets blown up in an IED attack, then he or she has been engaged by the enemy and is eligible for the Combat Action Badge. They are still non-combatants but they have met the eligibility requirements for the award.

    August 31, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
  9. TO Jones

    It is a good idea to train Army chaplains in the hundreds, because we are in a religious war. The Muslims have their imams and all sorts of support for their troops. Our troops need to under stand what we are doing in the middle east.

    August 31, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  10. FutureChaplainsWife

    My husband was in the Marine Corps for 8 years before giving it all up to attend seminary and give his life to God. He has joined a Chaplain Candidacy Program and will join the Army as a Chaplain. He was an honormen in boot camp, an expert rifleman, and a black belt in martial arts in the Marine Corps; but his choice to become a Chaplain is the most selfless and inspiring thing he has done. He recognized that men and women in combat need a person of faith to get them through some of the experiences that he himself faced and that they will face.

    August 31, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • Oldnavy

      Tell your hubby to consider the Navy Chaplain Corps. That way he will get opportunities to continue to serve with his Marines! About one third of Navy Chaplains are detailed to serve Marine units.

      August 31, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
    • Martin T

      YOu have my sympathies.

      August 31, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
  11. chocbunny

    I say we prepare politicians for war– BEFORE they run for office. All those arm chair quarterbacks who are so willing to send America's men and women to war SHOULD BE required to spend time on the front lines, in the heat of battle, with whatever equipent they give to our men and women to use in battle. If this were a written rule, politicians wouldn't be so quick to send America's young people to war, we'd see a lot more civilized negotiations occurring.

    August 31, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • Sporkify

      "I'm fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in"

      George McGovern

      September 1, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  12. J.W

    I think Jesus means the same thing as Joshua right? So I do not understand why Americans do not call him Joshua Christ. Or we could call him Josh Christ.

    August 31, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • Laughing


      Actually Jesus Christ means "anointed one" but jesus' name was technically "yeshua" which is joshua in hebrew. So he is josh christ....sort of

      August 31, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  13. Justin


    I'm sorry if you believe people who disagree with you are "trolls". Perhaps that is your own bias speaking? Perhaps not. I am an Agnostic, but respect CNN for reporting on issues such as faith. Its important that we have these dialogues so that we can bridge a gap between belief and non-belief. Perhaps a new found respect for one another can be obtained this way. I commend CNN for providing this forum, and would encourage peaceful discussions on such.

    August 31, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  14. Plug one for Geeezuss

    To avoid misunderstandings: I think chaplains and medics in battle are some of the bravest people around!!
    But the christian concept of "thou shalt not kill" is a little twisted when the armed body guard is right next to you, ready to take out the bad guys.

    August 31, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • Righteousness

      Someone gets it.

      How dare the American government sell religious support for an entirely unholy war and occupation. There is nothing less Christ-like than our engagements which have killed more than 10% of the population of Iraq.

      September 1, 2011 at 3:10 am |
  15. Justin

    Thank you for your reply. The most obvious error is tracing the lineage of Jesus through his father's line, which is an obvious error since Mary was a virgin, secondly, Jewish tradition traces from the mother's line, not a father's which they claim. What did Judas do with the blood money he received for betraying Jesus? (a) He bought a field (Acts 1:18). (b) He threw all of it into the temple and went away. The priests could not put the blood money into the temple treasury, so they used it to buy a field to bury strangers (Matthew 27:5). Did Jesus pray to The Father to prevent the crucifixion? (a) Yes. (Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42). (b) No. (John 12:27). Did Jesus say anything secretly? (a) No. "I have said nothing secretly" (John 18:20). (b) Yes. "He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything" (Mark 4:34). The disciples asked him "Why do you speak to them in parables?" He said, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given" (Matthew 13:10-11

    I have many many many more...These are just a few. Reading the bible needs to be done so from a literary perspective, not an emotional one. I have nothing against Jesus, and while many scholars agree that a man by that name certainly existed, that is the equivalent of saying, around the year 1754, a man named William probably existed. In this frame of reference there are no records to account or verify such that are reliable. Secondly, it's great that a son of god supposedly appeared in Jerusalem to save all of mankind...Well, why didn't another version appear in South America to teach those tribes? There are too many variables that escape reason and logic to propose that he is the son of anything other than a woman, secondly, the New Testament as well as the Old testament are written by men, thus their motivations are subject to interpretation. Secondly, there are too many logical fallacies to accept the existence of God...The only argument one can truly make is from the emotional side, which is obviously bias.

    I have nothing against Jesus, nor his teachings, I think they are very sound and beautiful according to the New Testament, what I hate, with every fiber of my being, is human kind interpreting what they want to hear instead of realizing the truth...The bible, is just a story book. Nothing more. To base your life on something that is false is will full ignorance, and ignorance profits the worlds nothing.

    August 31, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • Oldnavy

      This has WHAT to do with chaplains?

      August 31, 2011 at 9:53 pm |
  16. Plug one for Geeezuss

    "They travel in combat with a chaplain assistant who carries a weapon and protects the clergy member" ????
    I know what you mean, soldiers on the battle field ask for priests or chaplains. There is danger. But an armed guard?? Because the chaplain should not kill, but his body guard can (in the name of Jesus?) WWJD? Jesus with his body guards, riding a humvee?
    Maybe this whole concept needs to be explored fresh.

    August 31, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • Righteousness


      September 1, 2011 at 3:11 am |
  17. topgod

    shouldn't god keep men of god safe? you gotta have faith that he/she serving god is protected, but guns work better for protection than god. the faith contradict with the belief that god cares about anyone

    August 31, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  18. Eric

    My big brother is a chaplain, has been to Afganistan and Iraq multiple times over the past 10 years – the sacrifices both he and his family (wife and two boys) made for him to serve are beyond my words to express. He received a silver star, not many given to chaplains I am told and has done us all proud. Hopefully these presidential candidates can recognize the plurality of our society in the same way as the military has obviously done, by embracing different belief systems and not being blatently discriminatory.

    August 31, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • majid

      try telling that to the teabaggers.

      August 31, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • Plug one for Geeezuss

      The "plurality" of our society is surely not reflected by using christian / protestant / baptist chaplains. That's just same old same old.
      How about rabbis, imams (oh I forgot we are fighting against those), buddhist monks, new age preachers, tv preachers for that matter? How about atheist counselors for atheist soldiers. (Don't give this veteran the old BS "there are no atheists in the trenches". Right there in battle you loose your faith and wonder where the heck is the guy who could prevent all this. And you realize, he's not there, never was, never will).

      August 31, 2011 at 5:44 pm |

    Serving in the military for over 13yrs & having done my share in the middle east as a Marine,whille reading the comments it makes me sick to read some of them, Chaplains dont carry a gun (its policy and it will contradict their teachings), they carry their faith, there is nothing more scary for any person than knowing you are heading to a combat zone without means to defend yourself, yet chaplains are one of the most unselfish people i know: despite their knowledge of danger they unselfishly go into combat just to give that mortaly wounded soldier/airman/sailor or Marine a blessing before their dead. They will never be dead weight to that Marine/ soldier/ airman/ sailor that is able to receive a prayer before their dead from a chaplain (i know he/she will never be a deadweight to me as a Marine in a combat zone) but i take it as none of those who post a comment has ever served in combat and that is why is so easy to post such stupid comments. Let me put it to you in something you all can relate as civilians: If you know a neighborhood is violent and the likelyhood for you and your family (we all in the military see each other as a family) to come out of it alive is 50/50 and someone tells you "you can't carry a gun" would you go??? Rememeber~YOUR FAMILY HAS NO CHOICE BUT TO WALK THROUGH THAT NEIGHBORHOOD~ would you go because is your family out there? or would you stay back and let your family take the chances for you???

    August 31, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • majid

      The mooslim clergy man can carry a rifle and not break his faith. His prophet carried a bigass sword and murdered hundreds, perhaps thousands. of men women and children.

      August 31, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Ralph

      I agree, lots of the comments are sickening and hateful. Unfortunately this is standard for CNN boards with any article religious in nature. Many trolls come out to post purely hateful messages for their own enjoyment.

      I have nothing but the utmost respect for our Chaplains and those who serve. God bless!

      August 31, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • ARMYofONe

      Chaplains are unarmed at all times......funny, I have seen a chaplain with a side arm in combat. not saying they all do it. But I have seen it. Also, I have sen Chaplains awarded the Combat Action Badge. So go figure.

      August 31, 2011 at 5:22 pm |

      ARMYofONE; combat action does not necesarily means you have been in combat, I personally know many that receive the award simply because they were assigned to the right unit, at the right time at the right place. And know plenty of more that have seen much more than any of us can take (God bless them) you should read your awards manual...then again let me guess....you did (if u did) your time (thank you) and got out at first opportunity....helps to stick around and read how awards function, those who earn them will agree... Those who get them will disagree 😉

      August 31, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • shin

      Your a woman your not allowed in direct combat, so your opinion is not valid! I have served in combat and I'm here to tell you anyone not sending lead in the opposite direction is DEAD WEIGHT/LIABILITY! Get that thru your thick head! Obviously theres a good reason your not allowed in combat, irrational thinking!

      August 31, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  20. fritz

    They are a blessing in the field! More power to them.

    August 31, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.