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Chaplains prepare selves, others for deployment
army chaplains 9-27
From left, Fort Stewart Army chaplains Lt. Col. Bryan Walker, 3rd Infantry Division chaplain, Maj. Terry Romine, Maj. Mike Reeves and Capt. Rob Olsen. - photo by Photo by Denise Etheridge
The role of the Army chaplain has changed over time.
Where Army chaplains had in the past focused primarily on the soldier, they now also provide added support to soldiers’ families. Today, their presence is recognized as invaluable.
Chaplains help ensure success for military missions by strengthening military families and improving morale among individual soldiers.
Father James Sheil, a Vietnam veteran and Catholic priest who was recently reactivated, has witnessed changes to the chaplaincy over the past 40 years.
He recalled how he and other individual chaplains were often flown into “the rice paddies” by helicopter.
“We were expected to be where the hot spots were,” Sheil said. “We were definitely assigned to units. But we didn’t go in as units as they (chaplains) do today,” he said. “We went onsies and twosies. We didn’t have huge troop movements as they do now.”
Sheil described how he sometimes provided for the spiritual needs of soldiers of diverse faith and traditions when he served in Vietnam. Along with leading mass for Catholic soldiers, he led protestant services and even a “minion” — a prayer circle for Jewish soldiers that requires at least 10 participants — when he was in Vietnam.
Sheil believes the Army chaplaincy is more organized today, and brings a more holistic approach to its religious support of soldiers and their families.
Lt. Col. Bryan Walker, 3rd Infantry Division chaplain, agrees, and added there has been a movement toward family ministry over the past 20 years.
Walker said the Army, and its chaplains, integrate services in support of the military family.
“We’ve found that family problems, if not resolved, can negatively impact the soldier and ultimately the division,” he said.
Walker said Army leaders came to realize how many family problems were interconnected and that if the military’s support groups networked with one another, many problems could be resolved more easily.
“Now the Army goes beyond solving problems,” Walker said.
The 3rd Division chaplain said Army chaplains are more proactive today. Chaplains work with soldiers and their families to help them handle the stress and strain of deployment before soldiers deploy, he said.
Chaplains must also be more educated today, say Fort Stewart’s chaplains.
Many chaplains earn masters’ degrees in family and marriage counseling to better serve their unique congregants, said Maj. Terry Romine, a Baptist minister who arrived at Fort Stewart last year.
Romine helps his fellow pastoral chaplains develop counseling skills.
Walker said Army chaplains today, as in American society, also represent more Christian denominations than ever before.
“When I came in, there was a greater inflow of evangelical chaplains,” he said.
“I was on my way into the ministry and felt called by God to do ministry in the military setting,” said Army Chap. Maj. Mike Reeves. “My parish became the military in a sense.”
Reeves was ordained by the Church of the Nazarene.
A family life chaplain, Reeves will provide religious support to spouses and dependents of soldiers scheduled to deploy next week. He has been assigned to Fort Stewart for the past year and has been a military chaplain since 1998.
Other Fort Stewart chaplains are assigned to follow soldiers into the field.
“I’m part of 1st Brigade and I’ll deploy with 1st Brigade,” said Capt. Rob Olsen of the 3rd Brigade Support Battalion. Olsen also has been at Fort Stewart for a year. He was ordained by the Christian and Missionary Alliance.
Reeves, who has been deployed to Iraq, explained how Army chaplains “perform and provide” today.
“When you’re deployed your mission is the free exercise of religion,” he said. “It takes on deeper meaning.”
For example, Reeves would provide for a priest to lead mass for Catholic soldiers. But, if a soldier asks him for counsel or prayer, he can perform those requests.
“We perform those things that fall in line with our faith and provide for those of other faiths,” Olsen added.
There are 42 chaplains assigned to Fort Stewart, according to Walker. Three chaplains are women, and a number of chaplains represent various ethnic and racial minorities, he said.
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