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What it takes to be a military chaplain

The chaplains I interviewed for Miracles and Moments of Grace were all over the map -- geographically speaking, of course. But also in every personal characteristic and life experience you could imagine. Many were pastors before, during or after their military service. Many had served in the military, but I also talked with chaplains who had been police officers, outdoor adventure guides, even a semi-professional skateboarder!

What does it take to be a chaplain? The list of qualifications is long. Because of this, many chaplains tend to be older than the servicemen and women they minister among. Here is a list of qualifications for the military chaplaincy that I found on the website for the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces website:

1. Ecclesiastical endorsement (certifies experience and degree requirements meet the standards of the respective ecclesiastical group)

2. Two years religious leadership consistent with clergy in applicant’s tradition (strongly recommended)

3. United States citizenship

4. Bachelor’s degree (120 semester hours or 180 quarter hours)

5. A graduate degree to include a minimum of 72 semester hours (or equivalent) from a qualifying (accredited) institution. Not less than 36 hours must be in theological/ministry and related studies, consistent with the respective religious tradition of the applicant.

Endorsers are free to exceed the DoD standard per ecclesiastical requirements, but cannot go below the minimal DoD requirements, e.g. many endorsers specifically require the Master of Divinity degree

Active Duty Chaplains
* Army: Commissioned prior to age 40 (Age waiver availability may vary from year to year)

* Air Force and Navy: Commissioned and on active duty by age 42 (Some consideration may be made for prior service)

* Pass a military commissioning physical

* Pass a security background investigation

* Ability to work in the DoD directed religious accommodation environment.

In addition to these qualifications, many of my chaplains took further training in order to understand and be able to minister alongside their comrades. For instance, one chaplain trained in airborne, so he could go along on missions.

Chaplains make a huge commitment of time in order to fulfill their calling. They don't just wander away from the pulpit and into the field. They're highly qualified and, beyond that, extremely empathetic and devoted. I loved the year I spent talking with chaplains about their ministry.  Read More 

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Ministry in times of tragedy

It was sad news this week to read of the crash of a helicopter in Afghanistan that killed nine U.S. troops.

In my forthcoming book, Miracles and Moments of Grace, I interview a chaplain who counseled the crew of a Chinook helicopter flying in tandem with a second helicopter that was shot down in Iraq. The crew helped extricate their buddies from the wreckage and treat the survivors until help arrived.

Later that night, one medic in particular needed to talk about what he'd seen and experienced that day. Everything about the incident haunted him -- the sights, the sounds, the smells. The chaplain credits this medic with saving the lives of perhaps a dozen servicemen. Yet he was traumatized by the task and he was in need himself.

This chaplain gave the medic room to mourn and prayed with him using the ancient and comforting Jewish prayer: The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.

That's what our military chaplains do. They stand by, they listen, they offer a comforting arm, they weep with those who weep. It's not what you read about in the news, but the military chaplain brings grace and peace to the tragic incidents we do read about. You can be sure a chaplain was on the ground to minister to those in need after the crash of the helicopter this week.  Read More 
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Stories and more stories

For the past year, I've immersed myself in stories told by military chaplains. My goal was to collect 50 stories for my upcoming book Miracles and Moments of Grace.

The stories my chaplains told were heartbreaking, touching and inspiring, and some even funny. Each time I interviewed a chaplain, I thought, "This is my favorite story!" The minute I hung up the phone or arrived back at home, I couldn't wait to start writing.

Well, my deadline finally came and I had to stop writing. But still, I continue to come across incredible stories of courage, bravery, steadfastness and godliness on the part of our military's chaplains. Just this morning, I stumbled on this page of stories on the Coalition of Spirit-filled Churches website. Especially riveting is Chaplain David Sivret's account of the bombing of the dining facility in Mosul, Iraq, on December 21, 2004, an attack that I heard of from another chaplain who was there that day.  Read More 
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The death of an Army chaplain

This morning, I read the very sad news of the Army chaplain who was killed in Afghanistan. You can read it here.

Chaplain Dale Goetz was the first Army chaplain killed in action since 1970, during the Vietnam War. The Air Force has not suffered a chaplain's death since then, and the Navy may not have either.

While writing my upcoming book, Miracles and Moments of Grace, I spoke with military chaplains from all branches of the service. Several of them told me that military personnel often view them as something of a rabbit's foot, that if they have "the Chap" with them, all will be well. Even more than that, there's an unspoken belief that chaplains themselves are exempt from harm, because they have "an in" with God.

But it doesn't always work that way. One of my chaplains tells a story of riding in a convoy in which two soldiers were killed. He grieves their loss, and is grateful his life was spared. But he told me emphatically that he doesn't believe God protects him any more than anyone else, that his life is no more precious to God than anyone else's.

The last year that I have spent speaking with military chaplains has been the most exciting and the most rewarding year of my career. I have loved telling the stories of these chaplains who are charged with the spiritual well-being of our nation's military. Though I did not know Captain Goetz, I have come to know many of his fellow chaplains. I am sorry for the Goetz family's loss.  Read More 
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