Every year, on July 29, we celebrate the Army Chaplain Corps Anniversary, to honor the creation of the Army Chaplain Corps by the Continental Congress in 1775. For nearly two and a half centuries, the Army Chaplain Corps has been an integral part of America’s military forces.
Army Chaplains do not carry weapons. They are non-combatants. They counsel people through war but do not themselves fight, but hundreds have still been killed in wartime throughout the history of the Chaplain Corps. Several have received the Medal of Honor.
It seems to me that the very existence of the chaplain – and the fact that the Army Chaplain Corps is celebrating its 245th year this year – demonstrates something important about being human: Especially when there is chaos around us, we need peace inside us.
The stress of a military career is heavy, and it takes a toll – on servicemembers and family alike. For one thing, those in the military have a higher divorce rate by age 30 than people in any other field. Anxiety is the most common disorder among military children. The rates of prescription drug and alcohol abuse are higher servicemember sand veterans, many of whom are suffering from PTSD.
Why is this? It’s not just because military service is demanding physically, mentally and emotionally. It is also demanding spiritually. I am hard pressed to think of any other career that is as spiritually demanding as being trained in war. These demands exact a toll that often lasts a lifetime.
So why do it? There is a verse in Zac Brown Band’s song “Warrior” that has been running through my head lately: The chosen few get shipped away / For one more mile and one more day / To harvest souls and bear the weight / And reap the tax that must be paid.
So why do it? Because someone has to do it. True, a lot of people sign up for the military prove something to someone, or because they’re looking for glory, or for the college tuition, or other reasons. But some of those very same people also end up sacrificing their lives, or their health, or their marriages, or their sense of self, or their peace of soul.
This is why we need chaplains. There has to be someone to turn to when things get hard. The fact that we recognize this day every year on July 29 says something important: It says that the military recognizes its own humanness, the fact that no one is invincible, and it’s okay to need help. In fact, the presence of the chaplains reaffirms something fundamental to the military ethos: that no one can do it alone.
Over the years, the diversity of the Army Chaplain Corps has the represent the diversity of the military – it recruits people of different genders, skin colors and religions. It is important this year to reaffirm this diversity.
This year, as we honor our chaplains, let’s remember that no matter what divides us, we’re all trying to make sense of it all. That sameness is something to celebrate.