Col. Robinson, tell us a little about yourself and your ministry. I have served in the Army for 30 years, 26 of which were as an Army chaplain. I am the senior UPCI Military Chaplain serving on active duty. I currently serve as Command Chaplain for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Washington, D.C. and am responsible for religious support and advisement to over 34,000 U.S. Army Corps of Engineer personnel stationed worldwide.
What requirements are there when it comes to being an Army chaplain?
To fulfill the requirements for becoming an Army chaplain you must…
(1) Be a U.S. citizen.
(2) Be at least 21 years of age and under age 42 by the date you commission into the Active Army or under the age of 47 at the time of commissioning for National Guard or Reserve.
(3) Have completed your basic theological education for your denomination (for the UPCI means completing the ministerial requirements that leads to ordination).
(4) Possess a baccalaureate degree of no less than 120 semester hours, and a graduate degree in theological or religious studies with at least 72 semester hours in graduate work from accredited institutions.
(5) Be ordained and endorsed by your denomination to serve in one of the components of the Army (i.e. Active Army, Army National Guard or Army Reserve).
(6) Have completed at least two years of post-theological education professional experience in your denomination (for active duty only).
(7) Have served a minimum of two years in a full-time professional capacity as a member of your denomination, validated by an endorsing agency (this requirement does not apply to Army Reserve or Army National Guard applicants).
(8) Be able to obtain a security clearance and pass a physical exam at a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS).
Is Army chaplaincy something you can do as a career?
You can serve as an Army chaplain for a minimum of 20 years, retire and receive a pension immediately, or continue service until the mandatory retirement age of 62. Many military service members are able to serve their required years to receive a pension and begin a second career (while receiving a retirement pension with all the additional benefits).
What exactly does an Army chaplain do?
While not an exhaustive list, an Army chaplain is the subject matter expert on religion and is guided in ministry by the Chaplain Corps’ three core competencies of nurture the living, care for the wounded, and honor the fallen. Your initial assignment into the Army places you in a battalion size unit (500-1,000 service members and their families) to provide or perform religious support. As the Religious Support Officer, you are also the personal advisor to the Commander.
As an Army chaplain, you can serve in a variety of positions and capacities that allow you to make full proof of your ministry over the course of your career. You also have the opportunity to receive specialized education and training with certifications relevant to the ministry of a pastor. These include Family Life Ministry, which provides licensing in clinical family and marriage therapy counseling; Clinical Pastoral Education, which qualifies you for hospital chaplaincy; and many other training and certification opportunities which enhance your ministry capability within both the military and civilian pastoral contexts.
There are also ample opportunities for preaching, teaching and counseling. Additionally, you will minister to members of other military branches in conventional settings (i.e. garrisons, chapels, retreats, etc.) or deployed environments (i.e. combat operating bases and in the field). As an Army chaplain, you have the opportunity to make a lifelong impact in the lives of our nation’s warriors and their families through weddings, water and Holy Ghost baptisms, funerals, and crisis interventions, etc. The role of a chaplain is critical when the lives of these men and women need a voice of encouragement and direction.
How do you minister as an Army chaplain and is it different than being a pastor of a church?
The ministry of an Army chaplain is very similar to the ministry of the pastor of a church, only broader. As an Army chaplain, you fulfill two primary ministry roles: religious leader and religious advisor. As a religious leader, you will preach and teach, make hospital and prison visits, conduct weddings, funerals, counsel, provide soldier and family ministry, supervise ministry and chaplains, etc. As a religious advisor, you will advise your commander and unit on matters of morale, morals, and the impact of religion upon the unit and its mission.
An Army chaplain fulfills these two roles within a pluralistic environment where he or she is expected to ensure the free exercise of religion for all within his or her assigned unit. To do this, Army chaplains are guided by the principle of “perform or provide.” Whatever a chaplain cannot directly perform due to faith or denominational restrictions, he or she coordinates with or refers personnel to the appropriate resource to afford them the opportunity to exercise their faith. This principle enables a chaplain to provide for the free exercise of religion within his or her unit without compromising the tenets of his or her own faith.
Are there restrictions on what you can/cannot preach in the Army?
The Army expects chaplains to be faithful to the tenets of their faith in the execution of their duties, while also honoring and ensuring the right of others to observe their own faith. In essence, you can be who you are as an Apostolic chaplain in the Army. You can pray in Jesus’ name, preach, teach and live the tenets of your Apostolic faith. The Army simply requires chaplains to respect and be willing to ensure that others have the same opportunity to exercise their faith as well. By ensuring the rights of others to pursue their faith, we also protect our own right to do the same.
Can you get kicked out for preaching against things like transgenderism or homosexuality?
The Army, in accordance with public law and Department of Defense (DOD) policy, affords Army chaplains the right to observe the tenets of their faith in the execution of their duties while respecting and ensuring the rights of others to observe the tenets of their faith. In other words, the privilege to observe one’s faith comes with the responsibility to use tact in the expression of one’s faith, so that your good is not evil spoken of. The Army expects all of its personnel to treat all Army personnel with dignity and respect.
How does this ministry change from branch to branch? (Navy, Marines, etc.)
There are differences in the execution of ministry across the branches of our military services. The Army Chaplaincy model is unit-based ministry. Chaplains are assigned to units and are responsible for ministry to that unit. The Air Force Chaplaincy model is primarily chapel-based. Chaplains provide ministry to the community through the programs offered at the chapel. The Navy Chaplaincy model is a combination of ship and shore-based ministry. Chaplains are assigned to ships, units and chapels and provide ministry to their respective communities. While there are differences in some of the policies and in the execution of ministry within the branches of our Armed Forces, chaplains of all branches are essentially about the same goal – providing quality faith and life-impacting ministry to our nation’s heroes and their families to enhance their moral and spiritual resiliency and overall readiness to support and defend our Constitution and our American way of life.