Chaplain at fire
First Lt. Justin Cowan, chaplain, prays during a visit to Guard members in the area of West Fork Complex fire Colorado National Guard operations, June 30. Currently, over 3,000 chaplains are serving the Total Army representing over 140 different religious organizations.

FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - All United States Army Soldiers raise their right hands and pledge selfless-service. Some Soldiers take that to a whole other level. The U.S. Army chaplaincy is one of the oldest branches of the Army and they are celebrating 237-years of service this month.

The Army Chaplain Corps is a group of religious and spiritual Soldiers and leaders who build the spiritual and moral resiliency of the Army Family now and for the future. Chaplains, with the support of chaplain assistants, provide religious and emotional support to America's Army while assisting commanders in ensuring the right of free exercise of religion for all Soldiers.

"When I arrived at Bassett the first person I asked to meet was the chaplain," said Col. Maria Summers, Medical Department Activity-Alaska, deputy commander for Nursing and Support Services at Bassett Army Community Hospital. "In a hospital setting, caregivers take on the burdens of others daily and we go to the chaplain for support. I have more than 20 years in the Army and they are most often the people I choose to go to when I need encouragement or an ear for listening. They are just so joyful."

Since July 29, 1775, approximately 25,000 Army chaplains have served as religious and spiritual leaders for 25 million Soldiers and their Families. From military installations to deployed combat units and from service schools to military hospitals, Army chaplains and chaplain assistants have performed their ministries in the most religiously diverse organization in the world. Always present with their Soldiers in war and in peace, Army chaplains have served in more than 270 major wars and combat engagements. Nearly 300 Army chaplains have laid down their lives in battle. Six have been awarded the Medal of Honor. Their love of God, country and the American Soldier has been a beacon of light and a message of hope for all those who have served our nation.

Chaplain (Maj) Dwight Broedel, supervisor, Fort Wainwright Family Life Center spent four fours in the Army as an enlissted infantry Soldier. He said, "I saw lots of bad and ugly stuff and participated in some gruesome and ghoulish missions. Two thoughts haunted me: how easily it was to kill another man not with remorse but rather gleefully and during my darkest hours there were no chaplains around."

Being an Army chaplain has meant the world to him. "It has allowed me to reclaim those bad experiences in some small but meaningful way," Broedel said, "having walked in the boots of a common Soldier for four years, I understand the honor and sacrifice required. Some folks look for recognition, glory, and fame. They seek promotions and awards. I opted a quiet path working behind closed doors with weeping widows and frightened orphans. I traverse the darkest valleys of depression with Soldiers and their spouses. I battle the demons of PTSD. The victories I witness, over pain and despair, are known only to those brave Souls who seek my help."

Currently, over 3,000 chaplains are serving the Total Army representing over 140 different religious organizations.

One of the many special Army chaplains and Medal of Honor recipient, Capt. Emil J. Kapaun, was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon in April.

Kapaun was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions leading up to his capture as a prisoner of war in North Korea. Retired Col. Paul Wood, who was in the same POW camp as Kapaun, said that he recalled the chaplain "asking us every night if we wanted to pray with him. Of course everybody did," he said. "Religion didn't make any difference to him or us at the time. He'd pray with us and give moral support. And by doing that, he saved a lot of lives. He instilled faith and hope in us that we were going to get out of there."

Kapaun and his fellow Soldiers became POWs at the beginning of November 1950 and Kapaun died the following year, May 23, in his prison camp within sight of the Yalu River which marks the border between North Korea and China.Wood recalled Kapaun leading the Soldiers in his last Easter service, just weeks prior to his death. "We sang 'God Bless America' really loud so everyone in the valley could hear us. Others did hear it and joined in."

Ray Kapaun, the son of Chaplain Kapaun's brother, talked about the type person who he remembered as "Father Emil."

"If Father Emil were standing here today, I know he'd look back on the last two days and say 'oh shucks, you kidding me? (regarding the ceremonies that led to the presentation) You guys did all of this for me? All I was really doing was my job. All I was doing was what I needed to do. All I was doing was what God directed me to do. There were a lot braver men than what I am.'

"But he would also look out at his POW buddies and I know he'd walk over to you guys today, and he'd wrap his arms around each of you and he'd say, 'I'm so happy you guys made it home. And please, please don't be sad for me -- because I made it home too.'"

The Fort Wainwright chaplains are hosting a picnic today at Glass Park from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. catered by Z's Smoke Shack BBQ. Broedel said, "Bring yourselves and your appetite." For more information on the festivities call 353-6112 and to learn more about the Chaplain Corps or Chaplain Kapaun visit www.army.mil/chaplaincorps.

Page last updated Fri July 19th, 2013 at 00:00