The Transformational Power of a Solid Commander Chaplain Relationship
June 4, 2014
The relationship between a commander and his or her chaplain has the potential to transform the organization they serve for the better, regardless of unit type or mission. This is achieved when commanders and chaplains work together in developing a comprehensive Religious Support Plan (RSP) - one that is well planned and executed. When empowered, encouraged, and supported by the commander, the chaplain can implement a comprehensive RSP that is synchronized with the commander's guidance and better able to positively impact the organization.
The Army provides the resources Soldiers need to be physically, mentally, and spiritually fit. Although commanders are given the responsibility to employ those resources as they best see fit for the units they command, when it comes to religious support and spiritual fitness, many are unsure of how to meet their Soldiers' religious and spiritual needs or of available resources. In these cases the commander and chaplain relationship can be beneficial. Col. Todd Heussner, former commander of the 43rd Sustainment Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, recognizes the significant role the chaplain,
"As a commander, I see the critical role the chaplain serves and it is integral to the success of any Army command. He or she can provide a sound foundation for Soldiers to build upon that will allow them to operate effectively during the most difficult of circumstances. Without the chaplain's direct and constant input, my mission would be seriously limited."
Chaplains are special staff officers who advise commanders on religion, ethics, morals, and morale. They serve as the commander's subject matter experts, authorized to implement his or her RSP in the unit. This requires a close relationship between the commander and the chaplain: one that is open, honest, and intentional.
"The chaplain can help make a command the best assignment of a career if he or she is given guidance, provided resources and support, and occupies a seat at the right hand of the commander" says Heussner.
Chaplain (Maj.) Pete Keough, the former 43rd Sustainment Brigade chaplain, spoke about the intentionality Col. Heussner had in transforming the brigade.
"Upon assignment to the brigade, Col. Heussner and I immediately began to outline the priorities of the brigade in regards to the overall RSP. His challenge was for me to develop the most comprehensive and pro-active religious support program to help transform the brigade for the better. He provided clear guidance, ample resources and support, and gave me freedom to operate."
Soon after, we developed a proactive and aggressive model for religious support called TORSO, which stands for 'Targeted Offensive Religious Support Operations,' that allowed us to identify and target trouble areas, address them with specifically designed programs, and as a result, build resiliency in the ranks.
By aggressively and pro-actively targeting the root problems in our formation - rather than focusing our efforts on treating symptoms - we were able to identify, attack, and significantly reduce problem areas in our formation. This approach led to a significant reduction in serious incident reports and other Soldier-focused problems. At the same time, unit productivity increased significantly because it freed leaders from reacting to problems and allowed them to focus on their mission. This approach, while extremely successful for our formation, only works when you have an integrated commander-chaplain team working together. The commander's support and influence is key and essential to any program; Soldiers will go where the commander leads.
The relationship of the commander and the chaplain is one that has the potential to literally transform any organization in our Army regardless of size and scope. It has the ability to not only shape a unit, command, or community, but it can change the lives of Soldiers and their Family members.
Heussner concluded with this challenge, "It is time that commanders aggressively engage and employ a ready asset: the chaplain, who has the ability, in partnership with their commander, to completely transform and enhance their organization."