A female Soldier has been back from Iraq for eight months. She's irritable and not sleeping well. She is experiencing relationship problems. Though symptomatic, she hasn't been given a diagnosis. The doctor gave her something to help her sleep, but she senses that something isn't right. She comes to the Family Life Center to talk to the chaplain about her life. She is searching for meaning as she tells her sacred story of life downrange and how it has caused her to question the world she thought she knew.
The following hour, another Soldier arrives at the Family Life Center. He is afraid to go to the doctor because he believes he might have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He doesn't understand why he would have it, and not his buddies who went outside the wire every day. He states that he didn't experience any trauma; all he went through was being "mortared" every few days. He also shares that he carries a gun with him everywhere now. The Family Life Chaplain patiently questions the Soldier's sense of safety. The Soldier breaks down in tears as he realizes how dangerous his world has become. The chaplain shares the hope that what was wired in his mind downrange can be rewired as he comes to a new normal. At the end of his session the Soldier asks the chaplain to pray for him.
Later that afternoon a couple comes in. They have been distant since the husband's return from war. His wife claims he's not emotionally available. He says he hasn't changed. She says he doesn't hug his kids anymore. When asked about his time in Afghanistan, he begins to weep as he speaks of carrying a dead child, caught in a cross fire, back to the parents in a village. He has never shared this story with his wife before. Her heart breaks for her husband and she moves closer toward him. The healing is beginning as he asks the chaplain, "Can God forgive me?"
Parts of these stories have been changed, but they are all typical of what Family Life Chaplains encounter every day in their counseling ministries. I refer to the moments when Soldiers and their Families find themselves searching for answers and meaning to life's existential crises as "Chaplain Moments." For these difficult times, the Chaplain Corps offers a trained and available resource: Family Life Chaplains. The goal of these chaplains is not simply to counsel, but to also train newer chaplains to better minister, thus raising the standard of care all chaplains can provide.
For over four years, I had the unique privilege of training Army and Air Force chaplains to be Family Life Chaplains. It was the most rewarding work of my life. My goal was to take mid-career chaplains, put them through a second Master's degree program in counseling, supervise their 300 plus hours of face-to-face counseling for their practicum, and challenge them to grow mentally, emotionally and spiritually as they addressed their own development as pastoral counselors. They accomplish all this and more in fifteen months before being sent to garrisons to add to the total care resources that our Army communities provide. Additionally, many pass the National Counselor's or MFT exam, thus making them eligible, with the hours they earn in their utilization tours, to become Licensed Practical Counselors (LPC's) or Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT's).
Over the course of this two part series, I will explore the history and impact of the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps' Family Life program within our Army.
In 1970, the US Army Chaplain Corps anticipated the needs of Army Families during and following the Vietnam War and began aggressively pursuing "Family Life" training for Army chaplains. Between 1972 and 1983, the California Family Studies Center and the American Institute of Family Relations were chosen as the location of Family Life training. These courses specifically prepared chaplains for ministry to families.
The first independent Chaplain Family Life Ministries Center opened at Fort Ord, California, on April 15, 1975. During this time, it became clear that in order to minister appropriately to Soldiers and Families, Army chaplains would need to prepare themselves for the unique context of the Army. Thus, the program was moved to Fort Knox, Kentucky, in association with the University of Louisville. Between 1983 and 1986, the Army Chaplain Corps adhered to the standards of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), and the first Army Chaplain Family Life Supervisor was trained and placed as the Director of the Chaplaincy Family Life Ministries Training Center at Fort Knox.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, as the Army moved from the draft to a volunteer force, Soldier pay and benefits increased and quality of life improved. Civilian unemployment rates were high, and consequently, so were enlistments. Furthermore, an increasing number of married citizens were choosing the Army as their career choice. This shift resulted in a growing number of married Soldiers, increasing from approximately 23% in the early 1970s to nearly 54% today. It soon became evident that Family Life Chaplains were needed more than ever.
In 1986, the Family Life training program was moved to Fort Riley, Kansas, in cooperation with Kansas State University and its AAMFT-approved training program. Aligning with an AAMFT-approved program was a significant step in the development of Family ministries in the Army Chaplain Corps. The graduate-level counseling and marriage and Family course requirements of AAMFT provided a strong standard for training chaplains.
The early 1990s and the end of the Cold War brought a simultaneous downsizing of the Army and alterations to the Family Life program. A program combining Clinical Pastoral Education and Family Life Studies was created at Fort Benning, Georgia. In the meantime, the First Infantry Division moved from Fort Riley to Germany, reducing the post population and making it more difficult for chaplains in the Family Life Training Program at Fort Riley to maintain the counseling caseload necessary to gain sufficient experience for heading an installation Family Life Ministries Center. Additionally, it became apparent that the AAMFT did not provide the theological focus the Chaplain Corps required. Something new was needed -- and it came in the form of the Family Life Chaplaincy Summit.
The first Family Life Chaplaincy Summit was held in San Antonio, Texas, in 1991 to address the current issues involving the operations of the Chaplain Corps. The most important contribution of the Summit was the refocusing of the Family Life Chaplain as the trainer of the Unit Ministry Team, as well as the installation Family educator. Efforts were also made to extend the reach of the Family Life Chaplain and Family Life Centers to the battalion level. This new focus helped to shift the ministry of the Family Life Chaplains from a counseling referral resource to a training and supervisory resource. The demands on Army families made it clear that all chaplains would benefit from training in the principles of family counseling and family life education programs.