Fort Bragg chaplains display faith, unity
February 3, 2009
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - The Army is a diverse community where people of all races, colors and creeds work together each day to accomplish the mission. Soldiers and their Families represent a cross-section of America, bringing their unique heritage with them to each new duty station around the country and around the world.
While any military unit offers a visible display of diversity, one of the best examples of acceptance and equality in the military is the Army chaplaincy.
Even though the chaplains stationed at Fort Bragg have different faiths, they work together and celebrate one another's beliefs uniting in serving the needs of Soldiers and their Families. They display camaraderie and cooperation not usually seen between the major religions outside of a military community.
"To celebrate together is uncommon and unique to military setting but indicative of how we do business," said Chaplain (Col.) Joel Cocklin, the Fort Bragg garrison chaplain.
A recent display of this interfaith support was at the Hanukah candle lighting ceremony Dec. 22 at the Watters Center where chaplains and Soldiers of numerous faiths and denominations celebrated the season.
"In the Army it is okay to invite somebody else regardless of faith to major celebrations and they will actually come," said Chaplain (Maj.) Ira Ehrenpreis, 507th Corps Support Group chaplain and Fort Bragg's only rabbi. "We are all one team, one fight, that's why it's great to celebrate together. It's my responsibility as the community Jewish chaplain to afford opportunities for everyone who wants to join in and experience first hand what the Jewish people have lived through, both the joys and the hardships."
While Fort Bragg's chaplains come together to celebrate each other's faiths, they also face the daily task of caring for Soldiers. Each battalion level unit and higher has an assigned chaplain who ministers and provides spiritual direction and guidance for all personnel, not just those of same faith.
As the chaplain for 507th CSG, the majority of the Soldiers Ehrenpreis ministers to do not share his faith.
"As a rabbi with my yarmulke (skullcap), my faith is well known. At the end of an emotionally charged counseling session, I often ask if we could close in a moment of prayer. No one has said 'no' based on my religion," said Ehrenpreis. "I have had people say 'no' because they don't pray, but not because of my faith."
As a Christian chaplain, Cocklin agrees that his beliefs have not impeded tending to Soldier's spiritual needs.
"There are 105 chaplains here and I can only tell you about 20 of their denominations. The beauty of military chaplaincy is that denomination doesn't become a barrier or an issue," said Cocklin. "We are chaplains ministering to the spiritual needs of the flock ... that is what becomes important, not our individual denominations."
Fort Bragg is hosting a national prayer breakfast Feb. 27, which will further solidify the installation's diversity with a Jewish rabbi, Muslim imam and chaplains representing the various denominations of Christianity in attendance. The attendees will likely represent an even larger range of faiths than the chaplains.
"In the military we are much more open and receptive to all diversity than our civilian counterparts, I really believe that," said Cocklin. "There is much more acceptance."