Chaplain assistant grateful for experiences
January 28, 2013
FORT KNOX, Ky. -- Being a chaplain's assistant wasn't the job Spc. Kimberly Latimer-Ellison really wanted when she enlisted in the Army More than two years ago. She really wanted to be a supply clerk, but that military occupational specialty wasn't available, so she was offered the position of chaplain assistant.
"I didn't know what a chaplain's assistant did and called my mom, who served in the Army some years ago, and she told me to go for it," said Latimer Ellison, now chaplain assistant for the 3rd Recruiting Brigade Headquarters at Fort Knox.
"I went in not knowing exactly what to expect, but I'm so glad I did."
After successfully completing basic combat training and advanced individual training at the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School at Fort Jackson, S.C., Latimer-Ellison's first duty assignment was Fort Riley, Kan. Just three months after arriving there, she deployed to Kuwait and Iraq, where she learned being a chaplain's assistant encompassed being a supply, logistical and administrative clerk, as well as the most important part of her job - protecting the chaplain.
"I developed great organizational skills, but I also learned about taking care of the Soldier. Not just helping the Soldier, but supporting him as well, even if his religious belief is different from my own.
"My main duty is to protect the chaplain. You are responsible for his life and the Soldiers in the unit to which you are assigned. In a combat situation, there is no tactical team to call upon - it's just you and the chaplain."
The chaplain assistant is the only combatant in the Unit Ministry Team; they are also the only Soldiers in the Army who have the requirement of protecting someone who is unarmed. The chaplain assistant MOS (56M) began in 1909 when the Chief of Staff of the Army authorized each chaplain to have one enlisted Soldier assigned as an aide. Since then, armed and unordained chaplain assistants have filled that role, a duty that now includes physical security for chaplains in combat areas, since chaplains are restricted from bearing arms.
"While deployed in Kuwait, there were no instances in which the chaplain was ever in danger" said Latimer-Ellison. "But in Iraq, while I never had to draw my weapon, I always did security checks and had my weapon at all times when escorting the chaplain."
Not commissioned officers, chaplain assistants are liaisons between the chaplain and the chain of command and Soldiers see them as someone they can confide in. Unless a Soldier wants his or her issues or concerns passed on to the chaplain - or if there are signs or talk of suicide - conversations are strictly confidential, explained Latimer-Ellison.
"Part of our job is to pre-counsel the Soldier and, if we can't help him, we direct him to the appropriate subject matter experts, such as the chaplain, the Army psychologist, the combat stress team or even put him in touch on the phone with a counselor."
"We don't counsel, but we make ourselves available and learn to become good listeners," she said, adding that chaplain assistants cannot perform any religious ceremony, to include preaching, marriages and burials.
After her overseas tour, Latimer-Ellison returned to 1st Sustainment Brigade, Special Troops Battalion at Fort Riley where she met her future husband. Both were assigned to Fort Knox last year.
Latimer-Ellison said she doesn't feel the calling to go further in the Army Chaplaincy program, although she's grateful for the experience.
"I have grown in my spiritual belief even stronger and hope I have made a difference."
With a background and education in music -- she plays the flute, piano and saxophone and also sings -- Latimer-Ellison wants to move into the Army Band program. While deployed, she was the lead singer for the Unit Ministry Team's music section and at Fort Knox she has performed at events including the USAREC Prayer Breakfast and the opening ceremony for the Women's Equality Day Observance.