FORT HOOD, Texas - Many soldiers can explain the role of their unit's chaplain, but do they know about the soldier supporting him from behind the scenes?
The Army offers more than 200 military occupational specialties, or jobs, that can be made into careers and carried over into the civilian world.
The role of the chaplain assistant begins with exactly what the name describes: assisting the chaplain. Although this MOS has a humble title, the scope of its duties is multi-faceted.
"Our MOS is not really well defined," said Kingsport, Tenn. native Sgt. Nicholas Teague, the chaplain assistant for the 1st "Centurion" Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st "Ironhorse" Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. "The job isn't really self explanatory."
Teague said some of his duties include providing religious support to soldiers at the battalion level, preparing for religious services, providing security for the chaplain while deployed, planning retreats and talking to soldiers in need of a release.
Killeen, Texas, native Capt. Marshall Coen, the Ironhorse Brigade's Chaplain, said chaplain assistants are invaluable and their primary role is to ensure the chaplain does well.
"Chaplain assistants are vital for the Chaplain Corps," Coen said. "We are a team."
The chaplain assistant is the behind the scenes soldier making sure everything is set up, advertised, scheduled and organized for the chaplain, Coen explained.
People don't see the setup and breakdown of religious services or after units have used the chapel, Coen said. It's all done by the chaplain assistant, who works Friday and Saturday evenings, and Sunday mornings for religious services.
Coen explained a good chaplain assistant understands the success, knowledge and well-being of the chaplain depends greatly on what the assistant does.
"The chaplain assistant is very much the backbone of the Chaplain Corps," Coen added.
Coen said because the chaplain's main focus is ministry, the chaplain assistant's focus is everything Army related to help the chaplain succeed. The chaplain assistant is not required to have a faith background of any kind.
"As a chaplain and a chaplain assistant, we bring to soldiers the opportunity for them to practice, live and express their faith," Coen said.
The office of the chaplain and chaplain assistant is considered a place of confession, Coen explained. A soldier or a family member can come express their feelings and troubles without fear of recourse.
Teague said the majority of his day consists of speaking with soldiers. Topics vary from stress, relationship issues, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even the loss of a loved one.
"I think our greatest significance is being an outlet for a soldier to discharge," Teague said. "When you have all that frustration built up in you, you have to turn to somebody."
The Unit Ministry Team visits soldiers at training sites to spend time with them and get an idea of what is going on in their lives, Teague added.
"Our job, even in garrison, is to metaphorically get our boots dirty with the soldiers," Teague explained.
In addition to field visits, Teague explained chaplain assistants spend a great deal of time training. They are trained to understand psychology in order to better assist soldiers. They also undergo rigorous battle drills, field training and hand-to-hand combat during Advanced Individual Training at Fort Jackson, S.C.
Teague said general soldier training is meant to teach the chaplain assistant to empathize and relate to the soldiers.
"I've seen many times where a soldier will be right on the edge," Teague said. "Ready to go out and do something they couldn't take back, and being there, being that support made the difference. I think that's the pivotal point of our job."
Coen noted that chaplain assistants are priceless because of their ability to better identify with soldiers than a chaplain sometimes.
While deployed his duties adapt to suit the combat environment, Teague said.
"The chaplain assistant is there to protect the chaplain at all costs," Coen said. "That is a tremendous responsibility."
Teague explained he must protect and provide security for the chaplain, who does not carry a weapon, as the UMT provides on-the-spot ministry for supporting units deployed.
Coen explained that chaplain assistants must protect the chaplain under pressure and under fire and remain aware of dangerous surroundings while observing and reacting to enemy fire.
There is a lot of pressure on chaplain assistants that most people don't see, Coen added.
When soldiers see a chaplain assistant caring for a chaplain, they gain more respect for the chaplain assistant after seeing what they really do, especially in combat, Coen explained.
Teague said his initial choice was Military Police, but he is glad he chose this MOS after advice from his brother.
"Really our mission is to provide religious support to soldiers but it goes a lot deeper," Teague said. "It's more spiritual support because your spirit entails (not only) your religious beliefs, but your life, your emotions, your state of mind and even your overall physical health can be involved."
Coen said the best kinds of chaplain assistants are those not seeking glory. They are hard-working and want other people to shine.
"We bring hope to a lot of people when they're discouraged or when they're down," Coen said. "The chaplain assistant is the one who carries the torch."