By Chaplain (Liet. Col) David DeppmeierJuly 12, 2013
The Leader Development and Assessment Course (LDAC), also known as Operation Warrior Forge, is conducted annually at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, training U.S. Army ROTC Cadets to Army standards, developing their ability as leaders, and assessing their readiness and potential as future officers. A total of 14 cycles or "Regiments" of ROTC cades attend the 29-day course run from June to August each year, and completion is a prerequisite to becoming a commissioned Army officer through the ROTC program.
But LDAC also provides an opportunity for another group of future Army leaders -- those that will one day serve as chaplains.
This year, 15 chaplain candidates are providing direct religious support to the cadets, under the supervision of Army chaplains from the active and reserve components. Each chaplain candidate serves a 37-day training period at LDAC.
Chaplain (Lieut. Col.) Greg S. Thogmartin, Command Chaplain, U.S. Army Cadet Command, at Fort Knox, Kentucky, oversees the training program for the chaplain candidates and spoke about it in a recent interview.
What is a chaplain candidate and how is LDAC used as a training platform for them?
Chaplain Thogmartin: A chaplain candidate is someone in the process of training for and acquiring the necessary professional education and experience to become an Army Chaplain.
The candidates at LDAC have all completed the three month long Chaplain Officer Basic Leadership Course (CHBOLC) at Fort Jackson, SC. Some come to the candidate program with prior service time while others are relatively new to the Army.
The candidates serving at LDAC are all in the process of either completing the required seminary or graduate school degrees or fulfilling the professional work experience requirements toward becoming full-fledged chaplains.
As candidates they all have ties to units in either the U.S. Army Reserve or the U.S. Army National Guard and get some limited experience each month with those units.
LDAC is used as a more intensive platform for gaining experience and additional training in a number of areas. Our focus for summer 2013 has included: developing an intentional ministry of presence; developing religious support staff officer tasks; preparing and executing memorial ceremonies or services and military funerals; understanding chaplain confidentiality; and setting and maintaining healthy personal and professional boundaries in ministry.
How are chaplain candidates supervised or mentored during their time at LDAC?
Chaplain Thogmartin: "There is a team of chaplain trainers consisting of one active duty chaplain, Chaplain (Capt.) Brad Zwetschke, Deputy USACC Chaplain (forward), and seven U.S. Army Reserve chaplains that provide the supervision and mentorship.
Five of the U.S. Army Reserve chaplains are assigned to directly supervise and mentor three candidates each. Those chaplains also take on any counseling conversations that the candidate is restricted from performing under Army Regulation 165-1.
The candidates receive weekly classes on select subjects from a training plan developed by Chaplain Zwetschke and daily mentoring sessions on a variety of issues and concerns with their chaplain trainers. The mentoringtimes also provide them with an opportunity to ask questions and seek guidance.
Candidates are also put into teams to work collectively to plan and lead the garrison and field worship services under the supervision of the chaplain trainers.
How do you assess the success of this training program?
Chaplain Thogmartin: The U.S. Army Cadet Command will train a total of 22 chaplain candidates this summer between our two summer programs at Fort Lewis and Fort Knox.
All of those candidates will have received opportunities to learn how to integrate into a unit as well as serve as part of a commander's staff. They will acquire a better understanding of 'ministry of presence'- the importance of being with their Soldiers -- along with additional field skills.
We assess the program's success in several areas. We assess their ability to hit the ground running and deliver religious support in a high energy and high intensity environment. We also look at the development of their staff officer skills. Finally, we want to see them develop a greater sense of collegiality and the understand the importance of the Unit Ministry Team.
What value do the candidates gain from this experience?
Chaplain Thogmartin: For some of the chaplain candidates, experiences like these will help them to validate or confirm their call to ministry and to the chaplaincy. Most will leave with a greater dedication to ministry to Soldiers and Army Families. They will have refined some skills, learned some new things, and developed some friendships within the UMT and with their Cadre that will last a long time.
One or two may find that this not really what they want to do and it will help them refine their personal vision.
What value does the Army gain from having chaplain candidates go through this training?
Chaplain Thogmartin: The Army gains by the added personal and professional development that is taking place in these candidates. They will be better equipped for the next level of service once they accession to the Chaplain Corps.
The Army and the Army Chaplain Corps also gain by the positive exposure that Cadets -- future Lieutenants and platoon leaders - will have to the work of the Chaplain Corps and a deeper understanding of what chaplains can provide to enable the resiliency of their Soldiers and Army Families.