By 1st. Lt. Evan M. FitzGerald, Regiment Support Squadron/11TH Armored Cavaly Regiment April 25, 2014
Fort Irwin, Calif -- As the United States Army draws down from armed conflicts, the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, also known as the Blackhorse Regiment, has brought new life to mobile ministry, a concept that defines the Chaplain Corps of the U.S. Army. It has become an important part of life for some Troopers of the 11th ACR.
An expando-van, normally used for tactical operation centers, has been converted by the 11th ACR Unit Ministry Team to visit Soldiers in the field. The Ministry Team has nicknamed it the "God Van."
"The van fills up quickly, and is a clear force multiplier," observed Gary D. Shine, the Command Sgt. Maj. of the Regimental Support Squadron (RSS), 11th ACR. "Soldiers are now looking forward to the van coming out and units will start to tailor their training time so that Soldiers have time to worship."
During battlefield circulation, Chaplains perform services, counseling, and work to establish a comfortable atmosphere for Soldiers in between battles.
The concept of mobile ministry has deep historical roots, as priests would circulate among Soldiers before battle. The birth of the Army Chaplain Corps and mobile ministry can be found at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. 1775 onwards, Chaplains have been on the battlefield nurturing the living, caring for the wounded, and honoring the fallen.
That tradition continues here where Soldiers of the Blackhorse Regiment replicate the enemy in training against the rest of the U.S. military. The difficult terrain of the Mojave Desert is matched by the tempo of 11th ACR.
"For Soldiers who get overwhelmed, our Chaplains can provide an outside perspective, and make problems seem a lot smaller," said Spc. Kenneth Jensen, an armorer with the Headquarters and Headquarters Troop (HHT), RSS, 11th ACR.
Frequent rotations can leave Soldiers exhausted. Despite their discomfort they continually push to provide the rotational training units their best.
These challenges, combined with Soldiers often serving more than three years with the Blackhorse are what the unit ministry teams of Fort Irwin encounter every day.
"It's not an easy mission that we have," explained Lt. Col. Bart Herndon, the 11th ACR Chaplain. "The concept that we have for our mobile ministry is to provide a respite for our Soldiers, not only to ensure their mental and emotional health, but to keep them combat effective."
It was this need to remain effective that inspired Capt. Wayne Vandekrol, the RSS Chaplain, to bring the concept of mobile ministry back into the light.
"Helping our Chaplains provide spiritual guidance in the box (training area) has become an essential and extremely gratifying part of our mission," said Capt. Russell W. Glass, commander of the HHT, RSS, 11th ACR who provided the God Van.
When the God Van deploys, it moves to assembly areas where a majority of the Soldiers are found. "We go where the Soldiers are," said Col. Terry McBride, the Fort Irwin Post Chaplain. "Mobile ministry is the crux of bringing God to Soldiers, and Soldiers to God."
In addition to spiritual guidance, unit ministry teams provide snow-cones on hot days and coffee in the mornings to raise spirits. High levels of morale and resiliency are a driving force behind the potency of the 11th ACR, with the actions of the mobile ministry greatly contributing to its success.
"The mobile ministry team is giving commanders a much more accurate picture of their Soldiers' resiliency in the field," said Lt. Col. Scott M. McFarland, the RSS commander. "The Chaplain Corps has long been used to measure the spiritual fitness and morale levels of our Soldiers."
The hardships of Fort Irwin not only affect Soldiers, but their families as well as the troubles of work can often enter the home and cause friction. The key to success has been the combination of garrison and mobile ministry, serving all to promote a culture of spiritual wellbeing and enhanced resiliency.
The U.S. military will continue to train for war, honing their skills against the 11th ACR. Through the guidance of the unit ministry team of the 11th ACR, its Soldiers will continue to remain successful and provide the best training the Army has to offer.