By Maj. Donald W. Ehrke (Chaplain Corps)August 1, 2014
In the hour of crisis, men and women have always answered America's call to arms. Throughout our long history "duty, honor, and country" has stirred the noblest aspects of human character -- patriotism, faith, and devotion -- within our spirit. For many, military service is the foremost expression of citizenship and the pinnacle of American dignity.
For others, however, military service offers more than an opportunity to express patriotism. A week ago a Soldier explained," I always assumed that when you had a problem with someone your people got your guns and his people got theirs, then you had it out. I was surprised when I left my neighborhood and found out that not everyone lives that way." This story is consistent with other accounts observed in today's military. Many men and women join the military in order to leave a dangerous neighborhood, others join because of violence in their homes. One Soldier recently remarked, "I got hit pretty often at home, as soon as I could, I left."
Logically, there are multiple factors which persuade a person to join the Army. According to the Department of Defense's "New Recruit Survey" (http://www.dmren.org/app/mrs/special-populations/studies/new-recruit-survey) 66 percent of new Soldiers include "better my life" as a reason that they joined the Army. More telling, 32 percent report that they have no relationship with their father and 14 percent have no relationship with their mother. Not surprisingly, only 28 percent of new recruits agreed that their parent(s) accompanied them during their initial meeting with an Army recruiter. Finally, just 34 percent of recruits included "leaving family and friends" as a significant concern about entering the military.
The personal history of our Soldiers influences their emotional well-being and resultant relationship skills. Recruiting statistics suggest that many Soldiers do not enjoy intimate parental bonds and more are simply seeking to leave their communities. According to Alfred Bandura's social learning theory, most human behavior is learned; children raised in a dysfunctional environment are less likely to cultivate healthy behavior patterns. More, systems theory suggests that individuals are unlikely to change their conduct when it is reinforced by their environment. Briefly, individuals raised in low-functioning settings are less likely to modify negative conduct learned and reinforced by their surroundings. If detached parenting and tough neighborhoods have negatively impacted a recruit, one should expect them to bring these inclinations into the Army.
Subsequently, some new Soldiers will not possess habits which enable them to successfully transition to their new culture. For them, the seven Army values will seem unfamiliar. Additionally, it is essential for Soldiers to improve their relationship skills as they assume leadership roles and progress through the family life cycle (date, marry, raise children, etc.). For the well-being of both the Soldier and the Army, it is critical that all personnel are equipped with the ethics and interpersonal tools which are crucial to success and life satisfaction.
Chaplains are well-equipped to assist a Soldier's transition from civilian to military life. Chaplains can tailor their religious support around programs which nurture emerging interpersonal skill sets (anger management, resiliency, confrontation, etc.). To this end, chaplains might expand their expertise in these fields, develop curriculum, and advocate these programs to leadership for support and funding.
Chaplains also possess unique opportunities to challenge old assumptions and encourage new relationship patterns. Systems theory, again, posits that behavior is reinforced by environment; Soldiers will mature to the extent that their environments are challenged. Chaplains may encourage chapel attendance, religious expression, and communal faith observation as methods of promoting new peer groups. Associating with new friends and colleagues will confront a Soldier's past assumptions and enable them to replace prior beliefs and behaviors with a new ethos. Chaplains should remain connected with their chapel community to meet the needs of Soldiers who are seeking God and fellowship.
Finally chaplains can act as mentors. Some Soldiers will seek role models to guide them and to form their behavior. Chaplains should recall that many Soldiers come from homes in which one or both parents was absent and unable to shape proper conduct. More, communities often failed to do the same. Consequently, chaplains should recall that their actions are both noticed and modeled, both knowingly and unknowingly. Proactive chaplains will seek to mentor and influence young Soldiers by becoming acquainted with them, their backgrounds, and building trust.
The difficulties that many new Soldiers bring with them into the Army are significant, but they are not insurmountable. The Chaplain Corps, dedicated to holistic Soldier wellness, will both shape the future Army as well as the lives of countless men and women, the sons and daughters of God.