By Ms. Julia Simpkins (TRADOC)November 13, 2014
FORT JACKSON, S.C. (Nov. 13, 2014) -- At the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School, the performance of funeral rites for veterans is a duty which is rotated among cadre.
Chaplain (Maj.) Brandon Moore, the school's homiletics instructor, was recently taking his turn officiating a veteran's funeral while Karen Diefendorf, a retired Army chaplain, watched from the back of the chapel.
"He didn't know I was there or that I had any connection to the deceased," she said. "I was really struck by the way he performed the service, so I asked him out to coffee after the service was over."
Diefendorf is now a chaplain for Hospice Care of South Carolina, a civilian organization that provides end-of-life care to citizens throughout the state. The deceased was a veteran whose family requested a military funeral.
Because of the "uniqueness" of Moore's funeral ceremony, Diefendorf asked him to train the team of civilian chaplains she works with on how to honor veterans.
Coincidentally, Moore had recently partnered with another chaplain who was stationed at Arlington National Cemetery to co-teach chaplains how to maximize rendering honors to fallen Soldiers. He said he was delighted to help civilian chaplains learn the same skills.
Friday morning at the Fort Jackson NCO Club, Moore first asked each member of the Hospice Care group to share his or her military history. The men and women told of either their own or their parents' military service. Only Diefendorf and one other person in the group had served as military chaplains.
"My first job, as I understood it, was to teach the civilian chaplains the differences between military and civilian funerals," Moore said. "The graveside services are where the differences come out."
Moore said he took a two-pronged approach to training the Hospice Care chaplains.
"I figured my first responsibility was to make them understand that there were distinct differences between the two types of services," he said. "When you're doing a civilian funeral, the chaplain or preacher usually moves right into it, starting off the funeral message and then going into the prayer. With a military funeral there are added layers of formality. For instance, I would introduce myself and explain the history of the cemetery, if it was a National Cemetery. The survivors and guests deserve to know why their loved one was special for having served our nation. After I give a brief history, I say, 'No plot in this sacred ground can be purchased. Each plot must be earned. Private Smith (or whatever rank and name) has earned his place here today.'"
The second layer of formality, Moore said, is for rendering military honors.
"I call it a Transition to Honors," he said. "After the funeral message and prayer are done, I close my Bible, take a step back, raise my voice and say, 'For our comrade in arms, Private John Smith. In life he has honored our flag; in death, our flag will honor him.' This statement does two things: It provides a transition for family and attendees to prepare for the honor guard's salute -- they are often not ready for it and are startled if it happens without a transition -- and it cues the honor guard (members) that they may begin rendering honors: the firing of volleys, Taps and flag folding and presentation."
All the military components of graveside services are covered by regulation, but that does not mean civilian chaplains can't use many of them, Moore said.
"There are also protocols that civilians don't necessarily know," he said. "For instance, when the American flag is draped over the coffin, nothing is supposed to touch it. So we have to make sure to arrange the service so the family can place roses on the casket after the flag is removed."
The training lasted 90 minutes, but the group joined Moore afterward at the Club's lunch buffet, which was free to all veterans. There, the chaplains continued to ask him questions and praise the training, Diefendorf said.
"Everybody was very complimentary about the training,"she said. "They've been pastors for a long time and when they say, 'Wow' it means something."
"He was incredible," said Chad Bowen, one of the chaplains who took the class. "The class was informative, encouraging and funny. I hope to hear him speak again on a different topic. He was great."
Also present as an observer was Diane Carlson, chaplain and social worker supervisor for Hospice Care.
"Overall, it was very good training. The chaplains learned about the military process -- how to support military families and how to work with military personnel. The presentation was very well organized as well," she said. "Chaplain Moore taught the group how to deal with military families and to ask specific questions that would make for better understanding between the chaplain and the family. They learned some of the unusual family dynamics you can see in the military family. I appreciated the opportunity to visit the fort."
Diefendorf said the class was important for the chaplains.
"As hospice chaplains, our responsibility to our veterans and patients doesn't end after the funeral," she said. "We are also charged with helping the family heal."
Moore shared a similar sentiment.
"We are honoring the veteran, but we are also caring at so many different levels for those who are left behind," he said.