REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Speaking from an Army leader's point of view, retired Lt. Gen. Jim Pillsbury told a group of Army Materiel Command chaplains on Aug. 5 that they must be the moral compass for their units, and lead the way for Soldiers in the spirit of acceptance and inclusion.
During the AMC Unit Ministry Teams training event at AMC headquarters, Pillsbury addressed the question "From your experience, how can chaplains help build moral leadership training within the command and within the workforce?"
With 38 years as an Army officer with three deployments leading Soldiers and with assignments as the commander of the Aviation and Missile Command from 2003 to 2007 and then as AMC's deputy chief of staff and deputy commander, Pillsbury said that he understood the need for military commanders to demand a homogenous unit with no controversy and no personal disagreements.
But, that's not how life works. That's not how a unit of Soldiers representing a cross section of society works, he said.
And, it's a unit's chaplain and chaplain assistant who can tune a leader into the issues that can cause a unit to splinter, to lack team cohesiveness and to create low morale.
"I spent 16 years with infantry divisions, 12 of those at Fort Campbell (Ky), and I saw a lot of chaplains do their thing. Ninety-seven percent of them were outstanding. They could tell their commander what was going on in the motor pool, in the barracks, on the staff. They could give their commander a hint of the unethical issues within the organization," Pillsbury said.
"Chaplains helped me as an individual and as a commander. Across the board, they help commanders with ethical issues."
Pillsbury said effective chaplains set times to meet with their commander informally to provide information about issues within the unit. "By providing that information, they can make their commander be a better commander," he said.
Within a unit, it is the chaplain who can make a difference before a potentially unethical situation becomes an illegal action.
As a commander, when unethical accusations were made, Pillsbury would ask himself, "Why didn't I see it coming? Could my chaplain see it? Could a chaplain from another unit see it? As a chaplain, your eyes and ears are a lot more than pastoral. You help keep the commander from being blindsided."
Throughout the military, when unethical situations have occurred -- such as Abu Ghraib, where U.S. prisoners of war were abused during the first years of war in Iraq, and My Lai, Vietnam, in 1968 when upwards of 500 civilians were slain by U.S. Soldiers -- the question is often, "Where was the chaplain? Where was the moral compass?" Pillsbury said. "You must be the ones who lead morally."
A commander must be able to trust his chaplain to provide guidance and chaplains must be able to provide guidance even when it isn't favorable to the commander, he said.
"For that reason, you have to police your own," he said. "You must hold yourself and each other at a higher standard than any Soldier. You are on a pedestal, whether you like it or not. You need to stay on that pedestal. You must maintain your highest standards ever."
Pillsbury called for peer reviews among the Army's chaplaincy. It is through peer reviews that leadership gets a true picture of the value and effectiveness of its chaplains, he said.
While most chaplains have a positive impact on Soldiers, Pillsbury said that, as a whole, the Army's chaplain corps has not been a leader of change. In the 1950s, when the Army began integrating segregated black Soldiers into its units, and throughout the '60s and '70s as integration was fully realized, chaplains did not take lead in making that happen, he said. In the 1970s and '80s, as the Army integrated women into its ranks, chaplains were again not at the forefront of change. And, now, as the Army works to include gays and other gender differences, the chaplain corps has been silent, he said.
"Two things you have to wrestle with, and that is your Army oath and your strong beliefs," Pillsbury said.
The retired three-star general went on to describe the sanctuary at his church where his pastor has two chairs and one table near the pulpit. The two chairs represent opposites -- black and white, Republican and democrat, boy and girl, peacemaker and warrior, straight and gay -- and the table represents inclusiveness.
"Do you have room in your heart for those who are different from what your beliefs are? I firmly believe the intention of our Lord is for us to read the Bible and interpret the Bible based on our relationship with the Lord. The word is not black and white. That is why Jesus told parables," Pillsbury said.
"You can make room at the table or you can get out. I know all of you have wrestled with that."
With a strong faith in the Lord and a strong faith in the nation, Pillsbury said the U.S. was built on controversy, inclusion and the principles of acceptance.
"Jesus was one for inclusion. I hate to see our nation split, and if our military splits our nation splits because our military is the rock for our ethics," he said.
"I believe God made everybody for a reason, and there are two things we should do:Love the Lord and love our neighbors."