By Julia Simpkins, U.S. Army Chaplain Center and SchoolApril 19, 2017
FORT JACKSON, South Carolina -- When clerics join the Army there's a lot for them to learn about what religious support for Soldiers is about. When their spouses come along, they too have some major cultural adjustments to make.
For that reason, the Chaplain Basic Officer Leader Course hosted a two-day Spouses' Seminar April 12 and 13 at the Fort Jackson NCO Club.
The 25 attendees listened to advice and asked questions of seasoned spouses of cadre members, and special guest speakers.
Jill Solhjem's husband is the Deputy Chief of Army Chaplains, Chaplain (Brig. Gen.) Thomas Solhjem. They've been an Army family for 25 years. She gave the spouses a glimpse of what dealing with deployment is like.
"As the Gulf War was about to start, we were new to the Army," she said. "We were just getting used to life as a chaplain family. His brigade was the one that was first to leave Fort Bragg and none of us knew how big this was going to be. One night he came home and told me that he might have to leave. Two days later he got called to work and I didn't see him again for nine months."
Mrs. Solhjem told the group how important it is to make friends and form relationships early to establish support during uncertain times.
"Fort Bragg was a ghost town. Most of the units had deployed. My two best friends and I got together and discussed what we would do in the event that our husbands didn't come home," she said. "We didn't know what the future would hold. We talked and prayed through it. Eventually we left our husbands' lives in God's hands."
The group also learned about their roles at formal events. Marilynn Bailey from Army Community Service came to discuss military customs and courtesies and Army acronyms.
A non-commissioned officer described the role of chaplain assistants. Throughout the event, the spouses asked questions about where to get support, especially for National Guard and Army Reserve chaplains. Active duty spouses asked about the possibility of career opportunities despite their anticipated frequent moves.
Speakers and subject matter experts answered every question and provided encouraging words.
Marvin Norlien, a Baptist preacher, has been an Army spouse for the last 25 years. His wife, Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Linda Norlien is about to retire and Marvin offered the group a retrospective view.
"At first it took God working in my heart for me to embrace my wife becoming a chaplain," he said. "She was an enlisted Reservist first. When we came onto active duty that was exciting. Since we began I've pastored seven different churches as an Intentional Interim pastor. That's an opportunity I never would have had if she hadn't become a chaplain. Because I was an Intentional Interim pastor, I feel that I have had better ministry."
"We recognize that serving in the Army as a committed officer and a called minister is a very unique role -- one that those of us who are married do best with the support, encouragement, prayers, and participation of our spouse," said Chaplain (Col.) Jeffrey D. Hawkins, Commandant, U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School. "I'm incredibly proud of our cadre for offering this creative opportunity for brand new chaplain spouses to be both inspired and informed as they join the Army Team and make a positive difference in their Chaplain's call to take care of Soldiers and Families."
The U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School, established almost 100 years ago, serves as the U.S. Army Chief of Chaplain's institutional training base for Army Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants. The mission is to train Unit Ministry Teams -- Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants -- in safeguarding free exercise of religion for all Service Members and their Families, as well as the provision of religious support and religious accommodation.