By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterJuly 27, 2017
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- With more than 240 years in service, the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps is just as established as the Army itself and, like the Army, it exists to serve a purpose greater than self.
The corps will celebrate its 242nd birthday July 29, but Fort Rucker will host a celebration with a barbeque at the Spiritual Life Center July 28 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. where people can come out to enjoy food, fun and fellowship, said Chaplain (Col.) Dean Bonura, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker garrison chaplain.
"We're doing this for the community, so we're inviting the Soldiers and families, as well as our command teams and congregations," he said. "The chaplains will be doing the cooking, the cleaning, the setup and the teardown."
The event will be a good opportunity for people to become familiar with the chaplaincy on Fort Rucker if they aren't already, and learn a bit about the corps and the purpose they serve, he added.
"We've been around a long time and the role of the chaplaincy is pretty simple -- to provide for the free exercise of religion, and also to serve as an adviser to the command in terms of religion, ethics, morals and morale," said Bonura. "There is a lot of functionality to the chaplaincy. The chaplaincy has been known to nurture the living, care for the wounded and honor the fallen. That's been the mantra, and we do that -- we take those functions very seriously."
There are 1,459 chaplains serving in the U.S. Army, representing six of the world's major religions, including Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu, said the garrison chaplain. Since 1775, about 25,000 Army chaplains have served as religious and spiritual leaders for more than 25 million Soldiers and families, and Army chaplains have served in more than 270 major wars and combat engagements.
The chaplaincy provides programs and events on post throughout the year to serve Soldiers and their family members, including through events like vacation Bible school for children, church services, prayer breakfasts, and counseling for Soldiers and families, he added.
"Of course we do post-wide programs, which there are about 30 of those we do throughout the year," said Bonura. "We host a lot of services around the holidays in November and December, as well as March and April.
"At the same time, we're cognizant of what we call low-density faith groups, including the Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu faiths," he said. "And we want to be able to support the smaller groups (as well). At the end of the day, we want to take care of all of our Soldiers and family members."
Although there is no official military religion, each chaplain represents his or her own faith group, and all work cooperatively to provide for free exercise of that religion and to even be responsive to those who don't identify with a religion, said the garrison chaplain.
"Chaplains are a sounding board for anyone who has any moral, ethical or religious issue, even if they may not be religious people," he said. "Some people out there may feel disenfranchised or marginalized, but we want to be supportive of them. We are religious advisers, but on the other side of the coin we're advocates for all Soldiers."
By providing that level of support, the chaplaincy is able to provide Soldiers and family members with the resiliency they need to be able to combat tough situations that can accompany military life, such as moves, deployments and other daily stressors. Spiritual resiliency, whether a person is religious or not, can have a big impact in overall resiliency, said Bonura.
"I think that we all as individuals have a spirituality. Spirituality can be expressed in many different ways -- positively and negatively. It doesn't necessarily correspond with religion, which is a component of spirituality," he said. "We are, as chaplains, spiritual advisers, but more specifically we're religious advisers. I believe that if we can nurture spirituality, then we can fundamentally nurture human resiliency."
Those who have some sort of spirituality, whether that sits in a belief in God or not, tend to be more resilient, said Bonura. That resiliency helps people bounce back from difficult times, and even grow from their experiences, especially for Soldiers in combat.
"Just the chaplaincy being present in a combat environment is a reminder to [the Soldiers] that they are not alone," he said. "When we know we're in this together and that they're not alone, there is hope and a future -- those kinds of things are powerful."