WASHINGTON -- Chaplains counsel all Soldiers with needs, regardless of their religion, and they've been doing it since Gen. George Washington established the Chaplain Corps on July 29, 1775, said Lt. Col. Craig Pache.
Pache is a Methodist clergyman who serves as the chaplain candidate manager, Office of the Army's Chief of Chaplains. He mentors chaplain candidates.
Pache is among 1,342 Protestant chaplains on active duty in the Army. That's 92 percent of the chaplaincy.
Only five of the Army's chaplains are Muslim imams and only three are Buddhist monks, but Muslim and Buddhist Soldiers will always have a chaplain to turn to for spiritual assistance, because Pache says he attends to Muslim and Buddhist Soldiers as well.
Pache said that he and all military chaplains are called to serve all military personnel and, in most cases, their families, regardless of whether those with spiritual needs are Jewish, Catholic or even atheist.
"My job as an Army chaplain is to love and support Soldiers of all faiths," Pache emphasized. "I will walk with them as they go through though their struggles."
Pache said he wants to make a difference in the lives of Soldiers.
"This can be accomplished in the simplest of acts, such as giving a thirsty Soldier something to drink," he said. Though it may be a literal drink of water, often times the drink is metaphorical, a listening ear, a word of assurance.
"We do much more than just conduct worship services," Pache said.
"As a chaplain, more often than not, just being present and available is the best form of spiritual support I can provide," Pache said. "I provide all Soldiers a 'safe' space where they can share whatever is on their mind and feel they are not being judged. It is not my job to change people, but to listen, and offer suggestions and recommendations."
He has intervened with leadership on behalf of Soldiers of other faiths.
He gave an example that if a Jewish Soldier wants to observe Sabbath, from Friday at sundown to Saturday at sunset, he will work to get that Soldier excused from military duty during that time, if mission allows.
When Soldiers need more than the services that he can provide, Pache said he will refer them to someone who can help.
Pache said that he has not only counseled many Soldiers of other faiths, he has also helped agnostic or atheist Soldiers by referring them to other non-faith based counseling services.
Pache said that on occasion, Soldiers have refused his services because they did not share his particular faith or religious beliefs, but he was not offended or hurt.
HELPING WITH DEPLOYMENT ISSUES
In recent years, Pache said that chaplains have found themselves increasingly called upon to help Soldiers reconcile conflicts between their religious beliefs and the taking of life during battle.
Pache also helps Soldiers who are in "relationship struggles," usually marital problems between a husband and wife or struggles between boyfriends and girlfriends. He said many of these problems stem from short-notice deployments and permanent change of station or PCS moves.
"Deployment is hard," Pache said. "It's hard on the Soldier and the family. Issues at home can be a distractor for the Soldier while deployed. A good support system for a family enables the Soldier to more fully concentrate on the mission."
Pache said that he has counseled about two dozen Solders who have suffered from PTSD. He said the best way to help is to walk with them through their struggle. Often Pache will refer them to a behavioral health specialist and or to the Army OneSource Outreach Initiative.
Pache said when he has counseled Soldiers who were suicidal, most of the issues stem from marital and or relationship problems.
CALL TO SERVE
Pache said that the first affirmation of his call to Army chaplaincy came in 1994, when he was endorsed to represent the United Methodist Church.
Pache's first assignment as an Army Reserve chaplain was with the 348th General Hospital in Pedricktown, New Jersey.
"Once I started working with Soldiers, their families and other DoD civilians, I started to receive affirmation from families, and other service members, that what I was doing mattered in their lives", Pache said. "It was then that I knew I was where God wanted me to be."
In 2002, Pache was mobilized in support of Operation Noble Eagle while serving the First United Methodist Church of Mount Holly in New Jersey.
In 2006, he applied and was accepted to serve as an Active Guard Reserve chaplain. His assignments have included serving as a chaplain recruiter and deputy command chaplain in three Army Reserve commands.
Pache said one of his biggest challenges is finding and maintaining the balance between being a chaplain and an Army staff officer. He said that the toughest part of his job is working with those chaplain candidates who need to be separated from the chaplain candidate program, in most cases, because they have failed to complete the Basic Officer Course 36 months after being appointed a chaplain candidate.
"While the chaplain side of me always wants to extend grace, the staff officer side reminds me that as a Soldier, there are regulations that must be followed," Pache said.
Since 2015, Pache has helped facilitate about 105 chaplain candidates entering the Army Chaplain Corps.
Across the total Army, there are about 3,000 chaplains and another 3,000 chaplain assistants. About 1,455 chaplains are serving on active duty with about 1,545 ministering to the Army Reserve and National Guard.
"Chaplains and chaplain assistants exist to provide Soldiers of all faiths a safe place to seek help and support," Pache said. "We can be a great source of support and comfort to Soldiers through the good and the bad."
(Editor's note: This is the first article in a four-part series exploring how chaplains of different faiths serve all Soldiers.)