By CECOM Chaplain COL Peter L. MuellerNovember 8, 2017
The Military Occupation Specialty (MOS) 56M, known as Chaplain Assistant is undergoing a name change. The MOS will now be called Religious Affairs Specialist and its Non-commissioned Officers will be known as Religious Affairs NCOs. Not everyone is familiar with this MOS and what the men and women assigned to it do. Some might think they are simply drivers or bodyguards for the Chaplain, or some might think they are some kind of assistant chaplain. But neither of those caricatures are true. The duties of this MOS have evolved over the years as the role of Chaplains themselves has changed. However, broken down to its basic foundation, both Chaplains and Religious Affairs Specialists exist to guarantee Soldiers and their Families their Constitutional First Amendment right to freely practice the religion (or non-religion) they choose.
As early as 1866, the Army recognized that their Chaplains needed a Soldier detailed to assist them in carrying out their duties, which at the time included teaching school subjects to the children of the Soldiers. So they found Soldiers who could help teach. In December of 1909, the MOS was officially established by War Department General Order No. 253. Over the years the position has grown, and now continues to grow with the changing missions of the Army. Chaplain Assistants, together with the Chaplain, form the Unit Ministry Team (UMT), found at every level from battalion on up. They work together to bring religious support of all type, including opportunities for both worship and religious education. Unlike their civilian counterparts, the UMT goes wherever Soldiers go, whether that's to the motor pool, out at training exercises or into combat. They too are Soldiers and understand a Soldier's life and situation. As an enlisted Soldier, the Chaplain Assistant, or now, Religious Affairs Specialist, can give the Chaplain insight into what is affecting morale, good or bad, in the unit. He or she has a direct connection with the rest of the Soldiers that is invaluable to the Chaplain, and that often results in more effective ministry than the Chaplain could do on his/her own.
The new name change reflects the increased responsibility of UMT's in advising the commander on the impact religion plays in any given operation. Religion not only plays a key role in current conflicts around the world, but the religious care to our own Soldiers and Families has greatly expanded through the growing diversity of our population. The UMT has to be knowledgeable in ways to minister and assist all faith groups exercise their First Amendment rights.
The title, Chaplain Assistant, no longer fits the expectations now inherent in the MOS. Commanders are familiar with how Civil Affairs, Public Affairs and Medical Affairs work on their staff, so renaming the Chaplain Assistant to match this already familiar nomenclature helps improve understanding of what the UMT brings to the table. Religious Affairs Specialists will have training on how to advise the commander on the impact of religion, as well as on how to meet the religious needs of the unit's personnel, that also being the commander's responsibility.
CECOM has a new Religious Affairs NCO. Her name is SGT LaRita Fullwood and she comes to CECOM from serving in the Garrison Religious Support Office at Fort Leavenworth, KS. SGT Fullwood has been in the Army for 15 years counting Reserve time. She originally comes from Hampton, VA and joined the Army to be 92A, Automated Logistics Specialist and then became a 92C, Laundry and Bath Specialist. She first deployed in 2006 while with a Reserve unit. She came on Active Duty as a Chaplain Assistant in 2008 and deployed twice in two and a half years! She enjoys family and is pleased to finally be stationed close enough to visit them on a regular basis. SGT Fullwood is very glad to be part of CECOM and is eager to do everything she can to help our team grow and thrive. She truly epitomizes what is meant by the name switch to Religious Support Specialist! She will support you in any way you need. You can contact her at 861-4331.