Celebrating 110 Years of Religious Affairs Specialists

By Mr. Eric JorgensenDecember 19, 2019

Sena-Diaz receives Martin of Tours Award
Religious affairs specialist Command Sergeant Major Chantel Y. Sena-Diaz receives the Martin of Tours Award from Chaplain (Major General) Thomas Solhjem and Sergeant Major Ralph Martinez, at the United States Army Chaplain Center and School, during t... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Religious affairs specialists, formerly known as chaplain assistants, have honorably served the U.S. Army for more than 110 years. Soldiers of fine character and exceptional capability have enthusiastically served alongside our Army's chaplains since the Revolutionary War, but we recognize December 28, 1909, as the official birthday of the religious affairs specialist military occupational specialty.

The Army Chaplain Corps has grown exponentially in the past century, in size, scope, diversity, and professionalism. "Throughout all that change, our servant-hearted religious affairs specialists have been the foundation of our connection with Soldiers and their Families," said Maj. Gen. Thomas L. Solhjem, the U.S. Army chief of chaplains. "The dedicated work ethic and technical expertise of our religious affairs specialists have opened countless doors for ministry. Their timely advice and candid feedback have helped keep our Chaplain Corps focused on caring for the soul of the Army."

Since chaplain assistants were first formally recognized 110 years ago, the religious affairs specialist military occupational specialty has changed many times. "When I first joined the Army in 1988, we were classified as 71Ms, part of a collection of administrative jobs that included court reporters, legal specialists, and administrative specialists," said Sgt. Maj. Ralph Martinez, the regimental sergeant major of the Chaplain Corps. "The good news was that we had just been granted our own distinctive branch insignia, and the Chaplain Corps regimental crest, along with the motto, 'Pro Deo et Patria' ('For God and Country')."

Martinez realizes that most of the religious affairs specialists serving in the Army today didn't experience these changes to their profession, just as most of the religious affairs specialists serving 20 years from now won't remember being called a chaplain assistant. "Nevertheless, remembering these milestones helps to keep things in perspective, as we imagine and develop the future of our profession," he said.

Perhaps the most significant change occurred when the Army implemented the Unit Ministry Team (UMT) concept in 1974, assigning one chaplain and one chaplain assistant to every battalion. Before the UMT, chaplain assistants were assigned directly to brigades and worked from chapels. They supported all the chaplains assigned to the same brigade. As UMTs, chaplain and chaplain assistant teams were now permanently integrated into individual battalions, and they completely assimilated into that unit's culture. This integration continues to be an immense benefit to the Chaplain Corps and the Army, when balanced with a strong sense of team; a strong sense of individual responsibility; and a commitment to cooperating with the other UMTs across an installation or in an Area of Operations.

The Chaplain Corps cares for the soul of the Army, and religious affairs specialists are a key part of accomplishing that mission.