The 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) partnered with U.S. Army Cadet Command, U.S. Army Recruiting Command and the Office of the Chief of Chaplains for the event, which allowed attendees to experience an Army chaplain’s daily life firsthand.
“We’ve gained a lot of knowledge,” Chadwick said. “The best thing is being able to talk face-to-face with the chaplains and their spouses, because my wife has had the opportunity to ask them what the spousal role is when you’re married to a chaplain. We got to take a deep dive into what it’s actually going to be like.”
Candidates spent nearly 12 hours alongside the division’s chaplains, from early morning physical training to a 34-foot tower rappel at The Sabalauski Air Assault School. Along the way, they learned the ins and outs of Army chaplaincy through briefings and Q&A sessions.
“It was very exciting,” said event organizer Chap. (Col.) Tony Petros, Fort Campbell senior command chaplain. “I loved hearing and seeing the candidates’ hunger for information about the chaplaincy and their desire to learn directly from those who have been in this ministry for a while. The spousal piece was important as well; my wife and I have seen through our own approach and many other chaplain couples that it’s such a huge additional effort when that couple is working together as a team for the benefit of the unit.”
Petros modeled ACE Day after Liberty University’s College for a Weekend program, which he said has been very successful in recruiting new students. The goal is to ensure the most qualified Army chaplains are brought in with a strong understanding of their role and responsibilities.
“A chaplain’s impact is incredible,” he said. “It’s absolutely amazing, not only when it comes to Soldier preparation and readiness but in bringing forward a more stable Soldier. Interactions with chaplains strengthen them spiritually with where they are as individuals, and it helps their relationships within the unit as well. It’s really cool to see how one battalion ministry team can affect an entire battalion of 800 Soldiers.”
Each chaplain candidate attended ACE Day with that goal in mind, including 1st Lt. Patrick Caley, 101st Special Troops Battalion, 101st Division Sustainment Brigade, 101st Abn. Div.
Caley graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois with a degree in biblical and theological studies, but it wasn’t until recently that he decided to pursue Army chaplaincy. ACE Day provided a perfect opportunity for him to learn more before making a career pivot.
“I never thought that as a Christian I had to be in ministry to do ministry,” he said. “I still think this is true, but over time I saw where my career was headed and who I would have to become.”
“I didn’t like what I saw,” he said. “I missed my religious studies and the academic trajectory I was on. I think the main goal is the same for every chaplain: I want to serve Soldiers in a spiritual aspect because I think chaplains can work around the typical business of military life and serve people in ways that other branches can’t.”
ACE Day’s briefings emphasized three cornerstones of providing those spiritual services: Integrating with Army culture, being approachable as a chaplain and finding the best way to reach each Soldier or Family member.
“Chaplains meet Soldiers at their worst most of the time, so one of the common themes you’ll see as an Army chaplain is that they’re not coming to you to report good news,” said Master Sgt. Dustin Hall, Fort Campbell master of religious affairs noncommissioned officer in charge. “They’re often going to come to you when they need you the most. Your presence, them knowing that you can come to them or that they can come to you is critically important from a command perspective. We need you to be heavily engaged, visiting and making sure the Soldiers know you exist.”
Support from a chaplain can make all the difference for Soldiers in need, which is what inspired Spc. Ana Cea, 716th Military Police Battalion, to attend ACE Day.
“What I like to do is help people, and I feel like this is the way for me to go,” Cea said. “In the Army there are a lot of instances of suicide, depression and anxiety brought on by being away from home. Chaplains have an opportunity to help Soldiers through those struggles.”
Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Eric Leetch, 101st Abn. Div. chaplain, said suicide prevention and moral leadership are important parts of Army ministry, which ultimately seeks to spiritually prepare Soldiers to fight and win the nation’s wars.
“Readiness is the No. 1 priority, and that’s for everyone including the ministry team,” Leetch said. “No one really thinks when they’re down at JRTC that everything could change tomorrow and they could be in combat. But for those of us who were in the Army on Sept. 10, 2001, we know that one day can change everything.”
Whatever changes and challenges may come, Petros aims to host additional ACE Days so that Soldiers have a strong spiritual foundation to face them head on.
“We could very likely do one next spring,” Petros said. “We had participants from as far as Arizona, California and Utah, which shows a definite need for this and how passionate they were about traveling a long distance to come to this event.”