CAMP ZAMA, Japan – U.S. Army Garrison Japan leadership hosted a cake-cutting ceremony here Friday to honor the 247th anniversary of the Army Chaplain Corps.
The Chaplain Corps is one of the oldest and smallest branches in the Army. Its roots date back to 1775 when the Continental Army was authorized to place one chaplain in each of its regiments.
Chaplains have since served in all American wars, while the corps has evolved to have more representation from women and other denominations.
“The Chaplain Corps’ legacy of serving in every conflict and theater, including members awarded the Medal of Honor and making the ultimate sacrifice, continues to be evident today,” said Jenifer L. Peterson, deputy commander of USAG Japan.
Peterson, who was the ceremony’s guest speaker, said unit ministry teams play an integral part in the morale of the community they serve.
“Chaplains are usually the first to notice a service member or group of service members or other members of the total Army team who may need to be brought back into the fold,” she said.
Col. Steve Shin, command chaplain for U.S. Army Japan, said the Bible reveals that early Israelites once brought priests into battle with them. Pagan priests also accompanied Roman legions during conquests, and later, Christian chaplains ministered to Roman soldiers as Christianity became the Roman empire’s predominant religion.
He added the word “chaplain” is actually derived from “cappa,” the Latin word for “cloak.”
“As long as armies have existed, military chaplains have served alongside Soldiers, providing for their spiritual needs, working to improve morale, and aiding the wounded,” Shin said during the ceremony.
Today, the Army has about 1,300 active-duty chaplains and 1,200 in its reserve components who represent five major faith groups – Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist – and more than 120 denominations, Shin said.
To support their work, the Army decided in 1866 to have Soldiers be assigned to a detail where they would serve as a chaplain’s clerk and help with their educational, religious and entertainment programs.
About 40 years later, the military occupational specialty of chaplain assistant was officially established, said Spc. Matthew Robinson, a religious affairs specialist for the USAG Japan Religious Support Office.
Since then, the role has become more specialized with the rollout of vocational training during the Korean War that led to the development of the 71B career field. Following other changes, including the addition of specific skill requirements, the position changed to 56M and was renamed to the current title of religious affairs specialist.
“This change recognized the increase of a religious affairs specialist’s capabilities operating in a complex and religiously influenced world,” Robinson said.
In her remarks, Peterson thanked Robinson for stepping up to plan the ceremony, but also for his words of encouragement.
Earlier this year, Peterson told Robinson that she had recently been attending her religious service via a Facebook livestream.
“Without a pause, he stated, ‘Ma’am, we all appreciate seeing you in person,’” she said, adding that Robinson’s response inspired her to attend in person.
“Thank you for knowing when any of us can use that extra little word or push of encouragement in any area,” she said of Robinson and others in unit ministry teams.
To commemorate the anniversary, Shin and Robinson then cut a cake that displayed the insignia for both the Chaplain Corps and enlisted religious affairs Soldiers.