[This article was submitted by Lauren Brown, an Army Director of Religious Education, and the Religious Education Program Director at U.S. Army Installation Management Command]
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas – This year marks the 75th anniversary of Army directors of religious education (DRE), a specialized group of Department of the Army Civilians serving alongside Army chaplains and religious affairs specialists.
In 1948, Fort Bragg hired Emma Bryan Johnson as the first Army DRE, launching not only her individual 30-year career, but an entire career field. Today, Army DREs provide educational expertise and leadership to Religious Education (RE) programs across the Army’s Installation Management Command (IMCOM) footprint.
Prior to 1948, Army RE programs were staffed by volunteers under chaplain leadership. When RE attendance skyrocketed during the post-World War II baby boom, the Army Chaplain Corps recognized the value of having trained professionals to partner with chaplains in providing RE leadership. One Vacation Bible School had 2,000 participants, placing significant stress on volunteer systems and chapel infrastructure. The Chaplain Corps saw DREs as the solution. Today, DREs continue to recruit, train, and lead a large force of volunteers who include spouses, and Soldiers ranging in rank from private to general and everything in between.
Army DREs bring educational expertise into the arena of Religious Support by applying their understanding of learning and developmental processes to the unique needs of each faith group and individual. DREs are creative, adapting and building programs that build spiritual resilience for the specific demands of Army life, including deployment, family separation, and reintegration.
Hailing from numerous religious backgrounds themselves, DREs pursue a calling to provide for the spiritual needs of all Soldiers and their families, regardless of their religious traditions. DREs have always served a diverse audience of faith groups, beginning primarily with the Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish communities. Today’s DREs must work to keep pace with the changing RE and spiritual formation requirements of a much more highly diverse Army.
As Rebecca Fisher, a DRE serving at Joint Base Lewis-McChord recently put it, “…In the last week, we've set up a prayer room for our Muslim Soldiers as they observed Ramadan, supported our Jewish community as they prepared for their Passover meal, invited our Anglican and Protestant families to join the Journey with Jesus for Lent, provided the Wiccan community with the opportunity to celebrate Ostara to welcome Spring, opened wide for Friday night Stations of the Cross for our Catholic community, and set up a second site for our Buddhist meditation. Why? Because a spiritually strong and resilient Soldier is truly ready to defend you and me.”
Army RE programs have always been people focused, and centered in community, with DREs working in the background since 1948 to support volunteers, provide quality programs, and meet diverse needs. In 2023, Army DREs continue to hone their skills, working together with Army chaplains and religious affairs specialists to ensure that Army Soldiers, family members, and civilians are spiritually strong and ready for the next 75 years and beyond.