FORT MEADE, MD - On July 29, the U.S. Army commemorates the 248th anniversary of its Chaplain Corps, a venerable institution that predates the Declaration of Independence. The Continental Congress established the Army Chaplain Corps on July 29, 1775, and over the centuries, this prestigious Corps has persevered and evolved. Today it plays a critical role in providing spiritual support to the nation's Soldiers and ensuring religious freedom within the ranks.
“Over time, [the Chaplain Corps] has continued to grow and gain strength and capability in what we do, being established very solidly, particularly at the battalion level and above,” said Col. James “Brad” Lee, Command Chaplain, 7th Signal Command (Theater). “This growth has allowed the Corps to provide unwavering spiritual support to soldiers in the most challenging of circumstances.”
From its beginnings, the Chaplain Corps has stood as a testament to the United States' commitment to the fundamental right of religious freedom. The Chaplain Corps plays a unique role as both spiritual counselors and confidants to soldiers. In times of stress, uncertainty, and loss, Army chaplains are available to provide emotional support and guidance, or just a listening ear. Their ability to connect with soldiers on a personal level, irrespective of religious affiliation, establishes a sense of trust and camaraderie within military units.
"The diversity within our ranks is one of the strengths of our Corps, coupled with the broad range of faith groups,” said Chaplain Lee. “It's been a lot of fun and very professionally enriching to have those different faith groups in our formations."
Chaplain Lee, who entered active duty in July 1999, noted that the events of 9/11 marked a dramatic turning point for the Army and the Chaplain Corps. The call to serve resonated deeply with chaplains, who embraced the opportunity to be with soldiers on the front lines of the War on Terror, serving long deployments with their units.
Chaplain Lee recounted how, during his first deployment to Afghanistan, he and his assistant built a makeshift chapel at Forward Operating Base Salerno. This place of worship not only served as a center of ministry but also fostered a sense of community. Leading events such as Christmas caroling on Christmas Eve further allowed them to uplift spirits and provide support in a highly challenging environment.
“Being a successful chaplain requires a genuine calling and a strong sense of pastoral identity,” said Chaplain Lee. “Having a calling, being faithful to your own faith tradition, and loving Soldiers and their families is one of the most basic tenets of this job.”
Despite—or perhaps, because of—the evolving landscape of ministry and religious practice, the Chaplain Corps remains unwavering in its mission to ensure religious freedom within the military. However, as one of the smallest units in the Army, The Chaplain Corps is not immune to challenges such as recruiting due to shrinking availability of potential candidates.
"We live in a time of constraining resources; we have to be creative to do our job, to do ministry, said Chaplain Lee. “It's things like that that really spur the pioneer spirit, if you will, of coming up with new and innovative ways to provide care and support to Soldiers and families."
The Army Chaplain Corps continues to serve as a symbol of religious liberty and a source of comfort and strength for those in uniform. Today, the Corps serves an ever-more diverse group of faiths, representing over 120 individual denominations and offering vital spiritual guidance. As we celebrate its 248th anniversary, we honor the commitment and sacrifice of the Chaplain Corps.