CAMP ZAMA, Japan – The Camp Zama Chapel recognized two milestones here Friday to honor its 70 years of service and the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps’ 248-year anniversary.
Before the United States officially became a country, the Chaplain Corps was created in 1775 when the Continental Army was authorized to place one chaplain in each of its regiments.
“Chaplains have served in every war since the beginning of our nation and every day in between, caring for the very soul of the Army,” said Jenifer L. Peterson, deputy commander of U.S. Army Garrison Japan. “They are here to ensure everybody’s constitutional right to [the] free exercise of religion and to nurture the living, care for the wounded, and honor the fallen.”
Chaplains have been a valuable, confidential resource for community members over the years, said Peterson, who was the ceremony’s keynote speaker.
“They offer guidance, counseling and mentoring,” she said. “And that’s very important because they continue to sustain and increase our community’s impact and resilience.”
At the start of the ceremony, Peterson, along with Lt. Col. Damon Saxton, chaplain for USAG Japan, and Lt. Col. Mark Olson, deputy command chaplain for U.S. Army Japan, cut a ribbon in front of the chapel to rededicate the building.
Saxton said it was decided to rededicate the chapel this year since “70” is a meaningful spiritual number.
“It means the completion of a spiritual age, and many religions recognize 70 as a significant number,” he said. “We saw it as the end of one spiritual era and the beginning of another spiritual era.”
Built in 1953, the chapel, which serves all faith backgrounds, was placed near the front gate as a reminder to Soldiers of the good character they are called to exemplify, Capt. Christopher Dorsey, the 311th Military Intelligence Battalion chaplain, said during the ceremony.
The building was modeled after the Nasugbu Beach Chapel in Yokohama, he added, and includes a stained glass rose window at its entrance with a repeating cross pattern in green, a traditional color of new life and hope; gold for divinity and light; and blue to represent heaven and purity.
“It’s an absolute beautiful facility and it’s in excellent condition after 70 years of use,” Saxton said. “We hope that it lasts another 70-plus years in serving this community.”
Saxton said he holds a positive outlook for the chapel and believes it will be in safe hands as the Army continues to produce intelligent, compassionate and dedicated chaplains.
“I have no doubt, as these new chaplains grow in their leadership, that they will pass on their knowledge, their skills and their passion to the next generation,” he said.
The Chaplain Corps is one of the oldest and smallest branches in the Army. Today, the service 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, Dorsey said.
To support the work of chaplains, the Army began in 1866 to assign Soldiers to a detail where they would serve as a chaplain’s clerk and help with their educational, religious and entertainment programs.
In 1909, the military occupational specialty of chaplain assistant was officially established, said Sgt. Maj. Denises Veitia, sergeant major for the USARJ command chaplain.
Since then, the role has become more specialized with the rollout of vocational training after World War II that led to the development of the 71B career field, she added. Following other changes, including the addition of specific skill requirements, the position changed to 56M and was renamed to its current title of religious affairs specialist.
In his remarks, Olson said the Army relies on those in the Chaplain Corps to build spiritual readiness across the ranks to ensure its people can overcome both external and internal threats.
“Let us not forget, however, that spiritual readiness begins with us,” he said. “It is imperative, therefore, that we develop and maintain healthy, spiritual practices to nurture our own spiritual readiness.”
He added that things like prayers can unlock answers, fasting can amplify the voice of God, meditation can deepen one’s convictions, and acts of service can strengthen relationships and communities.
“As we intentionally and deliberately engage in these spiritual practices, we build spiritual synergy within our own ranks,” he said, “while demonstrating the power of these spiritual principles and practices to those that we care for each and every day.”
Peterson recalled when chaplains and religious affairs specialists kept a pulse on their community and offered comfort in a time of uncertainty.
During a previous federal government shutdown, in which civilian workers did not receive pay, a unit ministry team held a barbecue to welcome the civilians back following their furlough.
“What struck me was that the chaplains hosting the barbecue recognized the likely stress on some members of the larger Army team — initially not knowing when they were going to get paid or not feeling valued as part of the team,” she said.
Peterson said this experience, along with others she has seen throughout her career, highlighted how members of the Chaplain Corps strive to take care of others.
“People are the Army’s No. 1 priority,” she said, “and the Chaplain Corps is committed to investing in people, connecting them in spirit, and cultivating a community to help build cohesive, highly trained, disciplined, and fit teams.”