Contested Religious Support in LSCO

By Chaplain (Capt.) Andrew SchmitzFebruary 1, 2024

Left: Students at the Chaplain Captains Career Course train to integrate
unit ministry teams across warfighting functions in preparation
for multidomain operations on the Command Post Computing Environment
at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Aug. 21, 2023. (Photo by
Chaplain (Capt.) Philip Tah)

Right: Students Chaplain (Capt.) Eunjun Jeong, and Chaplain (Capt.)
Amy Smith at the Chaplain Captains Career Course learn how to create
an interoperable common operating picture for religious support using
the Command Post Computing Environment at Fort Jackson, South
Carolina, Aug. 21, 2023. (Photo by Chaplain (Capt.) Nathanael Logan)
Left: Students at the Chaplain Captains Career Course train to integrate
unit ministry teams across warfighting functions in preparation
for multidomain operations on the Command Post Computing Environment
at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Aug. 21, 2023. (Photo by
Chaplain (Capt.) Philip Tah)

Right: Students Chaplain (Capt.) Eunjun Jeong, and Chaplain (Capt.)
Amy Smith at the Chaplain Captains Career Course learn how to create
an interoperable common operating picture for religious support using
the Command Post Computing Environment at Fort Jackson, South
Carolina, Aug. 21, 2023. (Photo by Chaplain (Capt.) Nathanael Logan) (Photo Credit: Chaplain (Capt.) Philip Tah and Chaplain (Capt.) Nathanael Logan)

Field Manual (FM) 1-05, Religious Support, states, “Adaptability is the ability to shape conditions and respond effectively to a changing operational environment (OE) with appropriate, flexible, and timely actions.” The Army’s approach to providing religious support (RS) must adapt to the ever-changing OE. For the past 20 years, unit ministry teams (UMTs), each comprising one chaplain and one religious affairs specialist, have executed RS in semi-uncontested environments. Units conducted counterinsurgency (COIN) and advise, assist, and enable missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. These types of missions offered some advantages in the execution of sustainment operations. Such advantages are impossible during large-scale combat operations (LSCO) in multidomain operations (MDO). The Chaplain Corps must modernize RS so the Army can deter and, if necessary, defeat the next peer threat in a contested environment. The Chaplain Corps, nested in the sustainment warfighting function (WfF), is an important part of the Army’s actions across the range of military operations in each operational context of MDO, including competition, crisis, and armed conflict. What follows are proposed recommendations for RS revisions in each of the WfFs.

Movement and Maneuver

UMTs must provide RS at the right time and place. This means chaplains must go where the Soldiers are, dispersed as they may be in theater. The UMT quickly becomes a travel team during war. While the last two decades of OEs have been dynamic, they did not present a comprehensive multidomain threat. In addition to cyber superiority, the Army has enjoyed air superiority over enemy forces, almost entirely uncontested. UMTs mitigated obstacles they encountered along supply routes as they conducted battlefield circulation by simply hopping on a rotary wing aircraft during a scheduled ring route with little concern. This freedom of movement will no longer exist during an LSCO fight against a peer adversary. The enemy will make air travel comparably risky to travel on land. For RS revisions in the movement and maneuver WfF for the future contested OE, chaplains should:

  • Plan and prepare a variety of tactical ground transportation options, including logistics packages and medical evacuations. These tactical movements are necessary, even in a contested OE. They have deliberate force protection capabilities, such as gun truck escorts, which will benefit UMTs.
  • Be on standby, like a quick reaction force (QRF), at a tactical assembly area, casualty collection point, or battalion aid station. The LSCO fight will take place over a large area of operations, and since UMTs will not be able to locate close to the forward line of troops, they can respond like a QRF on order from the combatant commander where they’re needed most.


U.S. forces are used to thinking about the protection WfF in an area of the world far away from the continental U.S. One of the new threats a peer enemy poses is a cyber vulnerability that transcends the range of battlefield weapons systems on a different continent. The enemy can use soft cyber strikes against the rear detachment and families in the continental U.S. Consider what would happen if the enemy targeted families through dox attacks, identity theft, and attacks on families’ financial institutions. This would distract and dramatically decrease the morale, focus, and readiness of Soldiers in the engagement areas. For RS revisions in the protection WfF for the future contested OE, chaplains should:

  • Increase the billets for garrison RS to solidify the Army Installation Management Command’s ability to provide RS when the UMTs from a division (DIV) are forward deployed or attrited.
  • Integrate Army garrison and command chaplains into National Guard and Reserve UMT training exercises and create battle drill standard operating procedures (SOPs) to provide RS when active-duty Army UMTs deploy.
  • Create partnerships with civilian religious leaders in houses of worship around major installations to shore up potential RS shortfalls when UMTs are deployed or attrited.


A peer or near-peer adversary will have advanced fires capabilities that can outrange the company trains and maneuver units of U.S. forces. This has not always been the case. The Chaplain Corps has three core competencies: nurturing the living, caring for the wounded, and honoring the fallen. Chaplains have performed the latter in predictable times and places, with a relatively reduced threat of enemy fires. After a unit sustains casualties, chaplains can conduct an entire memorial ceremony at a stationary forward operating base with full attendance. Contested LSCO OEs present risks to commands while executing memorial ceremonies. The forward line of troops during LSCO is dynamic. Commanders must consider how to conduct field-expedient memorial ceremonies when friendly forces are under an enduring threat of further attrition. For RS revisions in the fires WfF for the future contested OE, chaplains should:

  • Truncate memorial ceremonies into field-expedient ceremonies known informally by several terms, including fallen tactical pauses or field expedient memorials. These short ceremonies take less than 10 minutes; a chaplain or another leader can conduct them. They comprise three components:
  • Remember. Friends and colleagues of the fallen Soldiers make brief eulogy statements.
  • Reflect. The chaplain speaks, sharing scripture, prayer, and thoughts for two to three minutes.
  • Refocus. The squad or platoon sergeant refocuses the attention of those present on the successful completion of the mission and the imperative of continued diligent care for one another.
  • Train and certify leaders other than chaplains on hasty memorial ceremonies during pre-deployment training.
  • Schedule a more robust memorial ceremony when the OE allows.


Chaplains are responsible for advising the commander on the religious dimensions of the OE. This can include accompanying key leader engagements (KLEs) with religious leaders. More recently, these KLEs looked like chaplains meeting with local sheiks and other religious leaders in the host countries of the operational area. However, the OE of the next LSCO fight may not be in enemy territory but in a NATO ally’s country. In the white paper “Multinational Religious Support Interoperability (MRSI) in the European Theater,” Reverend Dr. J. Maddox Woodbery Jr. states MRSI is the new pacing effort for external advisement in RS. He writes that MRSI is the “cooperation between chaplaincies while providing/performing religious services and religious advisement across the range of military operations.” Per FM 3-0, Operations, to facilitate interoperability, U.S. forces must “continuously cultivate landpower networks with their allies and partners.” Therefore, chaplains add value to commanders’ RS programs by continuously cultivating multinational RS interoperability. Strategically cooperating with host nation chaplains achieves better results than if a U.S. chaplain treats advisement in Riga, Latvia, the same as Mosul, Iraq. Leveraging host nation chaplains culturally contextualizes RS, making it more effective. Incorporating these partnerships also comes into play when conducting noncombatant evacuation operations supporting internally displaced persons (IDPs). Two recent examples were Operation Allies Welcome and Operation Assure and Deter. The former supported evacuating Afghan citizens through countries like Germany to the U.S., and the latter partnered with Poland in support of potential refugees from the conflict in Ukraine. In both these operations, UMTs were on the front lines with innovative efforts to use chaplains’ intercultural emotional intelligence. For RS revisions in the intelligence WfF for the future contested OE, chaplains should:

  • Integrate MRSI into initial entry training, professional military education, and garrison training for UMTs.
  • Revise RS doctrine and training for IDPs. Create doctrine and SOPs that apply defense support to civil authorities to a foreign OE supporting noncombatant evacuation operations.


The Chaplain Corps executes RS nested in the sustainment WfF. UMTs enable the commander to maintain and project combat power, partly through honoring the fallen and advisement on matters of morals and morale. The number of casualties will increase in a contested OE. By way of preparation, the Chaplain Corps must refine how it integrates with mortuary affairs operations. How will UMTs honor the fallen in a dignified manner with the quantity of human remains anticipated during LSCO? This question has merit not only because it is the right thing to do but also because the combat power contained in the American people’s will to fight can be preserved. Suppose the American people see their sons’ and daughters’ remains handled in an undignified manner in the media or over social media. They would quickly lose the will to fight.

For RS revisions in the sustainment WfF for the future contested OE, chaplains should integrate mortuary affairs specialists in RS training in garrison, field training exercises, and combat training center rotations and deliberately rehearse the movement of human remains through each echelon from the company command post to the corps support area.

Command and Control

The Chaplain Corps needs to adapt its mission command both for the assignments process of chaplains during the current competition phase of MDO and the distribution of UMTs during the armed conflict stage of an LSCO fight. Centralizing decision-making works against survivability in a contested OE. Since MDO elevates the unit of action from brigade combat teams to DIVs and corps, the number of UMTs in the battlespace will significantly increase. The battlespace will be so large, dynamic, and distributed that maintaining the current model of keeping UMTs organic to battalions will not be feasible. Dynamic area coverage will add more value to the RS efforts in the fight. Finally, UMTs must nest their tactical communications with the Army’s command and control (C2) networks. For RS revisions in the C2 WfF for the future contested OE, chaplains should:

  • Leverage the Army’s Assignment Interactive Module 2.0 talent marketplace for chaplain assignments to nest the assignments process with the rest of the Army, with significant input from DIV chaplains. Decisions are best made by leaders, such as DIV chaplains, who are closest to the situation and information. The Department of the Army Chief of Chaplains Personnel (DACH-PER) office will still need to deliberately manage low-density faith group (Catholic, Buddhist, etc.) chaplains’ assignments.
  • Increase the table of distribution and allowances for DACH-PER to include Department of the Army Civilians and NCOs. This would adequately increase the bandwidth for the corps tasks to DACH-PER.
  • Give DIV/corps chaplains C2 authority over subordinate UMTs in an LSCO fight to allocate RS assets when and where they’re needed.
  • Integrate and train on the UMT unit’s C2 networks to inform decision-making at higher echelons.


The Chaplain Corps cannot afford to continue doing business as usual. The OE is changing, and the Army’s sustainment enterprise is modernizing. The American warfighter deserves the First Amendment rights of freedom of religion, and this entitlement does not change when the Army changes from COIN to LSCO. Chaplains must train and prepare to provide RS for the Army of 2030 so Soldiers are sustained and spiritually ready to fight and win the nation’s wars in a contested OE.


Chaplain (Capt.) Andrew Schmitz is the battalion chaplain for 1-320th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He holds a Master of Divinity from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kentucky. He deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve with 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), to Mosul, Iraq. He recently served as the battalion chaplain for 18th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion in Grafenwoehr, Germany, where he provided religious support during Operation Allies Welcome and Operation Assure and Deter. His military training courses include the NATO and Partner Chaplain Operations Course, Security Force Assistance Course, Chaplain Assistant Advanced Individual Training, Airborne, and Air Assault.


This article was published in the Winter 2024 issue of Army Sustainment.


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