By Sgt. Lindsey Bradford, Multi-National Corps-Iraq Public Affairs OfficeNovember 26, 2009
On Dec. 28, 1909, General Order No. 253 was published, establishing the official military occupational specialty of the chaplain assistant, stating that one enlisted man will serve to assist the chaplain in the performance of his official duties.
One hundred years later, Chief of Chaplains Chap. (Maj. Gen.) Douglas L. Carver and Chief of Chaplains and Regimental Sgt. Maj. Tommy Marrero joined over 100 chaplains and chaplain assistants serving on religious support teams throughout Baghdad on Nov. 25, for a celebratory dinner at Camp Victory's Joint Visitors Bureau.
"We have come a very long way," said Marrero, a Cayey, Puerto Rico, native.
Marrero, who joined the Army in 1984, told the story of the chaplain assistant and humored the crowd with stories of the changes chaplain assistants have seen over the past 25 years he has served in the Army, to include a re-designation from 71M to 56M.
As senior noncommissioned officers laughed and shook their heads in agreement, younger Soldiers listened intently to stories of the way it was before some of them were even born.
"It's really cool that Chaplain Carver and Sergeant Major Marrero came out here to celebrate with us," said Nixa, Mo., native Sgt. Michael Campbell, a chaplain assistant with the Multi-National Corps-Iraq chaplain's office. "It shows that even though we're only chaplain assistants, they still honor what we do up to the highest level."
Carver, of Rome, Ga., explained that chaplains would not be able to provide the quality support they do if it weren't for the assistants who are by their side.
"They really set the conditions for the chaplain," Carver said. "They provide protection to the chaplain, as well as do everything else that is asked of them as a Soldier in the United States Army."
Although established in 1909, the chaplain corps made proposals to the Secretary of War in 1927 and in 1933 to provide a small corps of specialized enlisted assistants. Their proposals were unsuccessful until after World War II. The start of the Korean War afforded chaplain assistants a specific job. Training consisted of nine weeks of basic training, nine weeks of clerk typist training and a voluntary four-week course vaguely covering the job of a chaplain assistant. In 1965, chaplain assistants were given a pin-pointed job description and specific skill requirements.
"Before you can be an effective chaplain assistant, you have to be an effective Soldier first," said Marrero.
Carver agreed that Soldiering comes first, above all, but chaplain assistants continue to go above and beyond to make sure Servicemembers are provided with quality spiritual and faith-based care.
"I was visiting (Multi-National Division-South), and Soldiers had taken a tent and turned it into a place called 'Holy Joes'. You could walk in 24 hours a day and get a hot cup of coffee, watch a movie or just sit and relax," said Carver. "Here were these Soldiers who asked themselves 'What can I do to improve the life of our community'' It is amazing."
Carver commended chaplain assistants for their dedication in trying times, especially while serving in the midst of a war. With the stresses of war, Carver said chaplain assistants here can serve as a first line of defense for chaplains by screening Soldiers who may be struggling.
"They can talk with their fellow Soldiers and determine if they need to see a chaplain, or they may decide that Soldier needs to seek medical attention right away," Carver said. "They are there to help get that person the care he needs."
Before the evening concluded, Carver reminded all chaplain assistants in attendance about the great things they continue to do for chaplains and Servicemembers.
"Chaplains assistants have that willingness to do and try anything to accomplish the mission," said Carver. "You should be very proud."