Washington (Army News Service, Aug. 24, 2007) Aca,!" According to Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Douglas L. Carver, the Army's new chief of chaplains, chaplains in today's Army are more important than any time since World War II. Their very mission Aca,!" nurturing the living, caring for the wounded and honoring the dead Aca,!" is essential to an Army at war.
Both a man of God and a Soldier's Soldier, Chaplain Carver knows what it is to minister to Soldiers who are looking for comfort and reassurance, and he remembers how it feels to huddle in a bunker during a missile attack, praying for strength and courage. He is passionate about bringing "God to Soldiers and Soldiers to God," whatever their faith or creed.
"One of my priorities is to ensure that every deploying unit has a chaplain to provide for the spiritual needs of Soldiers," he said. "They need that chaplain. In combat, you will hear Soldiers cry out for their mother, the medic and their chaplain. In these kinds of situations, the chaplain is there to bring comfort and peace, not only to the wounded and the dying, but to the living."
Faith and belief in a higher power become more important in danger and uncertainty, Chaplain Carver said, recounting a story another chaplain told him. A wounded Soldier was being carried onto a helicopter, singing a hymn. As he lost blood, he could only hum the tune, and was finally too weak to sing anything. The four Soldiers carrying his stretcher finished singing the hymn for him.
"That's the kind of fellowship, this sacred bond we have as Soldiers. I won't leave a fallen comrade behind, and I will even sing him into eternity," he said. "You talk about Army strong, and I really believe that if we are spiritually strong, if our Soldiers are exercising their spiritual faith, that is what gives them the strength and resilience to face whatever the Army calls them to do. They do it without complaining, with great character and integrity. Our Soldiers are great ambassadors for the United States and it's a humble honor to serve them."
Another of Chaplain CarverAca,!a,,cs priorities is ensuring Soldiers have the time and help they need to reunite with their Families after a deployment. Chaplains, he said, can provide the bridge to normalcy that a Soldier needs when returning from the horrors of war-through prayer, counseling and caring for their Families.
One of the chaplaincy's flagship programs is Strong Bonds, a two-day retreat where Soldiers and their Families learn to build and maintain strong communication, strong relationships and strong intimacy. Some units even have Soldiers going through the program in-theater while their Families undergo the same training at home. It's important, Chaplain Carver said, because strong Families mean strong Soldiers.
He is also deeply concerned about the chaplains who hold memorial services for the fallen, comfort their Families and, like Chaplain Carver himself, stand in operating rooms with wounded Soldiers and receive their bloody dog tags.
"The caring profession takes a lot out of you," he said. "We call it compassion fatigue. There's a legitimate concern I have for the fatigue, the stress that comes upon our chaplains and chaplain's assistants in the process of taking care of hurting people. Many of our chaplains have been through multiple deployments and our responsibility is to ensure that every chaplain has a chaplain."
The Army is short about 500 chaplains, especially Catholic priests. While Bible study groups and worship services are available almost every day in-theater, this shortage means that some Soldiers can only attend their faith's services every three or four weeks, Chaplain Carver said.
Recruiting more chaplains is a vital part of giving Soldiers and their chaplains the support they need, he said, pledging never to stop talking about the importance of ministry in the military. During a "Consider the Call" weekend in October, chaplains will ask their military congregations if any of them have ever felt called to the ministry.
Chaplain Carver believes all Soldiers should have the opportunity to worship as they choose. One of the great things about our nation and our Army, he said, is that a Muslim Soldier Aca,!" the Army has about 2,500 Aca,!" and a Christian Soldier can be battle buddies, worship differently, but also support each other and the mission.
"I feel that one of the things we can do as chaplains for our Soldiers and Families is to remind them that regardless of what they're going through, wherever they are, God is there with them and prepared to carry them through any situation they'll face. That is why chaplains are here, to remind them that they're not alone," he said.
Chaplain Carver is a former field artillery officer who wears the Air Assault Badge and Ranger Tab. He also received a Bronze Star for his service as the V Corps chaplain during the early Iraq war in 2003.