Chaplain corps focuses on different type of fitness

By Thomas Gounley, U.S. Army Cadet CommandJune 21, 2011

Spiritual fitness
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As drill sergeants barked at Alpha Company Cadets and ran them through squad tactics training Thursday, there was a lot of emphasis on the physical. But Maj. Kelvin Todd had another kind of fitness on his mind.

“The Army has a program in place " Comprehensive Soldier Fitness,” said Todd, the chief chaplain for the Leader’s Training Course. “A component of that is spiritual fitness. The Army recognizes that.”

Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, according to its website, defines spiritual fitness as “strengthening a set of beliefs, principles or values that sustain a person beyond family, institutional and societal sources of strength.”

Todd, who has been deployed to combat zones twice " once to Iraq in 2003 and once to Afghanistan in 2009 " has seen just how that spiritual fitness can benefit Soldiers.

“The faith of the Soldiers overseas is very vibrant,” Todd said. “It’s a connection to what is important back home.”

Besides his overseas deployment, Todd, a former pastor at a Georgia church, has spent time at Fort Riley, Kan., Fort Campbell, Ky., and the Army’s base in Okinawa, Japan. He is now assigned to U.S. Army Cadet Command, which oversees Army ROTC, and has been at Fort Knox since January.

It’s a noticeably lighter assignment.

“I said a lot of prayers to guys who didn’t leave the hospital,” Todd said of his time overseas. “Here you know everyone’s going to be back in the bunk at the end of the day.”

At the Leader’s Training Course, Todd works with two chaplain’s assistants, Staff Sgt. Charles Lewis and Sgt. Russell Hutchings, and will soon be joined by a deputy chaplain.

Although Hutchings jokingly likened the team’s role to a “church secretary,” the chaplain’s assistant position takes on an important role in combat zones. Chaplains do not carry weapons of any kind, so they are accompanied wherever they go by their armed assistants.

“We’re their bodyguard while they’re out there,” Lewis said.

At LTC, Todd also works with four chaplain’s candidates, individuals who are going through the seminary and are close to completing requirements to become an Army chaplain. One candidate is assigned to each company.

“They thought it’d be excellent training for new chaplains coming into the company,” Lewis said.

Due to the administrative nature of the chaplain’s position, those under him have more personal interaction with the Cadets, and accompany them on various aspects of their training.

“We’re pretty much there to cheer them on and offer some kind of support,” Lewis said.

In essence, the chaplain’s assistants and candidates can act as something of a “buffer” to strict drill sergeants in the field, said 2nd Lt. Thomas Robinson, who is the chaplain candidate for Alpha Company.

Additionally, the assistants, like other members of the cadre, live in the barracks with Cadets, offering the latter the opportunity to swing by and talk.

“Chaplains are the counselor,” Hutchings said. “We’re just the listeners.”

However, simply having someone listening can be beneficial to Cadets who have personal or family problems that are impacting their training.

“We can be like a relief valve … we can help relieve stress,” Hutchings said.

A critical part of connecting with Cadets, Todd said, is “genuinely expressing interest” in their lives, meaning that conversations don’t have to have a particularly religious theme.

“We’ll talk to them about non-religious things,” he said. “We care about that individual as a human being.”

One of the challenges, or at least unique situations, of being an Army chaplain is the myriad of faiths Cadets and Soldiers have. In the middle of a Tuesday morning interview, LTC Commander Col. Eric Winkie walked in to tell Todd he had been talking with more Mormons than previous years.

“We have their services on post,” Todd responded. “I’ll be sure to highlight those.”

Todd is a Southern Baptist minister and can’t perform services for all faiths. To provide the “support of all flavors,” as he called it, ministers from the Catholic, Mormon, Islamic and Protestant faiths are being brought in to support LTC.

“If I can’t perform it myself, I make sure to provide it,” Todd said.

Each company has four scheduled days on which services will be held, on Wednesdays and/or Sundays. Alpha Company’s first scheduled day, for instance, is today. All services are held in Calvary Chapel on Fort Knox.

But Cadets will have lots of opportunities to get religious support on non-service days and in the field. After all, they have an incentive to making themselves noticeable.

“It’s very likely some of the Cadets will come into the chaplain corps,” Todd said. “My future replacement may be crawling out here right now.”

Related Links:

LTC Web Site

U.S. Army Chaplaincy

More about Army ROTC