Attrition: The American Chaplain Shortage

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December 29, 2006: While the U.S. Army has managed to recruit enough troops, despite the heavy demand for combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are still a few categories where there are shortages. The reserves are still missing their recruiting goals by a few percent. But the biggest shortage is in chaplains. Currently the U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard (two separate organizations, the latter controlled by state governors when not activated for overseas duty) are supposed to have 1,406 chaplains, they are currently about 40 percent short. The problem was present before September 11, 2001, and has only gotten worse since then. It's not just the reluctance to get sent overseas (most chaplains are married with children, except for the Roman Catholics), but also the trend for more clergy to be men doing it as a second career. The army does not accept new chaplains if they are older than 42, so that eliminates a low of newly minted, second-career, clergy.


Theair force has few problems. The navy, however, has had growing
problems recruiting chaplains over the last decade Then again, the army is the largest service, with half a million active duty troops, and half a million reservists. The army is taking most of the casualties in the war on terror, and has the most people overseas in combat zones. While there are some chaplain shortages in the active duty army, there are not nearly as severe as those in the army reserves.


Another factor is a change in the composition of the chaplains corps. It used to be that about a third of the troops, and a third of the chaplains, were Roman Catholic. Since these priests could not marry, they had more time for their military duties, and came to get promoted more often. No more. There has been a sharp decline in the number of Catholic men entering the priesthood in the last three decades. Thus today, while about 20 percent of the troops are Roman Catholic, only about 12 percent of the chaplains are. There has also been an enormous growth in the number of denominations that chaplains are recruited from. Sixty years ago, there were ten denominations that supplied chaplains, while now there are over two hundred. The fastest growing denominations are evangelical Christians, and their aggressive preaching and recruiting style has caused friction among the troops, and other chaplains.
Military regulations prohibit chaplains from trying to convert others to their
sect. Some groups cannot handle this one, and that creates problems. All of these factors have also contributed to the chaplain shortage in the
army reserves, and, despite vigorous efforts,there is no cure in sight.

 


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