Chaplains and Doctors in the US Military

Soldiers are in the business of war, and health, physical and spiritual, is required. Chaplains and doctors work together to optimize both. 

Chaplains and doctors in the military are both special staff officers to the unit commander. Chaplains are de facto and de jure non-combatants under the Geneva Convention, while doctors can be combatants but their primary responsibilities are to heal, not to kill. As such, chaplains and doctors in the military should work closely together, and often do. Medicine involves all aspects of man, body, soul and spirit, and the religious work of the chaplain does the same. In Iraq I worked very closely with our Task Force chaplain, LTC Alvin Sykes. We shared a tent, along with LTC Alfonso Franqui, our Task Force chemical officer.

The US Army has had chaplains since 29 July 1775 and today there are over 3,000 chaplains in uniform representing over 140 different religious organizations. The role of chaplains in the US military is to meet the spiritual, and the some extent the behavioral health needs, of their soldiers. In a typical Army battalion there are 500-700 soldiers, one chaplain and one chaplain’s assistant. Those two people, called the Unit Ministry Team (UMT), are responsible for religious services, counseling, funerals, and a host of other duties. In Iraq and Afghanistan chaplains worked with local religious leaders to seek common ground to promote peace and prosperity.

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