The United States Army Chaplain Corps is a unique part of American military tradition. Said to be among the smallest unit in the U.S. Army, the Chaplain Corps predates Independence Day, and since this unit began, chaplains have served in every American conflict.
The U.S. Army Chaplain Corps celebrates its birthday each year on July 29th, the day it was authorized by the Continental Congress. There are commemorative gatherings across the globe held by Army Chaplains, Chaplain Assistants, and other support troops to observe the birthday of the Corps.
These events reaffirm the Army Chaplain Corps’ commitment to helping, mentoring, counseling, and teaching soldiers. July 29th is celebrated everywhere from Washington D.C. to the most forward-deployed locations around the globe.
A Brief History
In 1775, The Continental Congress authorized an Army Chaplain Corps, providing one chaplain for each regiment. At the time, those who served as Army Chaplains were paid approximately $20 a month and had no required military uniform. The role would evolve and change over time, especially where multi-faith operations are concerned.
The Corps did not begin as the pluralistic operation today, but over time Catholic chaplains were added, and later African American and Jewish chaplains. These additions happened before or during the Civil War, but it wouldn’t be until 1979 for women to accept commissions as Army Chaplains.
What is the Army Chaplains Corps?
The Army Chaplains Corps offer soldiers spiritual guidance, counseling, advice, and mentoring in peace and wartime by employing trained clergy members who have had spiritual and classroom-type training and have passed Army training requirements in non-combatant soldier skills.
Chaplains are expected to accompany troops on and off the battlefield, providing what the Army calls “free exercise of religion in a pluralistic setting”.
Army Chaplains serve as counselors, religious leaders, moral authorities and provide comfort to those in conflict zones or affected by combat. In peacetime and outside areas where American forces engage in combat operations, you may find Chaplains working in ways similar to those who run civilian houses of worship.
Chaplains may provide teaching, guidance, serve as mentors, even work as radio personalities in military radio stations to discuss their mission, work, and services. They often serve in or in conjunction with military medical facilities on and off the battlefield.
Despite being non-combatants, Army Chaplains have earned many awards for bravery, self-sacrifice, and valor. Five have been awarded the Medal of Honor, including a posthumous award in 1969.
During World War Two, four Army Chaplains died helping servicemembers survive a German torpedo attack on an Army transport ship, the U.S.A.T Dorchester. They gave their life jackets to other soldiers, went down with the ship, and died as a result. These men, known as “The Four Chaplains,” were awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously.