Chaplain shortage within the Missouri National Guard
By: Crystal Britt
By: Crystal Britt
They're fighting for our country, many making the ultimate sacrifice. In a Heartland News Special report Crystal Britt discovered one branch of the military is struggling to provide soldiers spiritual support. In fact, the number of chaplains serving with the National Guard continues to diminish.
It's a sacrifice, and a huge commitment, one few today are willing to make. In Missouri, 4 chaplains cover 58 units, that includes nearly 8,500 soldiers. The Missouri Army National Guard wants 11 more to fill the void.
It's a calling Chaplain Kevin McGhee answered years ago when he decided to leave the church he pastored. "I had been in the military enlisted in the Air Force, and so I was thinking to myself it doesn't make any sense to be a minister on the civilian side, and not one on the military side", said McGhee.
McGhee's now the only full time chaplain in the Missouri Guard. He says serving in Iraq's been his biggest challenge so far. He spent a year in the war torn country alongside local soldiers. "When I was in Iraq my counseling case load was anywhere from 15-20 people a week and they were coming in for separation anxiety from their loved ones, having trouble coping and transitioning into a war zone", said McGhee.
Sergeant Mark Johnson was with McGhee in Iraq. "Some days it was stressful, you really didn't know what to expect each day", said Johnson. During that time, he missed his family and needed someone to turn to. "Every day, any problem I had, I'd go to him to help me. He'd pray for me, pray for my family, just made it easier knowing you had a man of God over there with you", said Johnson.
A chaplain's responsible for serving soldiers, and their families - helping them through triumphs and tragedies. They're expected to serve as preacher, teacher, counselor and a citizen soldier. While requirements aren't as tough as they used to be, the chaplain must still go through rigorous physical and mental training. One major requirement is education, including a Masters Degree.
First Lieutenant Bryan Walker's a chaplain in training. He's working on his Master's of Divinity at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. As a candidate for the job, he's already playing the part. He's the only person providing services and support to the 1140th Engineer Battalion in Cape Girardeau, as well as a number of other units. "It's my goal to visit soldiers on a recurring basis where as up in Kirksville, 150 miles away, I've only been up there one time", said Walker.
As for other challenges the chaplain, while not abandoning his or her faith, must be willing to serve all faiths. "If a person decides to become a chaplain they must understand they are operating in a pluralistic environment", said Chaplain McGhee. That plus financial concerns, and the uncertainty of war are all possible reasons for the decline.
It's a problem felt here at home, and on the front lines of war. "I'm here to meet the soldiers needs first, I'm here to meet the country's needs first, it's everything besides me, the country's needs first and that might be a challenge for some people", said Walker.