Story by Patricia Dubiel on 08/01/2019FORT POLK, La. As long as armies have existed, military chaplains have served alongside Soldiers, providing for their spiritual needs, working to improve morale and aiding the wounded. The Bible tells of the early Israelites bringing their priests into battle with them. Pagan priests accompanied the Roman legions during their conquests. As Christianity became the predominant religion of the Roman Empire, Christian chaplains administered to Roman soldiers. In fact, the word chaplain is derived from cappa, the Latin word for cloak.
The U.S. Army Chaplain Corps is one of the oldest and smallest branches of the Army. The Chaplain Corps dates back to July 29, 1775, when the Continental Congress authorized one chaplain for each regiment of the Continental Army, with pay equaling that of a captain. In addition to chaplains serving in Continental regiments, many militia regiments counted chaplains among their ranks.
Today, some 1,300 active duty Army chaplains and 1,200 in the reserve components, representing five major faiths groups (Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist) and more than 120 denominations, administer to Soldiers and their Families.
In honor of the 244th anniversary of the Chaplains Corps, chaplains and chaplain's assistants from across Fort Polk gathered at the Main Post Chapel July 26 for a team building event that not only tested their knowledge of Corps history but also reinforced their skills as Soldiers.
The group broke into teams and donned rucksacks to traverse the walking path around Warrior Hills Golf Course just after reveille. Along the way they encountered stations where they had to perform a physical task, listen to a narrative about Chaplain Corps history, answer a question about the narrative and, if they could not answer the question, perform an additional physical task.
Chap. (Lt. Col.) Derrick Riggs, installation chaplain, said the event was important to build camaraderie between members of the unit ministry teams. "We are all working together to take care of Soldiers and their Families, to make them stronger and resilient," he said. "Military life can be challenging, and we, as unit ministry team members, have 244 years of dedicating ourselves, our lives and our service to helping Army Families face those challenges and be successful."
The physical tasks were meant to reinforce the idea that each one of the unit ministry team members is also a Soldier, said Riggs.
"One of the ways that we earn our identity with the Soldiers in our units is to go out and do what they do," he said. "We walk the lines, dig foxholes, carry rucks, go on runs and this morning we did what every other Soldier would normally train for, from carrying litters to executing Soldier skills. The event was a good reminder that we are Soldiers too. We are chaplains and religious affairs specialists or NCOs, but we are part of the fraternity of Soldiers."
Pfc. Brenden Doyle has been in the Army just under a year. He serves on the unit ministry team for the 5th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. He said the event was a good balance of mental and physical exercises. "Twoplus miles with a ruck, and most of us ran it," he said. "We carried the litter, we did a low crawl and they asked us questions to test our mental acuity. The litter carry was a bit challenging, but the low crawl was the most fun. It gets you dirty, makes you feel good and it's a good way to start the morning."
Editor's note: Information for this article came from www.armyhistory.mil.