CHAPLAIN’S ROLE AS NON-COMBATANT
CH (CPT) JUSTIN DUBOSE
DL C4 (H-RC) FY16 CLASS 412
August 16, 2017
The military is a profession of arms and, thus, those employed are servicemen and women who take up arms in service of their country. However, not all employed in this profession of arms are combatants. The role of the Chaplain is paradoxical in that, though they are employed by the military, they serve exclusively as non-combatants. Section 3-1f of AR 165-1 states that, “Chaplains will not bear arms in combat or in unit combat skills training. Chaplains function as protected personnel under the Geneva Convention and are noncombatants as a matter of Army policy (see FM 27–10).” This policy is reinforced in section 1-25 of FM 1-05 when it says, “At no time shall chaplains compromise their noncombatant status provided to them by the Law of War”. At no point in their service to both God and country do they take up arms either with their fellow servicemembers or against any enemy. While this presents certain challenges, it also provides unparalleled benefits and consequences for those serving in this unique role.
As a non-combatant, the Chaplain has a unique opportunity and consequence to not just proclaim faith verbally, but to demonstrate it practically. The identity of the Chaplain as a non-combatant places likely places them in combat scenarios with no immediate means of self-defense. Some, like Pauletta Otis, try and separate a non-combatant status from the physical touching of weapons. In referencing the Geneva Protocols of 1977, she says that “the Protocols do not specifically state whether chaplains may bear arms but they do stipulate that chaplains are “noncombatants.” However, not only is that issue specifically addressed in AR 165-1, but it is also clearly compromising noncombatant status to bear arms, which violates FM 1-05. By virtue of this non-combatant status, though, Chaplains have a unique opportunity to “practice what they preach” in a very real and powerful way. Willingly marching beside someone into combat as a non-combatant poignantly communicates to them the reality and presence of true faith, which only enhances the ministry of the Chaplain.
Another consequence of the non-combatant role of the Chaplain is that it places them in a unique role to advise on spiritual issues which affect psychological, emotional, and mental capabilities, which can often be more important than physical issues. Every Soldier seeks to maximize their unique contribution to the mission, and the Chaplain’s most valuable contribution is often as pastor and spiritual advisor. The importance of this distinct contribution is often overlooked. In dealing with “moral injury”, one author points out that “there may also be wounds affecting the ‘soul’ that are far more difﬁcult to heal—if at all”. These “soul wounds” are in desperate and immediate need of care, and the presence and ministry of the Chaplain as a non-combatant preserves and maximizes this contribution.
Similarly, another consequence of Chaplain as non-combatant provides a platform to contribute to the mission of the unit as a religious advisor. As a non-combatant, the Chaplain can function as not only a religious advisor to the Commander, but it also legitimizes his role as religious liaison in the outside community. When required, the Chaplain can interact with the local religious leaders and personnel on a level of trust which the non-combatant status upholds. This particular function far outdates the United States Army. “Biblical records show that the Israelites took their religious advisors into battle with them; the same was true for the Romans.” This contribution is so integral to the non-combatant role of the Chaplain that it is codified in various Army Regulations. For example, Paragraph 9-10c and 9-11 in AR 165-1 specifically outlines one of the roles of the Chaplain as the advisor to the Commander in such matters. This key role and unique contribution of the Chaplain is effective because of their noncombatant status and, to remove such a status, would greatly diminish their value.
One poignant example which perfectly encapsulates these sentiments comes from a television episode where a Chaplain saves the lives of two men by jumping onto a grenade that had been tossed into their bunker. While one man interprets those actions as foolish, the other replies, “He’s not a fool, he’s a Chaplain!” Such emotions and sentiments have been stirred as a direct result of this Chaplain’s heroism and compassion, which are only magnified in light of his status as a non-combatant going to war with his Soldiers. Our status as non-combatants upholds this glorious reputation, and permits us to have an indelible impact on our Soldiers, just as this Chaplain did for his men.
Headquarters, Department of the Army. AR 165-1: Army Chaplain Corps Activities. Washington, D.C, 2015.
Headquarters, Department of the Army. FM 1-05: Religious Support. Washington, D.C, 2012.
Pauletta Otis “An Overview of the U.S. Military Chaplaincy: A Ministry of Presence and Practice” Review of Faith & International Affairs (Winter 2009), Vol. 7, No. 4
Lindsay B. Carey, Timothy J. Hodgson, Lillian Krikheli, Rachel Y. Soh, Annie-Rose Armour, Taranjeet K. Singh, Cassandra G. Impiombato “Moral Injury, Spiritual Care and the Role of Chaplains: An Exploratory Scoping Review of Literature & Resources” J Relig Health (2016), Vol. 55
Rachel L. Seddon, Edgar Jones, Neil Greenberg “The Role of Chaplains in Maintaining the Psychological Health of Military Personnel: An Historical and Contemporary Perspective” Military Medicine (2011), Vol. 176
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