I would randomly but frequently receive emails or Facebook messages asking for advice and information regarding the Army chaplaincy from chaplain hopefuls. Many of the questions are very similar and I thought it would be helpful to pastors who may be interested in the Army chaplaincy if I could share some of the correspondences that I have had with them. This Q&A is a collection of different questions from different pastors who have inquired me regarding joining the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps.
*Disclaimer—all the responses here are my personal views and advice based on personal experiences. I do not speak on behalf of the U.S. Army nor any other persons or organizations.
Q1: What is the biggest role of an Army chaplain?
A1: Probably the biggest role a chaplain takes on is a role of a counselor. Because my main experience is from the Reserves side of the Army, I don’t get to see my soldiers on a daily basis, but when I do see them, many of the soldiers come up to me to ask for advice or to seek some kind of counseling. Also, one of the things that I do on a monthly basis is show up with a box of donuts and coffee. With the refreshments, I set up an area where soldiers can freely come and chat. Through such casual encounters, I get to know them and they get to know me. It is these encounters and small chats that allow me to build relationships and to have deep, spiritual conversations when the time and the need arise. Also, there are very frequent counseling requests for soldiers with suicidal ideas, and those experiencing financial hardships.
Q2: I have several months (or years) until I am qualified to join the Army as a chaplain. What can I do to better prepare myself?
A2: If you have the time and the money to pursue an additional degree, I would recommend a MFT degree/certificate or a MA with a counseling emphasis. Also, earning CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) units would be very beneficial for your career as an Army chaplain. Chaplains with four units (or more) of CPE can qualify to earn an ASI (Additional Skill Identifier) to be able to serve as military hospital chaplains. But the most important thing that you can work on is your physical fitness. Please be sure that you can do the number of pushups, sit-ups, and the 2 mile run within the required standard for your age bracket. I have seen many chaplains who went to excellent seminaries, who have D. Min and Ph.D degrees, who have written books, who preach very well, yet were separated involuntarily from the Army because they could not pass the physical fitness test. Remember, you are soldier first, chaplain second. Even if (hypothetically) you are not the most proficient chaplain in the entire military, if you are able to successfully pass the physical fitness test every time (given that you also attend necessary military training, such as Chaplain Captain Career Course) you should be able to minimally earn the rank of Major and even be able to do 20 years in the army, being able to retire with a pension. Physical fitness is very, very important.
Q3: I am expecting to be interviewed by a senior chaplain within the next couple of months. What kinds of questions should I expect? (All chaplain hopefuls are required to be interviewed by a senior ranking chaplain in order to join.)
A3: From my experience, there are two questions that I thought were significant. One is, “Why do you want to become an Army chaplain?” and the second is, “Why did you choose your current endorser?” The first question is something only you can answer; take some time to think through it. For the second question: a chaplain’s relationship to his/her endorser is one of the most critical aspects of being an Army chaplain. If a chaplain is not endorsed by an endorsing agency, a chaplain cannot be a chaplain. Also, the endorser reflects the denominational affiliation of a chaplain. These denominational affiliations can affect the selection process as some denominational chaplains are needed more than others.
Don’t do this: I personally know a chaplain hopeful who responded in an interview, “I chose so-and-so endorser because everyone around me was going with them… I don’t know too well.” That person did not become a chaplain. All other interview questions should be answered with sincerity, truthfulness, and honesty.
I hope these three most common questions that I have responded to here would be of benefit to a future chaplain hopeful, who may feel led by God to serve soldiers as a chaplain.
Reverend Joseph Choi is a senior chaplain of the Spiritual Care Department at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Torrance, CA. He also serves as a chaplain for the U.S. Army Reserves.