06 November 2014

Photo by Lanessa Hill, USAG Public Affairs Chaplain Assistants, Sgt. Edward Webb (pictured left) and Sgt. Gregory Hawkins are familiar and friendly faces to many at Fort Detrick. Both directly support the chaplain and work closely with Soldiers. Both say they can’t imagine doing anything else.
Chaplain Assistants Make it Happen Behind the Scenes
By Lanessa Hill, USAG Public Affairs

Their job is to provide much needed support to chaplains during war and in peacetime. Their primary purpose is to support the unit ministry team programs and worship services. Their enjoyment is getting to know people and making a difference. For over 105 years, chaplain assistants have played an integral role in providing support and comfort to Soldiers and their families while directly supporting chaplains to ensure successful ministries.

This year marks the 105th anniversary of the Chaplain Assistant Military Occupational Specialty. In 1909, General Order No. 253 was issued, making the Chaplain Assistant MOS official.

It will be the duty of commanders and regiments, hospitals and posts to afford to chaplains, assigned to the same for duty, such facilities as may aid them in the performance of their duties. One enlisted man will be detailed on special duty, by the commanding officer of any organization to which a chaplain is assigned for duty, for the purpose of assisting the chaplain in the performance of his official duties, as stated in the order.

“The chaplain assistants on this installation truly model what chaplain assistants are supposed to be,” said Capt. Khoi To, the deputy U.S. Army Garrison chaplain.

“Often times the relationship between the chaplain and the assistant are strained; not here. They do the day-to-day, behind-the scene-operations that set us up for success,” said To.

A major understated duty that is developed with time, whether a new chaplain assistant knows it or not, is to close the invisible, unspoken gap between enlisted and officers. Since the chaplain assistant is the voice of the chaplain, one of their primary missions is to build and foster relationships with everyone regardless of rank, grade or religion.

Chaplains are a non-combatant MOS. They cannot touch a weapon. However, chaplain assistants can. In the time of war, their primary role is to provide security to chaplains, according to To.

“There is really no other relationship in the Army like the chaplain and chaplain assistant,” said To.

Sgt. Gregory Hawkins has been in uniform for 10 years and a chaplain assistant for a little over two years.

“It was only out of necessity of his battalion and only as a special duty chaplain,” said Hawkins.

Hawkins went on to explain one moment that stuck out.

“There are three aspects of being in the chaplain core; the care for the living, nurture for the wounded and honor for the fallen. One day, I was tasked with a memorial ceremony for a Soldier that had taken his own life. It became a challenge to figure out what this job entailed, to be the best. It was during this service that, for the first time, the ranks were removed and I was able to see everyone as people and recognize how everyone grieves. In the Army it’s always Hooah, show that toughness. It was at that moment I knew I had to build those relationships so people felt comfortable enough with me to show weakness, so comfortable they could talk,” said Hawkins.

As any chaplain assistant will tell you, the more they interact and get to know the Soldiers, the more they are able to recognize when someone is not in the right space.

Sgt. Edward Webb, also a chaplain assistant, said one of the perks of his job is getting to visit with and talk to everyone.

“There was a time when I met with an education counselor to become an officer. While she stepped out of the office, I thought, ‘I love my job. I love working directly with Soldiers.’” At that moment, he walked out and went back to his job as a chaplain assistant and hasn’t looked back.

The gift of gab really does come in handy and is another unspoken requirement of the job. While being deployed, Webb said he would work out several times a night and see the same Soldier each night. One night, after his workout, he looked out the door and this Soldier waved him on.

“I could tell something was wrong. He looked like he was going to break down,” said Webb. “The Soldier was having suicidal thoughts because of issues at home.”

Webb was able to get the weapon out of his hand and take him to the chaplain.

“Webb was able to save a life. This happens because of their repeated interaction with everyone and is not an uncommon occurrence,” said To.

“As chaplains, our job is to talk. Our biggest responsibility is to build relationships. No one else in the unit has that job,” said To.

“I have no words to express how much I appreciate my guys,” said Chaplain Ahn. “It really makes coming to work easy to know that my assistants are motivated to do their jobs.”

Fort Detrick has six chaplain assistants on the installation. The next time you see them, thank them for their work.

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