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The Army chaplaincy, which is going through a much-publicized shortage, has actually grown, not shrunk, over the last decade.

The shortage began in 1998 as the direct result of a reversal in peacetime policy, says Lt. Col. Randall Dolinger, a spokesman for the Army Chief of Chaplains Office. The Army, as usual during peacetime, had quietly reduced the number of active-duty chaplains during the 1990's. Following the 1997 scandal at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, where twelve instructors were charged with sexual misconduct, there was an outcry for the proportions of chaplains to troops to be raised again.

Chaplains are in the Army "to nurture the living, care for the wounded, and honor the dead" and to make sure each soldier has the opportunity to worship as he or she wants. Now, they have taken on a new role as a force to make the abuse of power seen at Aberdeen less likely. In response, the Army invited reserve chaplains back into active duty and began to recruit.

For the army chaplaincy, the shortage has eased a bit with the latest round of recruits. As of May, 452 of 3000 chaplain positions remained open, down from 580 open positions in March.

The tactic is working, says Dolinger, citing the reduction of Aberdeen-like incidents.

Now, the problem is filling the guard and reserve positions, which do not require a full-time commitment but may actually be more inconvenient. "The church doesn't really support the person for leaving once a month and then for a year," Dolinger said. He hasn't seen many firings, but says most ministers feel the need to leave their local church within a year of service as a chaplain.

Dolinger points out that trends affecting clergy in general—such as an aging population and increasing numbers of students ...

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August 2007

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