Simply having enough chaplains would make that practice much easier. There are several hundred vacant chaplain positions in the military. The reasons for the shortage are many: seminary graduates these days tend to be in their 30s or older, the thought of Army boot camp can be a deterrent at that age and the prospect of serving in war has kept many away. A number of religious denominations are struggling with their own shortages. The Catholic church, in particular, has had difficulty finding enough priests to serve in American churches. That has made many bishops reluctant to allow a priest to leave his parish to become a chaplain.
Chaplain Kenehan is a Catholic priest, and it bothers him that the greatest shortage in the military chaplaincy is of Catholic priests. "The Army is 25% Catholic," he pointed out. "Yet only 8% of the chaplains are Catholic priests." He has pressed Catholic leadership in the U.S. to address the shortage, and help recruit priests to serve in the military. It is a matter of compassion, he believes, and of principle.
"Every soldier has the opportunity to exercise his or her First Amendment freedoms, freedom of religion. That's why the chaplaincy exists, you know, to provide for folks who would not be able to live and practice their religious faith without having military chaplains on hand," said Kenehan.
Chaplain Kreider worries about the shortage, as well. Officially, the military has made sure every soldier is assigned a chaplain. But that chaplain may be miles away, and may be responsible for a thousand or more soldiers. "All of the needs are not being tended to," Kreider said. "We cannot do what we have to do with the few numbers that we have."
Still, Kreider explained, he has no wish to leave the chaplaincy. "I do worry about burnout. I worry about my own limits, emotional limits, spiritual limits," he said. Most of the chaplains he knows are doing continuing rotations into Iraq, with no end in sight yet. He has witnessed so much -- death, anguish, fear, chaos-- and questions that he struggles to answer. Still he is determined to press on. "We bring to the fight a sense of what is right, the ethics of war. Morality." It is a role he sees as crucial for the soldiers he serves. "Because they struggle with that. And we walk with them through that. It's not easy, but it's ok," said Kreider.
Kreider added that, despite the fact there aren't enough chaplains to carry the load, he does believe he has backup. "I believe in a God who has unlimited resources. And he's never failed."
Kreider and the others make it clear that these days they are all praying diligently for more to join them and answer the call.
http://www.usachcs.army.mil (U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School)
http://www.usachcs.army.mil/museum/nav1/mainpage.html (U.S. Army Chaplain Museum (has info on history of chaplaincy, etc.)