Called to Serve - The Role of an Army Chaplain

Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Alan Irizarry shares his experiences of serving as a priest and Army chaplain and describes the requirements and roles of a chaplain.  Best advice for aspiring chaplains is to go talk with an Army chaplain, watch what they do, and let them answer your questions.

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Transcript:

When I was young, my father was in the Navy and I always had a heart for the military. In high school, I went to a military academy, where my mother was a teacher and when I was a young man, I always had the discernment that I wanted to become a priest, but I also wanted to become a Soldier. It was not until I went to a military installation that I saw an Army chaplain who was a priest and I said, “Oh, you can become a priest and a chaplain? I'll do that.” I made my decision when I was in 11th grade that I wanted to become a chaplain. I became ordained as a priest, but it took me 20 years to wait until finally my Bishop said, “Ok, you can become a chaplain.” I joined the Army and I have been enjoying it since then.

CHAPLAIN REQUIREMENTS

To become a chaplain in the U.S. Army, you have to be an ordained minister, or ordained priest, and then you have to serve with your own Bishop for three years and have pastoral experience so when you come in as an Army chaplain, you have certain experience with being as ordained. To be a priest, of course, you have to have a bachelor's degree in philosophy and a Master’s Degree in theology. The Army calls it a Master’s in Divinity, but Master’s in theology is the same thing.

For those in the seminary, there is a chaplain candidate program for those that are in theology. They can join and become a chaplain candidate and while they are doing the theology there is something that is called the co-sponsorship which the local Bishop,  which they belong, and the Archbishop for the military services have an agreement that they will both support the candidate in their years of academic school. Once they are ordained, he serves for his own local Bishop for three years and after he has completed his pastoral experience, he can become a chaplain, either on the Reserve side or as an active duty priest chaplain.

ROLES OF AN ARMY CHAPLAIN

As a chaplain, there are different roles and positions when you join the Army as a first lieutenant. Most of the time you will be a battalion chaplain, which is a wonderful experience because you are working directly with troops, young men and women who are in great need of pastoral care. That is the most beautiful time of being a chaplain, which is very rewarding. You see a great need and how you can make a strong direct impact. Most of the time I minister to each one of them, I also made a ministry of visiting the families of my Soldiers, because a Soldier is not a Soldier on his own. He has a wife and children if he is married. I try to also minister to the family to make the pastoral care a whole process of providing pastoral assistance.

ADVICE FOR CHAPLAINS – CALL TO SERVE

I would first find a priest who is serving in the military. That is the best advice I would say because we know what this is really about.  When I was discerning as a teenager, I spoke with the chaplain at that insulation and I was thrilled with what he was doing. That really motivated me. When I was already a priest, I went to the installation close by and I spoke several times with the chaplain. He was very, very helpful and we are all very helpful to provide support and answer questions. Sit by my side and watch what I do and let me provide guidance and answer any questions. I know there are many questions.