Military Chaplaincy

Military chaplains are endorsed by religious organizations and employed by the Department of Defense. As federal chaplains, they are required to have 72 hours of graduate education in pastoral studies (M.Div. or its equivalent) and receive branch-specific training at Chaplain Corps schools. Chaplains provide religious and spiritual care to military personnel, ethical guidance to commanding officers, and partner with social workers and mental health professionals in responding to a variety of issues impacting active duty, reserve, and guard personnel and their families.

The Armed Forces Chaplain Board (AFCB) represents chaplaincy in the Department of Defense and is made up of the Chiefs of Chaplains for each branch of the armed services. This board determines the baseline credentialing standards for all chaplains (service requirements may be more stringent). The AFCB communicates requirements and standards to the religious organizations whose agents endorse individuals for military chaplaincy.  A list of endorsing agents can be found here. Each branch also offers opportunities for exploring chaplaincy careers through their Chaplain Candidate Programs (information for the Army, Navy, and Air Force Chaplain Candidate Programs can be found on their recruiting websites).

Recent collaborations between endorsers, theological educators, chaplains, and military leaders feature discussions about how to best prepare military chaplains for 21st century chaplaincy. Examples include the following: If you’ve got more resources you think we should include on this sector, let us know at

Becoming a Military Chaplain

Building Spiritual Strength (veteran care)

Dr. J. Irene Harris, Counseling Psychologist and Clinical Investigator at Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford, Massachusetts and affiliate faculty at the University of Minnesota Medical School, routinely conducts training sessions on the program Building Spiritual Strength. Dr. Harris has generously provided a number of free materials for sharing through the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab, which we provide here. Note: if you are interested in implementing Building Spiritual Strength, please contact Dr. Harris ( or Tim Usset ( for consultation.

Intervention Manual for “Building Spiritual Strength”

3-video series, “Building Spiritual Strength”

“Building Spiritual Strength” through Adobe Connect

“Building Spiritual Strength” baseline interview for intake personnel

“Building Spiritual Strength” Facilitator Education guide, prepared by Timothy Usset

“Building Spiritual Strength” participant manual

“Building Spiritual Strength” training for chaplain therapists

Harris et al. (2011), “The effectiveness of a trauma-focused spiritually integrated intervention for veterans exposed to trauma,” Journal of Clinical Psychology.

Harris et al. (2015), “Moral injury and psycho-spiritual development: considering the developmental context,” Spirituality in Clinical Practice.

Harris et al. (2018), “Spiritually integrated care for PTSD: a randomized controlled trial of ‘Building Spiritual Strength’,” Psychiatric Research.

Worthington (2013), “Moving forward: six steps to forgiving yourself and breaking free from the past,” as adapted by Brandon Griffin and Caroline Lavelock

Chaplains Hill - Arlington National Cemetery

“Military chaplains from four wars rest on Chaplains Hill in Section 2 of Arlington National Cemetery. Those buried here include the Army’s first chief of chaplains, Col. John T. Axton, a veteran of World War I; World War II’s chief of chaplains, Maj. Gen. William R. Arnold, who was the first chaplain to become a general; and Maj. Charles Joseph Watters, who served in Vietnam and posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his selfless actions on November 19, 1967.” Read more about this section of Arlington National Cemetery here.

Four Chaplains Memorial

  • On February 3, 1943, an Army transport ship called the Dorchester, carrying American soldiers through the icy North Atlantic on their way to serve in World War II, was about 100 miles off the coast of Greenland in rough sea. More than 900 people were on board.
    Many of them were little more than boys — young soldiers and sailors who had never been so far from home. The journey had been arduous already, with the men crammed into claustrophobic, all-but-airless sleeping quarters below deck, constantly ill from the violent lurching of the ship.In the blackness of night, a German submarine fired torpedoes at the Dorchester.One of the torpedoes hit the middle of the ship. There was pandemonium on board. The Dorchester swiftly began to sink.The soldiers and sailors, many of them wakened from sleep by the attack, searched desperately in the dark for life jackets and lifeboats and a route to safety.With them on the ship were four military chaplains, from four disparate religions.They were Father John Washington, born in Newark, New Jersey, who was Catholic; the Rev. Clark Poling, born in Columbus, Ohio, who was ordained in the Reformed Church in America; Rabbi Alexander Goode, born in Brooklyn, New York, who was Jewish; and the Rev. George Fox, born in Lewistown, Pennsylvania, who was Methodist.In the chaos onboard, according to multiple accounts by survivors of the attack, the four men tried to calm the soldiers and sailors and lead them to evacuation points. The chaplains were doing what chaplains do: providing comfort and guidance and hope.“I could hear men crying, pleading, praying,” a soldier named William B. Bednar would later recall. “I could also hear the chaplains preaching courage. Their voices were the only thing that kept me going.”

    With the Dorchester rapidly taking on water, there were not enough life jackets readily available for every man on the ship.

    So, when the life jackets ran out, the four chaplains removed their own, and handed them to soldiers who didn’t have them.

    -Bob Greene, “Real heroes: four died so others might live,”, February 3, 2013. A memorial to the four chaplains, including a contemporary Navy chapel, can be visited here.

Loyalty: Stories

  • From producer and director David Washburn:

    Loyalty: Stories profiles a diverse group of American Muslims who gave an oath to protect the United States and uphold its constitution. It looks at the challenges Muslims face as they defend a nation that does not always defend them. Through immensely personal stories, the series shows that “loyalty” cannot simply be reduced to one’s love of country, but takes many forms and is as complicated at the American Muslim experience itself. Follow the series here as it is released in full through 2020.

    The series is produced and directed by David Washburn. Contact him at loyaltystories(at)

    Check out the trailer to Loyalty: Stories and the rest of the episodes, as they release, here.

Pathways to Military Chaplaincy: A Seminary Initiative

Scholarship on Moral Injury