A recent AP story notes that there is a severe shortage of chaplains in the National Guard. The shortage is most severe for Catholics (reflective of the shortage of priests generally) and mainline Protestant groups. Minority faiths are also drastically underrepresented:
The Army National Guard has just six rabbis and no imams for its 362,000 guardsmen. Clergy from smaller Christian denominations and other faiths also are needed.
Things are improving–some years ago it was said only 30% of chaplain slots were filled, but that has risen to 70%.
But why is there a shortage in the first place? Is it due solely to the shortage of Catholic priests? I think not.
Another factor is the liberalism of the mainline Protestant churches, which manifests itself in a hostility towards the military. This is a gap that has been filled by an increase of chaplains from evangelical and charismatic churches (which has had some detrimental effects as well, bringing in scofflaws who ignore the tradition of pluralism and engage in active proselytism).
But some blame must be shouldered by the military itself. The National Guard has been overused and abused by frequent deployments. The Vermont National Guard battalion I served in the early ’90s was deployed to Iraq a couple of years ago and is now preparing for a deployment to Afghanistan. Multiple year-long deployments is hard enough on active duty soldiers–it is not something that guardsmen signed up for nor their families prepared for. This makes clergy, their congregations, and denominational leaders much more reluctant to come on board.
And if the shortage is so bad, why does the Pentagon make it so hard? I don’t refer to education or ministry or security requirements–these are necessary. I’m talking about bureacratic delays, doubletalk, and dysfunction. That’s what I’m currently experiencing in my desire to re-enter the National Guard. My endorsing agent and the Texas National Guard worked tirelessly to get my packet together for the Pentagon’s June accessioning board. But when that board met, they adjourned without completing their work–no explanation, no apology, no adjustment of their schedule, no attempt to extend the board meeting by a few hours or a day or to add a July meeting–just a silent rollover of the uncompleted work to their August meeting. Yes, this is typical for the military (“Hurry up and wait”)–but it suggests that the Pentagon doesn’t take the shortage seriously, and isn’t really interested in getting qualified chaplains to the soldiers in a timely manner.