A Marine Calls For Trimming the Chaplaincy Corps

by admin on October 4, 2013

FG.0811.najaf1.CMCA brave USMC Captain is calling to shrink the Chaplaincy Corps.  He isn’t alone. Back in 2010, I suggested shrinking the military Chaplaincy Corps. To me, the bureaucracy in the Chaplaincy Corps had–for no discernible reason–ballooned, and far too little effort was being made to utilize existing non-military religious services. I caught hell for my essay and subsequent media attention. I do hope Captain Timothy Riemann is treated better after publishing his treatise.

Rather than blog, Captain Timothy Riemann echoes my concerns in a ground-breaking Marine Corps Gazette article entitled “Replace the Clergy: Why the Department of the Navy needs counselors”. (it is paywalled, so why not become a member!)

The Captain pulls no punches. Here’s the start:

“For years, the Navy Chaplain Corps has undergone little scrutiny or evaluation of its capabilities or effectiveness. Once examined, it becomes clear that the Chaplain Corps is expensive and provides a redundant religious capability, and its members are routinely employed beyond their capabilities. Therefore, the DoN should begin phasing out active duty chaplains, replace them with licensed professional counselors and utilize the Reserve Chaplain Corps for duty exclusively in combat-designated areas.”

He moves on to discuss how Chaplains are really being used, and shows data that their mission has “stretched well beyond shipboard divine services” and they “are no longer simply the facilitators for religious worship, but are instead being employed as professional couselors”, providing suicide prevention, marriage counseling, personal problem resolution, sexual assault prevention, drug and alcohol abuse, PTSD and associated support.

He writes:

“OpNavInst 1120.9 does require that candidates for active duty chaplaincy must have 2 years of religious leadership experience, but there is no specificity for what this experience must entail. Two years working as a pastor or missionary, however noble, is not sufficient preparation for a chaplain to begin attempting to counsel Marines and sailors with a broad range of nonreligious issues….Sending a Marine or sailor to a doctor with extremely limited–if any–medical experience is inconceivable. When Marines or sailors are facing issues like hazing or alcohol abuse, sending them to an untrained chaplain is equally negligent and irresponsible…”

He hits the cost of the Padre Cadre, noting that the USMC could purchase “more than a Marine company’s worth of M1 Abrams tanks every year” with the Chaplaincy personnel costs alone. He follows with redundancy, pointing out that only 17% of DoN personnel admitted to ever being members of an on-base congregation, only 19% of the 288 USN ships have chaplains as permanent personnel, and that a cornucopia of religious options are available “literally right outside the gates of their bases.”

He suggests developing a cadre of reserve chaplains for duty in combat zones, and the employment of licensed professional counselors, citing the development of the family readiness officer as precedent.  He closes with this:

“If the DoN does not immediately start phasing out the active duty Chaplain Corps and replacing it with licensed professional counselors, it will continue to do a disservice to Marines and sailors.  There is a far more effective and cost-beneficial solution than that of status quo.  Chaplains are neither mental health professionals nor professional counselors.  Chaplains are religious professionals whose contributions to the DoN can be obtained by local civilian clergy. Hiring LPCs would be cheaper, and servicemembers would receive the professional counseling they so often require.  The active duty Chaplain Corps should be thanked for its service and politely escorted out of the U.S. naval service.”

Quite the article. You should read it. I would love to hear your opinion on his solutions–the employment of civilian professional counselors and the development of a reserve cadre of battle chaplains.

In my case, I primarily don’t understand how the Chaplaincy has become so big and top-heavy.  In World War II, with a far larger Navy and Marine Corps, a single Captain ran some 2,800 chaplains. Today (using 2007 data) a far smaller Navy and Marine Corps supports a burgeoning train of 856 active duty chaplains, 232 Reserve chaplains, 782 active duty religious program specialists, and 202 Reserve religious program specialists. Three or more admirals tend this bloated Padre Cadre.  A Captain operates a multi-million dollar joint training center.  And on and on and on….It’s a career path, and, I’d say that it shouldn’t be.

At the end of the day, a big, fat and happy chaplain corps is a hard-to-justify luxury.  And, frankly, I suspect cuts would reinvigorate the Chaplains by eliminating the careerism inherent in any big bureaucracy.  Cut the career aspects of the Chaplaincy and have the remaining Padres focus on their core religious duties instead of obtaining a VADM billet.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

SnakeUSMC November 8, 2020 at 1:43 pm

For you know it all’s, the Sky Pilots have been counseling Marines since our inception. They, depending upon their ministry, have counseled Marines in different fields which allowed the Marine to carry on their MOS.
Don’t believe me? Ask the Marines whom the GRUNT PADRE counseled. He was a light weight.
ONLY won the Bronze star and the MOH operation Swift, and is now up for Saint Hood.
The idea of replacing them parallels replacing police with on site counselors, so there would not be shooting of suspects. https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/philly-das-office-employee-kills-armed-sex-worker-in-self-defense-officials-say/2570372/

Keep the Sky Pilots


Craig Hooper January 29, 2014 at 12:34 pm

Sir–Thank you for your comment. And thanks for your service–including your efforts to get more of our Chaplains out to the field and to the folks who need ’em.


Neale C. Thompson January 29, 2014 at 11:56 am

I agree. My above thoughts tell the story.


Neale C. Thompson January 29, 2014 at 11:49 am

I had the privilege of serving as a Navy Reserve Chaplain for 31 years. In my last billet, I supervised 52 chaplains, 20 support RP’s, in a twelve state area, on behalf of the Navy. I am not an individual who flies a desk. I did that on behalf of the RAF long ago. I find an XO who can deal with the routine administration, and I put leather to the deck. This is how I carried out all assignments, because I feel I should be with my people, Sailor/Marine/Coast Guard/Maritime Service, where ever they are. I never found a gang plank that didn’t welcome me, but I came as a Chaplain and a Spiritual Pastoral Counselor, and I was willing to share deployment hardships. I agree 100% with the above article. I often saw a terrible waist of money, and I am too scotch to allow that, and I am responsible to the tax payers of our nation. My last billet was to be Washington, D.C. I was going to be given a star, so I had political clout (Staying in the Navy totally surprised me. I always said I would get out, when I no longer loved the ministry to our service people. I loved every bit of it, and the years flew by. I was always amazed that I kept being promoted, because I was so outspoken about issues that I observed. I stood by my people, because I saw one of my jobs was to cut red tape to make good things happen.) Back to Washington. By this time, in the Chaplain Corps, everyone knew my strong feelings about miss use of funds. I wanted to reorganize the Reserve Chaplaincy, in order to remove all career incentives, and have it focused on serving the fleet. Each Chaplain would have a ten year commitment and begin at the rank of Ensign. They would not be assigned to a Reserve Center, after leaving Chaplain School, but would be an asset of a fleet admiral. Each year, they would give, at a minimum, One to two months of their time as ministering chaplains to the active duty service. The Navy would also provide them with on-going education to enhance their service. At the end of ten years, at the rank of LT,, they would be honorably discharged and placed in the Inactive Reserve, so they would be available, if and when they were needed. This exposure to the Sea Services would make them even more effective pastors, where ever they served as civilian ministers. Only a handful of these Reserve Chaplains would be accepted into the Active Navy, according to the needs of the Navy. Unfortunately, this opportunity never materialized. Congress, in it’s wisdom, decided that all officer personnel, who had served for 30 years or more, and were not wearing a star, had to retire. I have no complaints! It was a great run, and my wife and enjoyed every bit of it.


admin October 9, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Chaplain Diconti

With all respect due to a Battle Chaplain like yourself, I fail to see what MCO 1730.6E brings to the fight. (For those following along, the link is here: http://www.marines.mil/Portals/59/Publications/MCO%201730_6E.pdf ) This simply outlines the “policy, responsibilities and procedures for the delivery of religious ministry” to the USMC. While MCO 1730.6E describes ancillary duties, the primary focus is to provide religious services–services which I suspect are in less demand than your secular counseling support. Regarding secular counseling, MCO 1730.6E spends more time on explaining the Chaplain’s role in filling out fitness reports than for the delivery of training on “adjustment to military life, combat and operational stress control issues, suicide awareness and prevention, sexual assault prevention and response, substance abuse prevention, domestic violence prevention, and deployment related issues.”

That’s the nub. That’s a big point of Captain Riemann’s brave article. Chaplains have been pressed into counseling roles that they are untrained and unready to do. And while you may feel that you have been effective (and I am sure you have with a few) the stats don’t bear it out. The DOD is in a crisis–in the space of three years, the number of reported sexual assaults went from 19,000 to 26,000. Yet, according to Navy chaplain Lt. Cmdr. David Thames, deputy executive assistant to the chief of Navy chaplains, says in a 10/8/2013 story in the St. Louis Post Dispatch that this year is “the first time the chaplain corps has focused on specialized pastoral care training for chaplains caring for sexual assault victims.” (link is here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/08/navy-chaplains-sex-abuse-training_n_4060085.html )

That says it all. Too few Chaplains simply have the professional training to provide the counseling your flock may need. And many in that flock are voting with their feet, and simply aren’t going to their Chaplains.

Certainly, a good Chaplain is a great asset. But Chaplains are not professional counselors. They are religious pros who are now struggling to meet a demand for services of a different sort. I think the Captain’s suggestions deserve scrutiny– Trained professional civilians can likely do the counseling job better for less. So-regardless of what the latest USMC doctrine says–let’s take a closer look before dismissing the Captain–and your fellow Marine–as “ignorant”.


marc diconti October 8, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Read MCO 1730.6E; it enlightens the “ignorant” of what chaplains uniquely do, what no else can provide, and why reservists cannot provide what active duty chaplain do in the units they are assigned. Refering to the Captain as “brave” though he wrote “without knowledge” of the content of the MCO encourages more ignorance.


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