Provocative question: Time to shrink the Navy Chaplain Corps?

by Craig Hooper on June 14, 2010

With a budget squeeze looming, CNO Admiral Roughead says it’s time to ask provocative questions…Well, here’s one:  Is it time to shrink the Navy Chaplain Corps?

My answer?  Yes.  Here’s why:

Too many stars for too few souls:

The Chaplain Corps is top-heavy.  Throughout the course of World War II, the Navy Chief of Chaplains was a Captain.  But a mere month before World War II ended, the Chief of Chaplains become a Rear Admiral–a rank that Chief of Chaplains have enjoyed ever since.

But the Navy, since 1944, shrank by 90%–going from 3.2 million souls in 1944 to 0.32 million in 2010. Logic suggests the Chief of Chaplains should have reverted back to the rank of Captain.

But…well, where high-ranking billets are concerned, logic doesn’t apply.  Today, according to my trusty 2010 Proceedings Naval Review, the current Chief of Chaplains has three deputies–two Rear Admirals (LH) and one Rear Admiral (LH) Sel (Bios here, here, here and here).

Is this Chaplaincy Corps “rank inflation” meant to better manage souls or to better manage…Chaplaincy Corps bureaucracy?  It is an open question.

Too many chaplains:

Though the total force has shrunk by 90% since 1944, the total chaplain force remains high.

During World War II, over 2,800 chaplains were called up to active duty.  But according to a 2007 Navy news release, the Navy recently employed 856 active duty chaplains, 232 Reserve chaplains, 782 active duty religious program specialists, and 202 Reserve religious program specialists.

The Chaplain Corps must shrink to reflect the 90% reduction from it’s total strength during World War II–to about 280.

To be honest, there are too many staff chaplains.  In 2005, of the 903 active-duty Navy Chaplains, only 300 were deployed (as battle Chaplains or on vessels). 600 were serving on bases–where, presumably, plenty of off-base religious resources exist.  Only about 20% of U.S. naval vessels have a permanent chaplain attached to the crew.

Why so many shore-based billets?

Cut ‘em. Are there no shore-based civilian alternatives?
Are chaplains leveraging technology to increase efficiency?

Navy Chaplains have been associated with the Navy since 1775.  But, today, the world is changing in ways that might reduce the need for the Navy to provide extensive “in person” spiritual guidance.

Connectivity and the Internet empowers more sailors to reach out for spiritual guidance than ever before–so why not encourage sailors to maintain (or build) links to their own personal religious home?  Wouldn’t it be just as good to encourage pastors from the home-front to polish their emailing skills, gin up their webcams and check on deployed members of their flock?  Lord knows we need Chaplains, but enabling support from home would probably cost less and–by injecting the Navy into the home front–do far greater good for the Navy.

Are Navy Chaplains working to leverage technology and enable home-front chaplains to care for their own?  Again, it’s an open question.

Or…are Navy chaplains spending too much time making work for themselves and the rest of the Navy?  By waging bureaucratic warfare?  Or designing a new 12 million dollar Chaplain training center (offering a CAPT billet for the Naval portion of the joint school, by the way…) Or generating costly litigation?  The Chaplaincy Corps bureaucracy is becoming self perpetuating and helping keep other non-fighting commands–like the JAG Corps–busy.

If the Chaplaincy Corps is becoming a problem for the wider Navy community, then cut it.

Does the Navy need a Chaplaincy Corps?

It’s time to show the cards.  Where is the data that shows the Navy needs a Chaplaincy Corps?  The Navy may need to commission some studies to learn just how much demand for a Chaplaincy Corps there is in the ranks.

With the Chaplaincy Corps eating up millions of dollars a year, just how important are Chaplains to Navy personnel?  For Force morale?  Has demand grown or shrunk over the years?  These are questions that the Navy needs to answer.  Because I fear we’re pouring a lot of money and resources into a top-heavy, self-perpetuating bureaucracy that doesn’t add a lot of value to the Navy.

It’s a provocative question, but it’s an important one for a Navy that must begin reflecting fiscal realities and, well, shrink.

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June 22, 2010 at 3:20 pm


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