In the Virginian-Pilot, chaplain Randall Dolinger issues a plea to America's churches: "You've sent us your letters and cookies, now send us your pastor."
Each Iraq-bound battalion needs a chaplain to meet the troops' spiritual needs, but USA Today reports that some branches of the military are struggling to fill even half of the chaplain positions they need.
The military is now calling reserve chaplains for active duty, although the Army Reserve is filling just a fifth of its 500 chaplain positions. Dolinger told USA Today that the Army has called 75 chaplains for multiple deployments.
Catholic priests are especially scarce, a reflection of their dwindling numbers elsewhere. The Army has only 92 active-duty priests and overall, the military has less than half the priests it needs. One retired priest decided to meet the need by returning to Iraq after a two year retirement. The Church's new Archbishop of Military Services has promised to aggressively recruit Catholic chaplains.
Part of the problem -- besides anti-war sentiment, chaplaincy applicant Matthew Harris told WoW - is that chaplains have little job security back home. Federal law can't require churches to keep the chaplains' jobs for them while they serve in Iraq, and churches are reluctant to hire reservists since their military requirements often conflict with their parochial duties.
Also, becoming a chaplain isn't easy. Applicants must earn a divinity degree, earn an ecclesiastical endorsement and have experience working in a church. They usually complete piles of paperwork, undergo background checks, pass a physical exam, attend several weeks of military training, and win a board's approval.
Harris decided to become a Naval chaplain last year and expects to complete the process by 2010. A former Coast Guard member, Harris said he became a chaplain to build military community. It's a difficult task since military personnel are transient, but Harris said they're also "really willing to look at God again." Since he left the Coast Guard, Harris said, "I haven't found the same type of environment again, where I was bringing more people to church and connecting them with God."