116th IBCT Chaplains minister to Soldiers during annual training

After a day of live-fire training exercises in the field, Soldiers of Christiansburg-based Company C, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Virginia Army National Guard attend chaplain service in the field June 22, 2014, at Fort Pickett, Va. 116th IBCT chaplains make themselves available to Soldiers in the field throughout annual training, providing encouragement and aid.(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. JoAnna Greene/Released)

After a day of live-fire training exercises in the field, Soldiers of Christiansburg-based Company C, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Virginia Army National Guard attend chaplain service in the field June 22, 2014, at Fort Pickett, Va. 116th IBCT chaplains make themselves available to Soldiers in the field throughout annual training, providing encouragement and aid.(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. JoAnna Greene/Released)

FORT PICKETT, Va. — The U.S. Army Chaplain Corps is one of the oldest branches of the Army, dating back to July 29, 1775, when the Continental Congress authorized one chaplain for each regiment in the Continental Army, with the pay equaling that of a captain. The chaplains of the Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Virginia Army National Guard continue this tradition by attending to the troops of their respective battalions. While they try to make themselves available to Soldiers around the various readiness centers throughout the year, they get the most exposure during annual trainings, like this year’s brigade-wide AT held June 14-28, at Fort Pickett.

National Guard Soldiers face particular stresses during annual trainings. They leave behind their jobs, families and schooling, so they can endure intense training meant to prepare them for combat situations. The chaplains recognize this and are prepared to nurture them however possible.

“We’ve dealt with a gamut of things so far this annual training, helping Soldiers having marital problems or Soldiers that receive notification that a loved one is sick or died while they are here,” said Chaplain (Capt.) Delphoney Kargbo, from the Danville-based 429th Brigade Support Battalion.

But chaplains don’t only work during crisis situations. They offer words of encouragement to Soldiers during informal conversations and field services.

“He gets out when he can to provide service to us in the field,” said Staff Sgt. George Winters, an infantryman with Christiansburg-based Company C, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment. “The ones that show up, they’re missing their churches at home and this is a nice supplement for them to go to.”

Apart from traditional services and ceremonies, chaplains minister to Soldiers through actions that will improve morale and inspire esprit de corps.

“I’m not a minister in my civilian life,” said Chaplain (Capt.) Dan Finley, 1-116th IBCT. “I do this because I want to encourage Soldiers, whether it’s an encouraging word from scripture, or through acts like stepping in to help get food and coffee to Soldiers out in the field.”

While a chaplain’s duties are primarily spiritual and morale issues, 116th IBCT chaplains had a special training role to fulfill with mass casualty exercises conducted during the brigade’s eXportable Combat Training Capability rotation during AT. The training exercises served as a perfect opportunity for the chaplains to demonstrate their three essential tasks: nurture the living, care for the wounded, and honor the fallen.

Medics throughout the brigade trained repeatedly on these mass casualty exercises, where the number of simulated casualties exceeded their medical personnel capabilities. With realistic make-up and prosthetics on simulated patients and exercise cadre increasing stress on medics, chaplains served as a calming force.

With such an influential role, the Army holds high standards for chaplains. Before they are allowed to minister to Soldiers, chaplains must first pass through the selective accessions process. Candidates must earn a master’s degree in divinity and be endorsed by their faith-based group. The final step in the process is a board which reviews a candidate’s experience and tests their knowledge to determine whether they are fit to provide spiritual, moral and ethical leadership to Soldiers.

Apart from their Chaplain Initial Military Training, a basic combat training course with sections on ramp ceremonies and memorial services instead of weapons training, chaplains participate in continuing education. Chaplains receive continuing education on everything from suicide prevention to military assistance programs, so they can aid Soldiers in all areas of well-being.