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Recruiting Challenges for Chaplains Mirror Other Military Jobs

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With more than 2,800 chaplains across the U.S. military, representing dozens of faith groups, maintaining adequate manning is a challenge. Those challenges are not unique, however, in that they match those faced by recruiters for other officers and enlisted personnel as well.

During the annual Armed Forces Chaplains Board endorsers conference today at the Pentagon, Lernes Hebert, the deputy assistant defense secretary for military personnel policy, spoke with chaplains and chaplain endorsers. He addressed the complexity of recruiting chaplains from a population of Americans that are today more unfamiliar with the military than they have ever been in the past.

"Somehow you have to communicate to an American population who is getting further and further removed from its military," Lernes told endorsers, who are the civilian representatives of faith groups responsible for helping chaplains into the military.

A chaplain observes as a child lights a candle on a menorah.
Menorah Ceremony
Eli Miller lights a candle on the menorah during a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Dec. 18, 2017. Air Force Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Yaakov B. Bindell, observes.
Photo By: Mark C. Olsen, National Guard
VIRIN: 171218-Z-AL508-0075

"Less than 1% of American youth actually have somebody in their immediate family who has served at any time in their lives," he said, further illustrating how unfamiliar the civilian population is with military service. "The vast majority of American youth today can't name all four services. Throw the Coast Guard in, and it drops down to 17%. Imagine that — just a generation or two ago, it was pretty common knowledge who the military was, what we were about."

Surveys of American youth, Lernes said, demonstrate that many in the civilian community are burdened with myths about service that keep them from considering a military career. Some of those myths include not being able to have children while in uniform, not being able to see their family and unrealistic beliefs about the potential for suffering from the loss of a limb or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Also, a challenge for bringing chaplains into the military are record low unemployment numbers and a reticence to consider military service fueled by a news cycle that regularly highlights challenges faced by service members but not the benefits.

A man in religious garb holds a book.  On the table in front of him is a crucifix.
Mass Leader
Navy Chaplain (Lt.) Long Nguyen, leads a Catholic mass aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill, underway in the Pacific Ocean, July 10, 2019.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Janine F. Jones
VIRIN: 190710-N-JG119-1208

"Somehow, you as a recruiter have to get through all that, have to be able to articulate in a meaningful way to the chaplain candidates what military service is truly about," Lernes said. "It's about caring for their brothers and sisters, it's about caring for individuals who have dedicated themselves to public service, and sacrificing things the American people typically don't fully appreciate."

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