Spring 2002
Volume 6 Number 3













Chaplains Who Serve the US Armed Forces

For God and Country  |  Section 2: Two Extremes of Love Section 3: The Demands of Ministry  |  Section 4: Two Chains of Command Section 5: A Ministry of Diversity  |  Section 6: Chaplain History  |  Section 7: Theological Boot Camp  |  Section 8: A United Vision

by Kent Annan

The U.S. military, which fades to the back of civilian consciousness during times of sustained peace, returned to center stage with the horrible jolt of September 11. In the weeks immediately following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, religion and grief filled the national airwaves. Military chaplains like Margaret Kibben (Class of 1986) and James Boelens (Class of 1979) ministered to those affected at the Pentagon, while colleagues like Joanne Martindale (Class of 1988) and Rudolph Daniels Sr. (Class of 1977) cared for those in New York City. Parish ministers around the country led memorial services and prayers for peace; interfaith relations and a better understanding of Islam became urgent; the need for pastoral care surged.


Photo: Chrissie Knight


Military chaplains on Princeton's campus this year include Th.M. students Kay Reeb (navy; far left) and Jeff Zust (army; second from right).  Meanwhile future chaplains studying for M.Div.s include Kelly Hansen (army; second from left) and Mark Torres (army; far right).

Then the headlines shifted to the bombing of Afghanistan and the hunt for bin Laden and company. Most ministers returned to relatively normal daily routines, including military chaplains. Yet the routines of military chaplains continued to span these two contrasting worlds of dropping bombs and providing religious care. Their duties, in addition to pastoral care, also include the possibility of being deployed around the globe, the discipline of five-mile runs with their congregants, the willingness to put themselves in mortal danger on command, and the tension of answering to two distinct lines of authority: the U.S. military chain of command and God.

The history of the military chaplaincy in America stretches back to before the Declaration of Independence: on July 29, 1775, the Continental Congress authorized the presence of and pay for military chaplains. Since then military chaplains have served many roles, but their key constitutional role is to secure for members of the armed services the right to the free exercise of religion, as guaranteed in the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Another key role, of course, is theological. The U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force include Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Orthodox, and Muslim chaplains; there are unfilled slots for Hindu and Buddhist chaplains. (All marines are combatants, and chaplains, under the Geneva Convention, are noncombatants and don’t carry guns—so navy chaplains serve the Marine Corps. Navy chaplains also provide ministry to the Coast Guard.) Princeton Seminary has educated hundreds of the armed forces’ Protestant, and especially its Presbyterian, chaplains. This history extends back to Princeton’s earliest days .

Mark Torres, an M.Div. middler, hopes to be the next to join the distinguished ranks of Princeton alums who have ministered to the men and women of the armed forces. After researching the three branches, Torres decided to enter the army because “they’re more my style. I like getting down and dirty, in the trenches, on the obstacle course. I like the physical challenge that’s there—and the whole challenge of transforming yourself into a soldier.”

Mark Torres, an M.Div. middler

Mark Torres

Torres, a California native, tried to join the marines when he was 18. They wouldn’t take him because he had asthma. Later he became more serious about his faith and so decided, “Forget the military, I’m just going to follow Jesus Christ.” His face lights up when he talks about how the two paths are now converging. “So I’m going army because I want to minister to those people,” he says. “I believe in the military, in the men and women in uniform. I believe in serving those who have been given a calling to sacrifice their lives in a time of war.” Torres can hardly wait to go active duty after he finishes seminary and two years of parish ministry (a military requirement).

But he’s also realistic, which means he’s a bit scared—of being geographically separated from his family; of dying; of leaving his wife, Jody, alone; and, finally, of the fact that “war is bad. I don’t want to be in that ugliness.” Though the combat zone is far from most chaplains these days, a vivid reminder that this is a different sort of ministry to a different sort of congregation comes in the army’s Unit Ministry Team Handbook (UMT Handbook), a reference book for chaplains and chaplain assistants. The book, which Torres will soon study, includes instructions like “Utilize the ‘zigzag’ technique to move from cover to cover” and “Remember: A moving target is more difficult to hit than a stationary target.”

This is not part of the job description of, say, the associate pastor at the First Presbyterian Church.

For God and Country  |  Section 2: Two Extremes of Love Section 3: The Demands of Ministry  |  Section 4: Two Chains of Command Section 5: A Ministry of Diversity  |  Section 6: Chaplain History  |  Section 7: Theological Boot Camp  |  Section 8: A United Vision