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Brig. Gen. Jerome Haberek, deputy chief of chaplains, speaks Monday at Dragon Hill Lodge on Yongsan Garrison, South Korea. He is working to encourage more young GIs to join the Army’s chaplain corps.
Brig. Gen. Jerome Haberek, deputy chief of chaplains, speaks Monday at Dragon Hill Lodge on Yongsan Garrison, South Korea. He is working to encourage more young GIs to join the Army’s chaplain corps. (Joseph Giordono / S&S)

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Allowing soldiers to stay on active duty while attending the seminary is one new initiative to address growing shortages in the Army’s chaplain corps, the deputy chief of chaplains said Monday.

Brig. Gen. Jerome Haberek, in the midst of a seven-day visit to troops in South Korea, said Army officials are also trying to stop the “graying” of the corps by targeting younger soldiers to become chaplains through educational loan repayment programs.

The active-duty Army will need to fill at least 400 chaplain slots over the next five years, he said, while the Army Reserve will need to fill 750 and the Army National Guard 850.

“What we see is people going in at a later age, almost as a second career,” Haberek said. “Since we are bringing them in older, the demographics show the age of chaplains has continued to increase.”

According to Army statistics, nearly 80 percent of active-duty chaplains are older than 45.

The biggest needs, Haberek said, are for female and Roman Catholic chaplains. Last year the Army recruited only 25 new female chaplains, service data show. Though that number is up from 15 in 1999, officials want it boosted further.

Officials also want greater diversity within the corps. In the Army, for example, blacks make up 25 percent of the total force but only 10 percent of the chaplain corps.

To become a chaplain, a soldier must meet certain requirements, officials said. The soldier must have a bachelor’s degree in any discipline and a master’s degree in a religious field. The Army is starting a pilot program to allow soldiers to remain on active duty while meeting those requirements, Haberek said.

Standards for the Army are different from those in other services, Haberek said. Chaplains rotate between unit assignments, where they could wind up ministering to battlefield casualties, and garrison assignments, where it is more likely they would be tending to families and social groups.

“All of our chaplains talk the talk and walk the walk,” Haberek said.

But the bottom line is getting more young soldiers to think about becoming chaplains, he said. “If a soldier is thinking about the vocation and is hearing the call, visit your unit chaplain and begin that process and that dialogue,” Haberek said.

Earlier Monday, Haberek gave the keynote address at Yongsan’s version of the National Prayer Breakfast. Haberek emphasized “Army values” in his remarks, focusing on courage both in combat and in peacetime operations.

He recounted his almost daily visits with soldiers, casualties of battles in Iraq and Afghanistan, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

“They are people of courage. I go in there to lift their spirits. That’s a mistake because they lift up mine,” Haberek told the audience. “They might have left behind part of their bodies, but they have won. The American people get this. The American people understand.”

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