War-zone deployments for active-duty Army chaplains mean many clergy serving soldiers in the rear are members of the National Guard or Army Reserve.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, some 2,700 chaplains and chaplain assistants have been called to active duty, according to Lt. Col. Carleton Birch, a spokesman for the Army’s Office of the Chief of Chaplains.

"We currently have over 450 chaplains mobilized throughout the world in support of contingency operations," Birch said.

Chaplains provide religious support not only for their unit, but also for the installations they are assigned to, he said.

"When the unit chaplains from an installation deploy, reservist chaplains may be mobilized to provide religious support to the community," he said.

Col. Curtis Wells is one of those Army Reserve chaplains who was mobilized to fill in on the home front — in this case, Grafenwöhr, Germany.

The 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment and the 172nd Infantry Brigade, both of which have been in Iraq in the past year, are assigned to the Grafenwöhr garrison.

At 58, Wells has been recalled to active duty from the Army Reserve three times, and he served in the Middle East during the Persian Gulf War and from 2006 to 2007.

His personal deployment experience means he can relate to soldiers who head downrange, he said. "Kuwait was a great place to minister to people and their needs as they were coming and going," Wells said.

"They sought reassurance that they were there for the right purposes. A lot of them had religious questions about God — ‘What does God think about this?’ People wanted to be baptized. There are no atheists or agnostics in foxholes."

Wells, who served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, said he has seen a lot of changes during his time, including the attitudes of the soldiers.

"In Vietnam, they drafted you and you went," he said. "Back then, you had a lot of deserters, drugs. Some soldiers were involved in the anti-war movement. They were burning draft cards and wearing their uniforms to protests.

"Now you have highly educated people [in the Army] doing things with robots that we didn’t even dream of. But today we have so many multiple deployments," he said.

Today’s soldiers talk to chaplains about marriage problems that sometimes happen downrange, he said.

"When you integrate males and females closely downrange, sometimes things happen that should not. There is a tremendous amount of pressure there. We try to save marriages and encourage them to function as a healthy family," he said.

Many soldiers also talk to chaplains about financial issues, he added.

"Now the temptation is to go into debt and spend with credit cards. You have young couples that are in debt over their heads," he said.

In the 1970s, soldiers were paid as little as $40 a month, Wells said.

"But back then we were satisfied with what we had. Housing, food and clothing were provided. The money was extra," he said.

The grandfather of eight — who left behind a job as pastor of a civilian congregation when he came to Germany — said he knew of chaplains who joined the military and then found themselves rotating into combat zones three or four times.

"A young minister may say, ‘This is not what I intended and it is hard on my family. I can go into the civilian world and pastor a church,’ " he said.

Despite those hardships, retention of active-duty chaplains is extremely high. Only 12 chaplains in the rank of captain left the Army last year, and one-half of them joined the Army Reserve.

However, there is a shortage of chaplains in the Army Reserve, Birch said. Two years ago, the National Guard and Army Reserve were short more than 600 chaplains, he said. "Today, that number is down to about 360," he said.

"That is a great improvement, but we are striving to do better as the need to support our Reserve component soldiers and families in this conflict is greater than ever," he said.

One area where the active-duty Army is short of chaplains is in the Catholic faith, Birch said.

"Catholic soldiers have a great need for priests to serve them. While one in five soldiers are Catholic, less than one in 16 chaplains are, reflecting a shortage of Catholic priests across our nation," he said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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