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US Army looking for a few good chaplains

Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have strained the 3,000-member Chaplain Corps, which now has 450 vacancies.

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American troops in Iraq haven't always had the equipment they've needed. Might many have to go to war now without the spiritual support they've traditionally had?

The US Army is working hard to keep that from happening, but it confronts a severe shortage in its Chaplain Corps, particularly among the Army Reserve and Army National Guard. As the Pentagon announced last Friday that Guard brigades would soon be recalled early for another tour of duty, the chaplain shortfall in the National Guard stood at 40 percent.

A five-year plan to boost chaplain recruitment in the Army is making headway. "It's getting better, but it's definitely bad," says Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Ran Dolinger, spokesman for the Army Chief of Chaplains Office. "Not long ago we were 581 chaplains short, and now we're 452." Currently, the Army has some 2,600 chaplains.

The Army says it's committed to not deploying any unit without a chaplain, and so far they've managed to send one with each battalion of 600 to 700 soldiers.

"But we've had to put senior chaplains into junior slots and to count on the goodwill of many who have volunteered to go back more rapidly than would normally be expected," Chaplain Dolinger says.

Chaplains have offered spiritual sustenance to American soldiers in battle ever since the Revolutionary War, before the nation was established. In recent decades they've worked in an increasingly pluralistic environment, becoming a resource for commanders on various faiths, as well as responding to soldiers' personal needs.

That means not only providing religious services, but also encouraging people in their spiritual development, whatever their faith, and supporting those battling stress.

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