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Chaplain serves God and country

Reserve chaplain is on call 24/7

Chaplain Ben Newland is a pastor in Puyallup and a reservist. /George Pica

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Benjamin Newland isn't your typical Army captain - he was 37 years old before he answered his country's call. And it wasn't your typical call to arms. His was an invitation to serve the spiritual needs of military personnel.

Newland, who is pastor of Christ Episcopal Church in Puyallup, is a chaplain in the Army Reserves - or in military talk, a Chaplain (Cpt) USAR. Just like every other reservist, he is fulfilling his commitment to the military two days at a time, every month.

But he isn't just a weekend warrior.

He's actually on call 24 hours a day.

The traditional role of the chaplain has been to provide ethical advice for commanders and spiritual guidance and support for soldiers - particularly in wartime, when chaplains are considered the front line of defense for military personnel suffering from combat stress or having problems at home.

Thus far, the demands on Newland have been less dramatic.

"If an active-duty soldier were to get arrested or seriously injured, chances are I'd get a call," Newland says. "But most of the time what I'm asked to provide is pre-marital counseling."

Recently, however, he did have two days of extra duty for the ceremony at which Col. James W. Danna III assumed command of the 191st Infantry Brigade.

Newland gave the invocation.

The first day was filled with rehearsals, he recalls.

The second day was the actual change of command.

"I find the military every bit as liturgical as the Episcopal Church," says Newland. "The military calls its pomp and circumstance, but it serves the same purpose."

Newland was actively recruited by the Army Reserves, which was suffering from a shortage of chaplains at the time. One of the obstacles to keeping the chaplain ranks at capacity has been that ministers of small congregations like the parish in Puyallup where Newland is the priest often find it impossible to train on weekends when they are expected to be in the pulpit.

The military itself adds to the challenges by requiring a graduate degree in theology, at least two years of professional experience, an endorsement by their denomination and the stamina required to pass a rigorous physical exam and survive basic training. Like Newland, most Army chaplains are at least 10 years older than other officers sharing the same rank.

Once they're on the job, chaplains serve military personnel of all faiths - as well as those who practice no religion at all. Among denominations, Roman Catholic chaplains reportedly have become the most scarce in recent years, a reflection of a nationwide shortage in priests that has the Church scrambling to fill slots even in its civilian parishes.

The demand for Episcopal priests has been nearly as high.

The California and New York National Guard, which have a larger proportion of Jewish soldiers than other states, have experienced shortages in rabbis, and at last report, there were no imams at all to minister to a growing number of Muslims in the Army Guard and Reserve.

To persuade more ministers to enter the military, the Guard offered bonuses to ministers willing to answer the call, but that practice has been curtailed as activities in Iraq came to an end and those in Afghanistan are winding down.

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