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The Easter Bunny visits with Keesler families during Easter in the Park at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, April 1, 2023. The 81st Force Support Squadron hosted the event for military children. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. (March 30, 2024): Since the earliest days of our Republic, military chaplains have tended to the spiritual needs of servicemembers and their families at bases all over the world. In this photo by Kemberly Groue, the Easter Bunny spreads holiday cheer to youngsters of Air Force servicemembers. Events like these are only a part of the efforts of military clergy to support the needs of members of our armed forces.

The Chaplain Corps is one of the oldest branches of our military and was established by the Continental Congress in 1775. Congress authorized one chaplain for each regiment of the Continental Army and many also served in the ranks of local militias. Since then, chaplains have served in every American war. 

Like the nation they serve, the ranks of military chaplains have evolved over the years to include the addition of Roman Catholic priests in the Mexican American War and Jewish and African American ministers during the Civil War. In 1979, the Army commissioned its first female chaplain and today, some 1,300 active-duty Army chaplains and 1,200 in the reserve components, representing five major faiths groups (Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist) and over 120 denominations, administer to soldiers and their families.

The primary role of military clergy is to conduct religious services and to provide counseling for their adherents. In wartime, they are vital for offering encouragement and comfort to troops under the extreme stress of battle. Stories abound of chaplains administering the last rites to fallen soldiers, oblivious to the fire around them, or dashing out into the open to rescue the wounded without regard to their own lives. In fact, there are nine chaplains that have earned the Medal of Honor for bravery. Many military chaplains have made the ultimate sacrifice, living up to the Chaplain Corps motto, For God and Country.

To become a chaplain, candidates must be eligible for an officer’s commission and also   be endorsed by a religious organization in order to serve on active duty. This religious endorsement must be maintained throughout the chaplain's military service and can be withdrawn at any time for religious or disciplinary reasons by the religious body with which the chaplain is affiliated.

As we celebrate Easter, Support Our Troops wishes to salute the clergy who minister to the emotional and spiritual needs of our military families.