Just a few months into their leadership assignment at Army Materiel Command, Chaplain (Col.) Michael Klein and Sgt. Maj. Ross Eastman took a major step toward shaping the organization’s chaplain corps in support of the Army’s readiness mission.
Focusing on legacy, Klein and Eastman led the AMC Command Chaplain’s Annual Training, Nov. 5-7, ensuring chaplains and religious affairs specialists (formerly chaplain assistants) throughout the materiel enterprise have the tools to implement their commander’s priorities while providing for the spiritual growth of their Soldier and civilian workforce.
“It is important to come together and share ideas, vision and strategy across the enterprise,” Klein said. “We are committed to ensuring the success of the AMC chaplain corps. Our job here at headquarters is to provide the assistance our chaplain sections need to support their command.”
In the opening session of the three-day training program, Maj. Gen. Bob Harter, AMC chief of staff, spoke about the need for AMC’s chaplains to be resilient and responsive, and to work together to support their commands.
“Nobody ever goes to the chaplain on their best day,” Harter said. “No one ever knocks on your door and says, ‘Chaplain, I can’t tell you how awesome everything is going.’ Those knocks come on lousy days, when bad stuff is happening. So, it’s important that you lean on each other and you take the time to check on each other.”
The most effective chaplains are those who understand how their mission supports their organization, and help to build a more effective and resilient workforce.
“If you really want to make a difference for your command and for your Soldiers, then make sure to enable your commander’s intent and vision within the context of what you do for your faith and for your troops,” Harter said. “It’s not so much about getting your commander more engaged, but more about showing how your programs are supporting their intent for readiness. Your commanders care about Soldiers and the workforce. It’s your mission to demonstrate how what you do enables their priorities. If you can show how your battlefield circulation and touch points enable the commander’s priorities, then you will make an expediential difference for your command.”
Calling their work a “sacred mission,” Harter said he has loved serving in the Army because of its value system and the military’s embrace of faith.
“I’m glad as a profession we embrace our faith, and you can see that through things like the invocations and benedictions we have at our ceremonies,” he said. “As chaplains and religious affairs specialists, you are the keepers of the flame, the keepers of our faith. So, stay strong and if you see something wrong, remember, the chaplain is first and foremost able to push back and bring it to the command’s attention. Our military would not be where it is today without the men and women in our chaplain corps. You are making a difference every day, and that’s your legacy.”
The training included discussions on providing religious support to all employee sectors, the noncommissioned evaluation boards for religious affairs specialists, strengthening religious support partnerships and the chaplain as the center of gravity for spiritual development within the Army’s organizations.
Klein reviewed the Army Chaplain Corps religious support priorities – people and community – with the group. Those priorities support the Army’s workforce by impacting the recruiting, developing and managing of Soldier and civilian talent; Army readiness by providing spiritual guidance in a complex operational and widely diversified strategic religious environment; Army modernization by aligning chaplain operational functions with current and future Army operations and initiatives; and Army reform by working to revitalize Army communities through Soldier and family residential programs and dynamic chaplain communities.
“AMC is one of the pillars of the U.S. Army, and has a key and essential role in readiness. The AMC chaplain corps shares that role, and especially now that the Installation Management Command is part of AMC,” Klein said. “The challenges, dynamics and relationships, and how we forge the way ahead within all AMC commands are key and essential to the success of the Army in its forward progression.”
As the Army reforms, so, too, do AMC’s chaplain teams, he said.
“We have to be smarter with our resources, our assets and everything at our disposal,” Klein said. “It’s a zero sum game. We can’t go to Congress and say we need another battalion or brigade or division worth of personnel to execute our mission sets. We have to look at our entire organization and correctly ascertain what assets, capabilities and talent we have at our disposal. We have to recognize the right people at the right place at the right times with the right skills sets to execute the various, diverse and complex missions that the Army needs.”
The chaplain’s mission ranges from counseling, marriage and funeral officiating, and other religious leadership roles at the tactical level to engaging international partners at the strategic level.
“The roles we take on within the chaplain corps relate directly to guiding the future of the Army,” Klein said. “But, to truly be effective in your role as a chaplain, people need to know you care. To perform the basic chaplain duties – counseling, marriages, funerals, everyday challenges, and you have to care for your Soldiers and their families, and the civilian workforce. That’s a no-fail mission no matter what grade you are at. You have to be able to execute those mission sets and simultaneously gain operational and strategic maturity and actual acumen to be able to look at complex problem sets and work within your organization to come up with creative solutions.”
Chaplains need to be cognizant of the impact their words and actions can have on the constituents they serve, he said.
“When we counsel, we can set people on a trajectory that can make a great impact on their lives,” Klein said. “It’s the stewardship principle. At AMC, we are literally stewards for the U.S. Army – for its Soldiers, family members, civilians and contractors. It runs the full spectrum of everyone we work with throughout the entire command. If we can maintain that on a daily basis, we can more effectively execute the mission sets. Both myself and Sgt. Maj. Eastman are very passionate about this job and we want our legacy to be one that sets everyone up for success.”
For Eastman, the passion revolves around developing the more than 270 NCOs who are members of AMC’s chaplaincy.
“My goal is to coach, teach and develop them to be the next AMC chaplain sergeant major,” Eastman said. “We want to make sure all of our chaplain teams are aligned with the Army mission, especially at the garrisons. My role is to help educate command teams on what their chaplain team brings to their formation and help NCOs support the chaplains in bringing religious support to their command.”
Eastman’s leadership philosophy is to be in the field working side-by-side with AMC’s religious affairs specialists as they support chaplains.
“Leadership is always more effective face-to-face,” he said. “When I have the opportunity to go out face-to-face to develop religious affairs specialists, then I’ll do that. Likewise, the presence of religious affairs specialists need to extend beyond their office to meet with Soldiers in the places where they are in their commands, whether that be in the motor pool or barracks, or visiting with them and their families at the Exchange or wherever they happen to meet. We can minister and counsel and teach wherever we meet Soldiers, families or civilians.”