Surface Warfare Magazine
Sharing stories and news from Sailors across the U.S. Navy’s Surface Forces
Warrior Care - Readiness and the Forward Chaplain

With approximately 50 percent of the Navy’s enlisted force being 25 years old or younger, it is likely we have all came across that young shipmate at sea feeling isolated and tired -- physically, they perform their job but mentally they fret about regional tensions in the Western Pacific and Middle East, where their ship is or plans to do operations. They lack familiarity with what a real-world, kinetic battle may entail and the mindset they must possess to confront it.

Today’s global maritime challenges require us to prepare and train for crisis response. The Surface Warfare culture inspires all surface Sailors -- including chaplains -- to operate forward and sustain visibility through presence, while maintaining readiness. Different from the Operational Stress Control training provided during deployment preparation, it is an ingrained, enduring mental, physical and emotional toughness that gets a Sailor through the fight. Therefore, we must train and condition our Sailors for the reality of chaos and possible ensuing loss incurred in battle.

Driven by a strategic vision, Commander, Naval Surface Forces Vice Adm. Tom Rowden released the Surface Force Strategy earlier this year featuring the operating and organizing principle of Distributed Lethality (DL). Rowden highlights that DL is accomplished by increasing individual unit lethality and distributing the force across a wider expanse of geography and “drives change across all elements of our community – namely Tactics, Talent, Training, and Tools (T4).” Simply put, T4 is the framework needed to successfully achieve the overarching vision. The resulting questions of, “Who will deliver these great capabilities and capacities for maritime superiority?” and “Who will be the sinew and muscle during crisis and potential violent conflict?” share a common element – who. It will be our surface warriors -- they will be the frontline in delivering DL. Consequently, the work of chaplains must adapt to fully address T4 and strengthen the people they are called to serve.

From a tactical perspective, our engagement must adjust to accommodate support of the fast and adaptive warfighting scenarios for which our Sailors are being trained. This means our shift in efforts must begin with chaplains being fully present on the deckplates with the warfighter. Unfortunately, current manpower constraints can not support all deployed surface ships with a full-time chaplain.


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To gather an appreciation of need, a guided-missile destroyer (DDG) deploys with approximately 325 Sailors, and there are 36 DDGs in the Pacific Fleet alone; at a minimum, 5000 destroyer Sailors (comparable in number to an underway aircraft carrier crew) may be deployed at a given time into harm’s way. And unlike their deployed carrier counterparts, they are without full-time chaplains. Since the Navy does not deploy a carrier without chaplain support, we should consider providing more support to our guided-missile cruisers and destroyers.

From a talent perspective, it is crucial to support our Sailors with “force-multiplier” chaplains as DL takes a more offensive approach to maritime superiority. DDGs will continue to play a central role in surface action groups, and carrier and expeditionary strike group operations -- why send them “over the horizon” without full-time resiliency chaplain support? A sober reality remains: the world is unstable, full of state and non-state actors flexing their own power and unafraid to test our combat resilience (e.g. USS Mason). Surface sailors will need constant support from the chaplains; and for our talents to be truly effective, our engagement must be personal and face-to-face – being present where it matters, when it matters and with what matters.

Our faithful use of the Chaplain Corps (CHC) demonstrates what it means to be spiritually healthy and resilient. It is using the CHC talent to engage the crew at morning quarters, in their work spaces, while serving chow, visiting the smoke pit, confidential counseling sessions, and closing each night with the evening prayer blessing. Essentially, chaplain support provides our brave surface warriors with a necessary outlet in a demanding mission and, at times, unstable environment. The goal of the CHC is to seek to deliver ever-present care and a determined will to strengthen our shipmates.

From a tools perspective, like the Surface Warfare community making great investments in equipping the fleet to win in combat, our chaplains must invest in the tools necessary to train and equip Sailors in combat resiliency – investing in the only asset the CHC possesses, its people. This means providing and caring for our Sailors as historically done while also designing and procuring the tools necessary to build internal strength in our sea warriors. We will be equipping our chaplains for long-range impact as we shape and mold the Sailors.

Providing resiliency tools, the chaplain’s obligation is to prepare integrated training wherein Sailors gain the combat toughness necessary for victory and long-term health. The Navy has a storehouse of combat experience to call upon; we are skilled at training our Special Operators (SO) to maintain toughness and resilience in the harshest, and at times desolate, combat areas in the world. The Surface Force must do no less for our warriors if our expectation is for them to maintain a strong combat mindset in the midst of violence and chaos during battle at sea, the kind of disarray that comes to life on the pages of “The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors” and “Neptune’s Inferno.”

To be effective, resiliency training must dovetail with the warfighting proficiency and professional confidence gained from other formal training, and should capitalize on the training and combat experience of our SOs, Marines, Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD), and Fleet Marine Force (FMF) Corpsmen. Realistic training replicating the challenges of combat is an essential element for setting Sailors up for success.

Competence breeds confidence, and it is imperative that our Sailors be confident in their ability to maintain a tough and resilient mindset during life at sea. A combat mindset finds its core in mental, emotional, physical and spiritual strength which must be developed and practiced, both through training and daily living. That young, tired shipmate isn’t going to find the path to holistic health on their own – it requires intervention, sometimes of the Divine kind. A destroyer squadron commodore once noted, “we need chaplains…they help us to keep our soul.” Soul, that inner person, which transcends the temporal, is the means by which we are strengthened for the here and now. That which is at the foundation of your life; that which gives you peace, joy, and strength; that which is the wellspring of resiliency. The human soul must be maintained so that though “we are pressed on every side by troubles, we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair...” By providing chaplains on future deployed DDGs our Sailors will receive the resiliency training and moral support that they need and deserve. “Every Sailor, Every Day.”


We propose a formal training course that is based on current research and experiences from subject matter experts (SMEs). These formative resources appropriately balance military experience with scholarly research. More importantly, they prepare our warriors for violence with physical and psychological tools, while also strengthening their humanity. For example, we recommend the following resources:

Steven Pressfield’s “The Warrior Ethos”

David Grossman’s “On Combat, the Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace”

Dr. Michael J. Asken and Grossman’s “Warrior Mindset: Mental Toughness Skills for a Nation’s Peacekeepers” Surface Warfare Magazine

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