Five of the 10 slots for military chaplains in the South Dakota Army National Guard are empty right now, and that has Col. Joseph Holzhauser on a mission of recruitment.
Holzhauser, who is better known at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Huron as Father Joe, is one of five National Guard chaplains -- four of them part-time -- who currently serve the state's 3,400 National Guard personnel and their families.
"This is the lowest we've been in several years," Holzhauser said about chaplain numbers.
The state's 50 percent vacancy rate is even lower than the national average for the Guard, according to Lt. Col Randall Dolinger, a spokesman for the Army Office of the Chief of Chaplains. Dolinger said the Army is trying to fill 452 chaplain vacancies, which include active duty, reserves and National Guard. The vast majority of those shortages are in National Guard units.
Nationwide, the Guard fills about 60 percent of its chaplaincies; the regular Army has 90 percent of its chaplain slots full, Dolinger said.
Recruitment of military chaplains is further complicated by age, ordination and seminary-accreditation requirements. Chaplain candidates must be younger than 40. Because many clergy in South Dakota come to the ministry as a second career, they are often older than that, Holzhauser said.
In addition, the military has seminary formation requirements for its chaplains and does not recognize Bible college graduates. "You must graduate from an accredited seminary, and you must be ordained in some denomination," Holzhauser said. "Unfortunately, pastors who are in the right age bracket are often serving in nondenominational or independent churches and haven't been in an accredited formation program."
The Army recognizes more than 265 religions and sects that can supply chaplains.
Chaplain shortages are most acute among Roman Catholic priests, Dolinger said. According to the military's religious demographics, 20 percent of all military personnel list a Roman Catholic religious affiliation. Only 7 percent of Army chaplains are Roman Catholic.
The active-duty Army needs 300 Catholic priests to adequately serve its members. It has 89, Dolinger said. "In the Army National Guard, we need 150 Catholic priests, and we have 36 of them."
That reflects an overall Catholic priest shortage in the civilian world. "We don't hold up our share," Holzhauser said.
All Roman Catholic priests serving in the military do so with the permission of their local bishops, and, he points out, "all bishops experience a shortage of priests in their own diocese."
Dolinger argues that congregations of all faiths should take a more active role in supplying chaplains to deployed servicemen. "If more churches saw that as a ministry to the military, we wouldn't have these shortages," he said. "As one man said to me the other day, 'Of course we're short of priests all over, but shouldn't we be short here at home, rather than short our sons and daughters who are serving over there?"
Holzhauser said daily Mass at a rotating list of 28 locations in Afghanistan. He usually traveled by air, because helicopters were safer than ground travel. Continuing to meet the religious and emotional needs of servicemen with sufficient chaplains of all faiths is imperative, he said.
"Because we're in the fifth year of a global war on terror, and because we continue to send and to bring back people from that war, those soldiers and their families are both stressed in every aspect of their lives because of that. They need our support," he said. [....Snip] Rapid City Journal