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A Close and Detailed Look at the United States Chaplain Corps

Harvey Bell is an experienced financial professional who, for the last two years, has been recognized by Forbes as one of the top wealth advisors in New Jersey. Outside of his responsibilities working with clients through Morgan Stanley’s office in West Orange, New Jersey, Harvey Bell belongs to the New York Friars Club. In spring 2023, the West Orange, New Jersey, resident was honored by being named a chaplain in the United States Chaplain Corps. The process of becoming a chaplain is a rigorous one—Mr. Bell took a class, passed three exams, and completed CPR training before he was officially named a chaplain.

What Is the United States Chaplain Corps?

The United States Chaplain Corps (USCC) is a private organization committed to easing suffering and supporting people in times of need. Founded in 2020 by USCC director-general Mendy Coën, it maintains a roster of chaplains who are ready to provide emotional support to people from various walks of life.

USCC was created in response to the lack of a central organization from which chaplains could be deployed. While chaplains have long been common in hospital and military settings, the public previously lacked access to them. Today, USCC boats over 500 chaplains assigned to more than 10 divisions.

Who Does USCC Serve?

The short answer is everyone, but each of USCC’s divisions focuses on serving the needs of a specific community.

USCC’s police and firefighter divisions offer emotional support to first responders as they navigate their highly stressful positions. Recognizing that some police officers and firefighters may be uncomfortable discussing their stress or trauma with mental-health professionals, USCC chaplains offer support in a more casual, less-structured environment.

USCC also maintains two divisions focused on reaching out to patients in healthcare settings. Whether the setting is a hospital, hospice center, correctional institution, or somewhere else, USCC chaplains are available around the clock to counsel patients and their families. Patients can even opt to have a USCC chaplain accompany them on a helicopter or plane in the event they need to be transported for a medical procedure.

In healthcare settings, chaplains can serve as a bridge between patients and medical professionals, facilitating communication and collaboration. Similarly, chaplains in USCC’s workforce division strive to engender understanding between employers and employees while advising on ways in which the former can support the latter.

Among the other demographic groups served by USCC chaplains are seniors, youth, and women. Regardless of the division to which they are assigned, USCC chaplains complete a rigorous screening and training process designed to ensure they are suited and prepared for their roles.

How Are USCC Chaplains Chosen and Trained?

The screening process involves passing a background check. Additionally, candidates must prove they have the requisite emotional and psychological resilience to support people who are experiencing inner turmoil. Candidates who meet the screening criteria complete USCC’s training, which gives them tools to mitigate the pain of others.

Chaplain candidates learn how to practice “ministry of presence,” a strategy that involves closely and actively listening to people who are in anguish as a way of supporting them. Aspiring chaplains also undergo training to hone their social and emotional intelligence. The 12-week program, which includes two courses with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, culminates with a final exam, the passage of which certifies candidates as associate chaplains.

USCC’s “Navy SEALS”

USCC requires additional training for chaplains serving in one of its “first responder” divisions. Dubbed USCC’s “Navy SEALS” by Director-General Coen, first responder chaplains (FRCs) belong to special units whose job is to respond to emergency situations.

FRCs played an important role during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the perils of sickness and isolation left many people in serious psychological distress. FRCs specifically aided patients diagnosed with COVID and their families, helping them to prioritize everyone's health and well-being and minimize the spread of the virus.

FRCs also stood ready to assist healthcare workers during the pandemic. By providing aid to patients and healthcare workers alike, FRCs practice psychological first aid (PSA). A proven method employed by other first responders around the world, PSA involves being emotionally present during severe trauma.

Responding to Tragedy

Sadly, in 2021, a 12-story building collapsed in Surfside, Florida. As part of its mission to respond to emergency situations, USCC deployed 30 FRCs to the site of a disaster that ultimately killed 99 people.

FRCs provide emotional support to victims and their families, helping them to process their loss and make decisions on what to do with their loved ones’ bodies. FRCs especially focused on the needs of rescuers, who were working around the clock to recover bodies from the rubble.

The nature of this work left many of the rescuers traumatized. FRCs counseled them, providing them with emotional support designed to help them process the situation while giving them to strength to continue their important work.

How to Learn More

USCC chaplains come from a variety of backgrounds and can assist people of any faith or religious denomination. As Dovid Egert, a USCC chaplain who is also a rabbi, put it: “I am a rabbi to some, but a chaplain to all.”

Individuals interested in becoming a USCC chaplain can learn more about the organization by visiting it online. Individuals who believe they need the support of a chaplain can likewise contact USCC through its website. People in crisis can also call the organization’s hotline, (888) 651-9311, which is staffed by on-call chaplains 24 hours a day.

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