Advocate: one who pleads the cause of another

In the military, the chain of command is a real dynamic. For example, a Soldier reports to a team leader, who reports to a squad leader, who reports to a platoon sergeant, who reports to a platoon leader, who reports to a company commander, who reports to a battalion commander, etc. As an Army chaplain, I have supervisors, but I do not exist anywhere in the chain of command. We have rank without command authority and function as an adviser. Personally, I would not trade this capability for command authority because with it comes significant advantages for Soldiers. Since we are outside the authority structure, chaplains enjoy access to all levels of leadership up to their organization's commander. This can be a huge benefit to Soldiers.

One of the parts of my work I enjoy the most is being able to positively affect a person's situation by using the influence I have as the unit chaplain. When a chaplain builds rapport and relationship with leaders in their organization, speaking up for Soldier issues becomes standard procedure. Just like the chaplain has access to everyone, the Soldiers have direct access to the chaplain. They do not have to go through their chain of command to get to me. (My first battalion commander told me the most important thing I could do for him concerned staying accessible to the Soldiers.) Every new Soldier entering our battalion comes into our office during their in-processing and gets my cell phone number. I also make it a point to be seen often, including doing PT with Soldiers, giving a word of the day at formations, and offering Soldiers informal morale events. This reminds people that their chaplain is around and available. Then when a situation arises and a Soldier needs help from someone with influence, they know who to call. I have learned there is a difference between people saying "the chaplain" and "my chaplain." When I hear Soldiers say, "my chaplain" I know I have influenced them to a higher degree and built some level of trust.

Even though most leaders have an "open door policy" sometimes the chain of command restricts Soldiers from having immediate access to the power players. (Or they may be afraid to use the policy.) For example, a Soldier has a problem with their pay. They submit the packet to their leadership, who turns it into the company office, who (hopefully) forwards it to the battalion S-1, who prepares it for the commander's signature, and finally it goes to finance to get corrected. Then it must travel all the way back down to the Soldier level. With as many links in the chain and in the midst of leaders dealing with information overload, the Soldier is sometimes left with no idea about the status of their request. Their immediate leader may not even know. However, the chaplain can get the current status and if necessary, get things moving. Recently a Soldier called me to ask for my help for her friend. This friend was in a panic because she was scheduled to fly to her new duty station the next day and didn't know the status of her leave form, (a requirement for travel.) Within ten minutes or so I told this Soldier that her leave had been signed and got a copy in case she needed it. This provided great relief to her. At times I have been known to step out of my lane because a Soldier's situation was not getting the urgent attention it required. What matters more? What people might think of me or getting a Soldier the result they need? That is a question I already know the answer to when a situation arises.

The chaplain is certainly not the only leader in the organization who wants to help Soldiers, but we get to be one of them and are in a unique position to do so. In my work I get the opportunity to speak up for Soldiers for many reasons. Some of these concern religious support, others have nothing to do with matters of faith. When I get to advocate for someone and see the result, it reminds me that I wouldn't trade doing this for any other line of work.

A platoon lunch is not just about food, it's about building trust and rapport.

The more Soldiers interact with their chaplain, the more likely they are to call on him/her in time of need.

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