With all the talk about the Year 2000, the 21st Century, and Force XXI, everyone is focusing a lot of attention these days on innovative methods for virtually everything from how to live more efficiently to how to fight wars more effectively in the next century. Better methods of communciation are no exception. It seems we in America are being more forward thinking now than perhaps at any other time in our nation's history. Articles about technological and other advances to boost us into the next century are becoming more and more prevalent. Even The Army Chaplaincy Professional Bulletin is getting into the act, as two articles in the Winter/Spring 1996 issue dealt directly with training chaplains for ministry in the 21st Century!
The current issue is devoted to the subject of communications where, arguably, technological advances are the greatest. With the popularization of the Internet (AKA the World Wide Web) and email communications, our society is probably the best connected in the world, though the rest of the world is certainly making great strides in this direction. People ranging from the private sector to the business sector--and a host of other examples in between--are either already online-connected or getting that way. By online-connected, I mean at least email-capable and at best World Wide Web (WWW) published, too. The Army is certainly no exception, but the Army chaplaincy is only just beginning to take notice and get involved. Presently, there are numerous Army web sites (including all components) but only a small handful of chaplaincy web sites. At the time I am writing this article, I am able to find only four official Army chaplaincy web sites: USACHCS, USAREUR, Fort Huachuca, AZ, and Fort Sill, OK. In fact, I just created the Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Ministry Team Home Page myself with the approval and assistance of my Installation Chaplain.
With all this excitement regarding the WWW and email, and with seemingly everyone everywhere envisioning life in the 21st Century, what kind of vision do we in the Army chaplaincy have for ourselves and our ministry, and what role will telecommunications play in helping us attain it? Moreover, do we even have a vision? If we do, how well are we communicating it? How we answer these questions will likely determine how successful we will be in fulfilling our vision. Someone has said, "He [or she] who strives for nothing always attains it." Let's not allow that statement to define us!
Before we can communicate our vision, we must, of course, have a vision to communicate. What is our vision, then, or what should be our vision? Well, I can only speak for myself, so let me share my vision.
I envision a much more communicative Army and Army chaplaincy in the 21st Century. I believe our sophisticated means of communication will force us into a higher degree of sophistication, too. Many Army leaders already envision the use of telecommunications on the battlefield. In fact, an ad in a recent Army publication promoted a computer so portable and compact it fits on your belt! Many units already use laptops in field operations. Add a cellular phone link to it, and you're all set to send/receive email, data/binary files, or even to establish voice contact--with the appropriate software--from the field. What will they think of next?
Surely, we can begin to see the possibilities in this already. If the Army gets better connected on the battlefield, what might be the ramifications for the Army chaplaincy? Consider this scenario: the brigade or higher chaplain, by virtue of the senior position and rank, learns of an impending battle which will surely claim many lives and wound many soldiers. They will definitely need a chaplain during all this. Prepared with this information, but without betraying any battle plan secrets, he maneuvers his battalion chaplains into more strategic positions to minister more effectively when the time comes. How does he do it? He sends a short, encrypted message to each of them via email using a cellular connection and laptop--or perhaps by then, a belt link. The chaplains then move into place in ample time to minister to the troops when the fighting starts. Maybe you can imagine a better scenario, but hopefully, you get my point.
Of course, there is a great deal more we can do with this emerging technology. We're already beginning to use email much more widely, but I think we need to improve on that connectivity some more, too. How much more effective it would be if all our chaplains had an email address whereby each of us could communicate with anyone else in an instant. In this era of cutbacks, imagine how much money we would save the Government in long distance telephone costs alone!
The Chief of Chaplains could email his vision and goals to each of the MACOM and Installation Chaplains Army-wide who would, in turn, relay it to their subordinate chaplains. Information on late-breaking policies could be disseminated in a matter of hours rather than days or weeks or longer. From a spiritual standpoint, prayer concerns within our ranks could be emailed along for wider inclusion in prayer groups Army-wide. The list could go on almost ad infinitum.
Email isn't the only aspect of this new telecommunications technology, however. The World Wide Web is also a significant part. The U. S. Army Chaplain Center and School already has a fantastic web site which displays a wealth of information for the prospective student and the casual browser alike. The USAREUR web site also has an excellent display of the vital and valuable ministry in which they are involved. The Fort Huachuca and Fort Sill web sites contain a lot of useful information about their respective ministries, too. I will provide a list of the Uniform Resourse Locators (URLs) for each of these at the conclusion of this article so you can check them out for yourself.
Web sites can serve two basic purposes: (1) to inform both the general public and the Army chaplaincy alike of chaplain ministry and Army-related issues; and (2) to provide an email link for anyone who is interested to contact the respective Ministry Teams. I have one very important caveat here, however: NEVER publish personal or sensitive information on a web page! I shouldn't have to say this, but I do so to insure there is absolutely no miscommunication.
Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), the programming language used to format files for web browsers to display on-screen, is a relatively simple code to learn and master. I taught myself the basics in just a few days by studying an HTML manual I purchased from a local computer book store. I'm not sure about other Army installations, but Fort Sill offers a short, but rather comprehensive, class on HTML programming for those who will be the webmasters for their unit or other agency web sites. Providing such instruction Army-wide would definitely enable broader participation in web page authoring. Moreover, I think such a class should be included in any computer instruction and unit administration class. Chaplain Assistants most certainly need a grasp of how to operate a computer competently and how to write/edit HTML files, along with all their other tasks, before graduating from AIT. Chaplains completing OBC also need instruction in these basic skills if they are to be effective supervisors in this area. If we don't provide this training at the outset of chaplains' and chaplain assistants' careers, then we will find ourselves playing catch-up later.
There is probably a great deal more I could say about effective telecommunications in the Army and Army chaplaincy, but perhaps this is enough for an introduction and stimulation of thought right now. I envision a day not so far away when every Army office, including all Ministry Team offices, will be online-capable. If we are to be better connected and more communicative in more sophisticated and inexpensive ways, this is the way we must go. If the Army is moving in this direction, the Army chaplaincy must follow in order to keep up with the progress. I'm ready and eager--are you?
United States Army Chaplain Center and School
USAREUR Chaplain's Office Home Page
Fort Huachuca, Arizona, Chaplain Activities Page
Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Ministry Team Home Page