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LDS chaplains offer spiritual support to those in uniform

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A nation's military capability is measured largely by its ability to support its men and women in uniform. Fighter jets have to be fueled, troops need to be fed and equipped and battleships must be maintained.

A soldier's or sailor's spiritual health must also be nurtured. Military chaplains in the United States armed forces play a vital support role — acting as spiritual leaders, counselors and friends to military personnel and their families. Chaplains can generally be found wherever there is a military presence, from homeland army posts to combat zones in Afghanistan.

"They are great people. . . they do a lot of good," said Richard Whaley, a retired U.S. Army chaplain who now works in the Church's military services office of the Priesthood Department.

Church members have served as chaplains in the U.S. military since the Spanish-American War. A trio of priesthood holders were chaplains in World War I, including Elder B.H. Roberts, a Seventy. Since that time there has been a continuous presence of LDS chaplains in all the branches of the American military during times of conflict and peace.

There are currently 43 LDS chaplains serving aboard ships, in air squadrons and in infantry units. Each LDS chaplain is endorsed by the Church and is a member in good standing.

They're an educated lot. Chaplains are required to have a graduate degree and meet the standards expected of military officers. They are not identified as "LDS chaplains" in the workplace, but as "Protestants" serving soldiers from a variety of religious backgrounds in a non-denominational capacity.

Conducting weekly worship services remains a fundamental function of military chaplains.

"I preached probably every Sunday," said Brother Whaley.

Chaplains also serve administrative roles, educating company commanders, say, on the religious practices of cultures where there may be a military involvement. Many LDS chaplains served in the military in other specialties before becoming chaplains.

Among Latter-day Saints serving as military chaplains is Lt. j.g. Brandon Harding, who was recently appointed as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy. A native of Cedar City, Utah, he earned a master's degree from Moorehead State University and served a mission in the West Virginia Charleston Mission. He is assigned to the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion at Port Hueneme, Calif., and is currently deployed to Okinawa, Japan. Chaplain Harding is married to the former Amy Hansen of Layton, Utah. They have two children.

E-mail: jswensen@desnews.com