The Navy’s initiative to permanently launch Chaplains aboard guided-missile destroyers has proven successful in addressing mental health issues — and likely means the Navy needs to recruit more Chaplains in the future, according to the commander of Naval Surface Forces, Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener.
“I think the chaplain’s initiative was one of the best things we’ve done,” Kitchener told reporters. “The feedback I get from the captains, the ships that have chaplains on board – we tend to see unplanned losses and fewer issues.”
In December 2021, the Navy launched an effort to incorporate clergymen as permanent members of the guided missile destroyer crews. The effort was a departure from previous practice, with chaplains heading to destroyers during duty operations as “shipmen,” the Navy Times previously reported.
But now, the service has nearly 30 chaplains permanently assigned to destroyers in the Pacific and Atlantic, and the Navy aims to have chaplains fired on every destroyer by 2025. As a result, the Navy may need to recruit more chaplains to meet the need, Kitchener said. .
“We put the demand signal out there, we show the impact through analytics, and ‘hey, it works, it makes a difference,’” Kitchener said. That means they probably have to bring in more people.”
The clergy start-up effort, which began in the Seventh Fleet with Destroyer Squadron 15, seeks to enhance sailors’ resilience across the force.
“Commanders have identified our Sailors as a disproportionate advantage against our adversaries,” Captain Daniel Mudd, Fleet Chaplain to the Seventh Fleet, said in a December 2021 Navy press release. In response to a request signal from Surface Leadership for more chaplains serving in the fleet, Chaplain Corps through [Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet] A chaplain developed strategies to increase the budget and assigned chaplains specifically to the Deputy General Manager. The proposal was unanimously approved by all levels of leadership from CNO onwards.”
In December, the service unveiled the findings of its investigation into multiple suicides aboard the aircraft carrier George Washington, which has undergone midship refueling and complex repairs at Newport News Shipbuilding since August 2017.
Although the investigation found that the three deaths over six days in April 2022 were unrelated, the report also described the ship’s psychiatrist and behavioral health technician as “exhausted”. The report found that both faced a delay of approximately four to six weeks in their initial appointments.
This challenge is reflected across the entire service as the Navy struggles to fill positions for mental health providers amid a national shortage. In a leaked call with sailors aboard the George Washington in April 2022, former Navy chief military officer Russell Smith said that when he needed some help he was told there was a six-week wait to see a Navy provider, which prompted private care. Because I can handle it.”
“You can’t snap your fingers and grow a psychiatrist,” Smith told the sailors. “That takes years, decades of study, training, practice, coaching and everything else that gets you to this point.”
Troops and veterans experiencing a mental health emergency can call 988 and select Option 1 to speak with a VA staff member. Veterans, troops, or their family members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for help.