It’s hard to imagine that only 45 active duty chaplains can minister to the spiritual needs of a workforce that’s well over 80,000. That’s where the Auxiliary Chaplain Support Program comes in—a group of 78 dedicated volunteer chaplains who assist throughout the Coast Guard.
“The Auxiliary Chaplain Support (ACS) Program provides additional support to the chaplains when they are stretched thin,” explained ACS Division Chief Dr. Phil Poole. “Our goal with the program is to have zero requests for assistance from a chaplain go unanswered. ACS chaplains stand in when the active duty chaplain is on leave, [on temporary duty], or just already busy with another duty.”
ACS chaplains perform nearly all chaplain duties, including but not limited to funerals, burials at sea, weddings, baptisms, christenings, change of command ceremonies, and retirement ceremonies.
Recently, ACS chaplains attended a training on Casualty Assistance Call Officer (CACO) support. CACOSs are those whose responsibility it is to call family members or next of kin when a Coast Guard member is killed in the line of duty, missing in action, or has suffered an accident.
“Learning about chaplain support to the CACO process is a big step for the ACS program,” said Poole. “When a service member dies their next of kin may be dispersed throughout the country that means multiple CACOS will need support. ACS chaplains providing this service greatly decreases the pressure on the active duty chaplains to meet this need.”
Regardless of the need—ACS chaplains are dedicated to assisting all members of the Coast Guard workforce.
Currently, there are 78 auxiliarist chaplains in the ACS program whose combined ministerial experience is well over 1,600 years. The average ACS chaplain has 22 years of ministerial experience.
The ACS corps is also very diverse—which was done intentionally to ensure every single workforce member is recognized and their background reflected in the ACS chaplain corps.
Of the 78 ACS chaplains—64 are Protestant, 10are Rabbis, and four are Catholic; 72 are male and six are female. Twenty-three of the chaplains also have prior military experience themselves, giving them unique insight into the needs of the workforce.
If an ACS chaplain is unable to provide the religious rite themselves because it is outside of their knowledge (i.e. a Muslim member needs assistance during Ramadan), the ACS chaplain will seek out civilian clergy or other assistance to facilitate that individual’s need.
“Everything the ACS chaplain does, they do out of the love in their hearts,” said Poole. “They are not compensated in any way for their service.”
Practically, this means that ACS chaplains are not paid for their time, but they are also not reimbursed for anything to do with their duty—not for uniforms, gas, lodging, or food.
As Poole puts it, the willingness of the ACS chaplains to dedicate their time, treasure, and talents to the Coast Guard is a “testament to their calling to serve and their capacity for love.”
When COVID-19 first sent people home in March 2020, ACS chaplains were deemed essential personnel—remaining on call for the Coast Guard. From March 2020 to today, ACS chaplains provided 2,206 phone calls to individuals who were quarantining or otherwise isolated. They traveled over 142,674 accident-free miles to support in person where needed and voluntarily spent $84,368 in non-reimbursable expenses to meet the needs of the Coast Guard.
“It’s not really about the numbers, but of the person being served behind the number,” said Poole. “Since the inception of the ACS program in 2017, ACS chaplains have provided 14,418 hours of Coast Guard operational support. That truly humbles me.”
There is no doubt that ACS chaplains fill in the gap, providing much needed chaplain service to our members, both active duty, civilian, and reserve, as well as their families. To learn more about the ACS Program, please visit their website. It also contains contact information on the branch chiefs who can connect you to a local ACS chaplain if needed.