Chaplains serving the Coast Guard: Celebrating 241 years of the Navy Chaplain Corps

Dawn breaks upon the cross of Christ at the bow of a Coast Guard Combat Cutter protecting an allied convoy moving into the zone of war. Led by a chaplain, the Coast Guardsmen sing of the glory of the cross at this impressive service in the forecastle under the guns loaded to battle with their enemies. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Dawn breaks upon the cross of Christ at the bow of a Coast Guard Combat Cutter protecting an allied convoy moving into the zone of war. Led by a chaplain, the Coast Guardsmen sing of the glory of the cross at this impressive service in the forecastle under the guns loaded to battle with their enemies. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Written by retired Navy chaplain Dr. C. Douglas Kroll

The church flag flies over a Coast Guard-manned Landing Ship, Tank (LST), as the ship moves to attack Japanese bases near Okinawa. Coast Guardsmen and soldiers bow their heads and listen to the ship's chaplain ask for guidance in the battle that lies ahead. This photo was taken just before the assault on Aka Shima, six days before the attack on Okinawa. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The church flag flies over a Coast Guard-manned Landing Ship, Tank (LST), as the ship moves to attack Japanese bases near Okinawa. Coast Guardsmen and soldiers bow their heads and listen to the ship’s chaplain ask for guidance in the battle that lies ahead. This photo was taken just before the assault on Aka Shima, six days before the attack on Okinawa. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

November 28th marks the 241st year of the Navy Chaplain Corps. Chaplains strive to inspire hope and strengthen spiritual well-being through the delivery and coordination of effective religious ministry at sea and ashore. Navy chaplains are clergy and officers who serve with the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.

As we celebrate their anniversary, we wanted to highlight the Chaplains Corps’ rich history serving with the Coast Guard.

During World War I, the entire Coast Guard was transferred into the Department of the Navy. For the first time Coast Guard personnel fell within the scope of the Navy chaplains’ responsibilities, however no chaplains were assigned to Coast Guard units or commands. While Coast Guard personnel were under the care of Navy chaplains during the war, that all ended with the transfer of the Coast Guard back to the Department of the Treasury after the war.

The first official ministry of Navy chaplains did not resume until July 1929, when Chaplain Roy L. Lewis at the submarine base in Groton, Connecticut, was given additional duty orders to the Coast Guard Academy, then located at Fort Trumbull in New London, Connecticut. Similar additional duty orders were issued to Lewis’ successors at the submarine base until the Coast Guard was transferred into the Navy Department during World War II.

U.S. Navy Capt. Raymond C. Hohenstein, a Coast Guard Academy chaplain, is shown conducting divine services at sea for Coast Guard Cutter Eagle Aug. 28, 1955, while on a cruise to Bermuda with cadets of the Class of 1957 and 1959. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

U.S. Navy Capt. Raymond C. Hohenstein, a Coast Guard Academy chaplain, is shown conducting divine services at sea for Coast Guard Cutter Eagle Aug. 28, 1955, while on a cruise to Bermuda with cadets of the Class of 1957 and 1959. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Large numbers of the Navy chaplains served at training commands, district headquarters, Coast Guard-manned transport ships, base, section and group offices and even some stations during World War II.

With the transfer of the Coast Guard back to the Treasury Department in 1946, and accompanying demobilization and shrinking of the service, the number of Navy chaplains serving with Coast Guard was reduced to four, all serving at training commands. However, chaplains were assigned to Coast Guard units for the first time during peacetime.
By 1962, the number of chaplains assigned to training commands had increased to seven. In 1966, the Coast Guard took over Governors Island in New York Harbor, a major base with over 20 tenant commands. Four chaplains were assigned to the base.

By 1967, with the growth of Coast Guard involvement in Vietnam, a chaplain was assigned to Squadron Three, the first chaplain assigned to sea duty with the Coast Guard since World War II.

By the end of the decade, the number of chaplains serving with the Coast Guard had grown to 11 and they were no longer limited to training commands. By 1976, the number increased to 15 and the senior chaplain at Governors Island was given additional duty orders as Chaplain Coordinator of the Coast Guard.

U.S. Coast Guard photo.

U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Seventeen Naval Reserve billets were authorized in 1977, to augment chaplain services to the Coast Guard in event of mobilization. They were all administratively attached to one reserve unit in Maryland but scattered all across the United States and drilled at active duty Coast Guard commands.

In 1983, a senior Navy chaplain was assigned to staff of Coast Guard headquarters as Chaplain of the Coast Guard. Over the decades the number of active duty chaplains assigned to the Coast Guard has increased to 40, while the number of reserve chaplains has decreased to nine. These active duty and reserve chaplains will soon be joined by Auxiliary Support Clergy. These clergy will affiliate with the Coast Guard Auxiliary and expand the religious ministry capacity within the Coast Guard.

Chaplains await rescue workers emerging from the rubble at ground zero Oct.17. Coast Guard Chaplains have been on hand to assist those who continue to be emotionally impacted while working at ground zero. USCG photo by PA2 Tom Sperduto.

Chaplains await rescue workers emerging from the rubble at ground zero Oct.17. Coast Guard Chaplains have been on hand to assist those who continue to be emotionally impacted while working at ground zero. USCG photo by PA2 Tom Sperduto.

Did you know?
• Six Navy Ships were named after Chaplains: USS Rentz (FFG-46), USS Kirkpatrick (DE 318), USS O’Callahan (FF-1051), USS Capodanno (FF-1093), USS Schmitt (DE-676), and USS Laboon (DDG-58)
• Two Navy chaplains have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor: Lt. Joseph O’Callahan (World War II) and Lt. Vincent Capodanno (Vietnam War)
• The Navy Chaplains Corps is currently comprised of clergy representing nearly 100 religious organizations from various faith traditions
• You don’t have to be religious to visit your chaplain. Chaplains provide and facilitate religious ministry, advise commands, and care for all
• What you say to a chaplain stays with the chaplain. Navy chaplains have complete confidentiality (SECNAV Instruction 1730.9).
• Don’t know your chaplain? You can locate your nearest chaplain by calling 855-USCG-CHC (872-4242) or by visiting: https://www.uscg.mil/chaplain/

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