U.S. Army Institute for Religious Leadership Deputy Director and Commandant, Chaplain (Col.) James Palmer, Jr. receives a replica of the Institute for Religious Leadership crest from the Director of the Religious Leader Academy, Chaplain (Col.) Daniel Hardin at the Farewell Luncheon for Palmer held at the Fort Jackson NCO Club on July 18. (By Mel Slater) 

Chaplain commandant prepares to say farewell

By Mel Slater, Institute for Religious Leadership

The U.S. Army Institute for Religious Leadership’s commandant, Chaplain (Col.) James Palmer bids farewell to the institute as it prepares to host the Chaplain Corps Regimental Week activities here at Fort Jackson from July 25-28.

“It has been a tremendous honor and privilege to serve as the commandant of the U.S. Army Institute for Religious Leadership. It has been perhaps the most significant assignment that I have had as an Army chaplain,” Palmer said. “Every chaplain that enters the Army has to come through Fort Jackson. I hope that as commandant, I have been able to make a difference in the lives of Soldiers and Family members.”

The Army’s Deputy Chief of Chaplains, Chaplain (Brig. Gen.) Bill Green is set to officiate the change of commandant ceremony on July 28 on the campus grounds to formally recognize the transfer of command between Palmer and Chaplain (Col.) Louis A. Deltufo.

Palmer assumed the position in 2021 and is the 44th commandant since the school began in 1918.

“On Dec. 24, Christmas Eve 2019, Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Solhjem notified me that he had selected me to serve as the 44th Commandant for the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School,” Palmer said. “I guess you could say it was an early Christmas present.”

As commandant he was charged with overseeing the training and the many facets of the transition from the Chaplain Center and School to the Army Institute for Religious Leadership. The newly formed institute continues to train chaplains and religious affairs specialists and noncommissioned officers to provide religious support to the Army and its Families, while advising commanders on religion, morals, morale and the right of free exercise of religion for all Soldiers.

“One highlight of serving as commandant was being able to watch ordained civilian clergy and seminarians transform into Army chaplains in a matter of months,” Palmer said. “These students graduate from the institute and are prepared to serve with Active Duty, Reserve and National Guard units. It has been a delight to have had the opportunity to influence and shape the future generation of Army chaplains.”

Part of the effort for Palmer during his dual responsibility as the institute’s deputy director has been the transformation of the institute’s campus that now includes elements assigned to the Office of the Chief of Chaplains.

The personnel numbers have risen on the campus as a result of the relocation of continued growth.

This growth includes the Religious Support Operations Center under the Office of the Chief of Chaplains; the establishment of a graduate school on the campus that will provide instruction in chaplaincy related disciplines; and the NCO Academy that brought advanced training for senior religious affairs specialists to one location.

“I will miss the people with whom I have had the opportunity to serve alongside. I have served with some of the finest chaplains, religious affairs specialists, and civilians here,” Palmer said. “It is the men and women of this great institution that makes it a wonderful place to work. I will truly miss the people.”

Palmer also reflected on the institute’s challenges and successes along the road to transition.

When Palmer arrived COVID-19 continued to challenge the Army, the Chaplain Corps and the institute.

“Certainly, my first year as commandant was a challenge as we maneuvered through COVID-19,” Palmer said. “In order to keep all members of the team safe and healthy, to include students, as the commandant I provided steady leadership to the IRL team, while maneuvering through COVID-19. With the hard work of my staff, we were able to maintain training and return both military and civilian personnel back to work safely.”

Palmer is a native of Petersburg, Virginia. He is an ordained Baptist minister and endorsed by the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. He entered the Army in November 1992. His previous assignment was Director of Strategy, Plans, Policy & Resources for Office of the Chief of Chaplains.

Palmer is no stranger to Fort Jackson. He was assigned here as a small group instructor for the Chaplain Officer Basic Leaders Course from June 2006 to Dec. 2007. And as Garrison Chaplain from Oct. 2013 to June 2015.

Palmer has been married to his wife Faith for 31 years. They have two sons and a daughter. Faith has been very supportive to the institute by contributing her time to help orient spouses of Chaplain Basic Officer Leader Course students with their transition to Army life with the CHBOLC Spouse Seminar and participating in other organization events and activities.

Palmer retires with 31 years of active-duty service.

“I am not certain what the future holds for me. Initially, I plan to take some time to rest and spend some quality time with my Family. Take a cruise,” Palmer said.

“I am a firm believer in Proverbs 3:5-6, which states trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto your own understanding, but in all of your ways acknowledge him and He will direct your path,” he added. “God will direct what is next for me.”

It’s going to be an exciting week for the Army Institute for Religious Leadership as it celebrates its history and sadly says farewell to the Palmers and transitions to new leadership with the continued goal to train chaplains and religious affairs specialists to care for the souls of America’s Army.