Chaplain (Capt.) Teji John Thanippilly, chaplain candidate (2nd Lt.) Jeremie Joseph and Chaplain (1st Lt.) Matthew Lowe discuss their experiences in the field training with quartermaster units to provide religious support for nearly 500 Soldiers during a field exercise at Training Area 15A on Fort Jackson on June 21. (By Mel Slater)

Chaplains return to exercise with Reserve unit

By Mel Slater, Institute for Religious Leadership


The Institute for Religious Leadership graduates hundreds of chaplains for assignments to active duty, Reserve and National Guard units worldwide.

Several chaplains returned to Fort Jackson recently to provide religious service support to the 402d Quartermaster Battalion Reserve unit during its annual field exercise that ended June 22.

Chaplain (Capt.) Teji John Thanippilly, Chaplain (1st Lt.) Matthew Lowe and chaplain candidate (2nd Lt.) Jeremie Joseph traveled with the unit to provide religious support for close to 500 Soldiers who trained on Fort Jackson at Training Area 15A. The training area is normally used by the IRL for the Chaplain Basic Officer Leader Course and religious affairs specialists Advanced Individual Training.

Thanippilly and Lowe know it all too well. Joseph has yet to attend CHBOLC. His experience here may be a big help to his peers when he returns for the course.

The group of chaplains demonstrate the diversity of the Chaplain Corps and the Soldiers they serve. Thanippilly is a Catholic Priest, Lowe is Protestant and Joseph is a nondenominational Christian.

The chaplains met with and ministered to Soldiers located at multiple sites on or around the training area.

“Our unit is not being evaluated. For us chaplains, this is a great opportunity because none of the units out here on the exercise have a chaplain,” Thanippilly said. “We provide ministry of presence. Getting in touch with the Soldiers is an important thing. It’s part of our learning experience too. We have around 450 Soldiers on the ground. We go there and pray for them. We are present there, especially when they do transportation convoy operations.”

Joseph spoke to some Soldiers during the training.

“I was interacting with the Soldiers, you know, getting to know them, allowing them to get to know me, understanding their world, their values, their interests, their passions and navigating how I can best serve them, and allow them to build their sense of trust with me and the system and the whole process,” Joseph said. “With that level of interaction, that level of trust we can build our sense of recovery and performance with our words of encouragement, allow them to really push themselves to the levels of the highest sense of resilience, the highest sense of competence.”

The 402nd Quartermaster Battalion is commanded by Lt. Col. Charles Carter and is based out of Newcastle, Pennsylvania. The Soldiers present for the exercise come from locations across the country from Pennsylvania to California. They conducted training and real-world missions to deliver aviation fuel to active duty and National Guard installations in South Carolina and Georgia.

“We’re conducting this exercise in support of the Defense Logistics Agency,” Carter said. “We deliver fuel to different units across the United States. We have multiple sites, and this is one of the sites chosen. We’re spread out all over the facility with 10 companies and they each have a footprint and they each have a mission whether it be to haul fuel or to store it.”

Carter provided insight on his relationship with his unit chaplains.

“Our chaplains support our Soldiers. My relationship with my chaplains is they’re my spiritual advisors. They advise me on the pulse of the battalion,” Carter said. “Any issues that will make Soldier discomfort rise to the top of my list so I can fix those issues because morale is very important in the Army. We want to make sure we take of our Soldiers.”

Some of the candidates that come to Fort Jackson to attend the chaplains basic officer’s course are prior service and feel the call to become an Army chaplain. Many are civilian clergy or are in training but have no military experience. Thanippilly shared his transformative journey to becoming a new Army chaplain.

“I think the Army culture was the most important thing I learned while in CHBOLC,” Thanippilly said. “How Soldiers interact and how they talk. And also, how to deal with different ranks, like how to pay respect and receive respect. I never learned that in my civilian world. I didn’t have any military guys in my Family. I don’t have any connection with that. It was all new. I was really a new person when I came out of (the training and went) back to my unit. So, I felt more confident when I was talking, when doing something, I was really more confident. My ministry was more effective I believe.”