Sailors can receive much more than faith-based counseling from their chaplains, and all discussions are confidential. Here, a sailor speaks with Lt. Cmdr. Henry 'Fred' Holcombe, a chaplain assigned to the aircraft carrier Enterprise, last year during the carrier's final deployment to 5th Fleet. (MCSN Gregory White / Navy)
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Regardless of personal faith, any sailor, Marine or Coast Guardsmen can talk to a chaplain about problems and know the discussion will remain confidential. That’s the message behind the Navy Chaplain Corps’ push to spread the word on confidential communications to chaplains available to service members and their families. The campaign to increase awareness across the fleet launched June 5.
A recent survey by Navy Personnel Command found that 63 percent of sailors didn’t believe what they said to a chaplain would remain confidential, while 65 percent believed that chaplains had to report certain matters to a sailor’s command.
“What you say to us stays between us, unless you decide differently — you hold the key,” said Rear Adm. Mark Tidd, chief of chaplains, in the release. “That being said, chaplains will always assist in guiding an individual to the appropriate resources and will not leave an individual alone when the individual or others are at risk.”
Keeping communications confidential has always been a standard practice for chaplains, but it became official Navy policy in 2008 with SECNAV Instruction 1730.9. Communications with religious program specialists and chaplain assistants are also bound by confidentiality. In the instruction, it says that these religious leaders can never reveal any disclosures made confidentially, even after the death of the sailor.
“Whether you’ve talked to me on the mess decks, in the chow hall, in my office, wherever. Whatever you tell me, I can say to no one,” said Rear Adm. Margaret Kibben, chaplain of the Marine Corps and Navy deputy chief of chaplains.
Still not convinced? One of the best ways to begin a difficult discussion with a chaplain is to ask them about their confidentiality pledge, said Cmdr. Yolanda Gillen, the command chaplain aboard the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis. Asking can ease your nerves but also let the chaplain know what comes next could involve sensitive topics.
Sailors should know they are not alone. Gillen said she counsels several sailors a day — many seeking advice on relationships with a spouse, children or even co-workers. That number rises during deployment, when many sailors express difficulty coping with the operational schedule. “It can feel like [the movie] ‘Groundhog Day’ when you’re deployed,” she said. “The same thing, every day.”
Also, sailors don’t have to be religious to seek the counseling services of a chaplain — and if a sailor is religious, he doesn’t need to be the same faith as the chaplain. Faith-specific guidance won’t be offered unless a sailor seeks it, Gillen said.
Not sure who your local chaplain is? Call 855-NAVY-311 for more information. For more about the Chaplain Corps’ nondisclosure rules, visit www.chaplain.navy.mil and click on “Confidentiality.”