This week marked the end of Chaplain Initial Military Training. It has been interesting, being prior service, watching from from almost an outside view as fellow classmates, civilians, become soldiers . The chaplaincy is a calling, but so is the military and especially that of an Army officer.
There is a saying in the Army - about being a volunteer, a double volunteer and a triple volunteer, a soldier must volunteer to do this job, to be airborne one must volunteer a second time because no one can be forced into this training, to go Ranger and or Special Forces one must volunteer a third time because airborne is a prerequisite. The Chaplaincy is similar, we must be called to be a soldier, called to be an officer and called to be an Army Chaplain.
At the end of CIMT we had our beret donning ceremony. The wearing of the beret symbolizes much more than the official headgear of the Army. Since WWI it has been the symbol of the elite - starting with British Tank Crews then carrying over to the SAS and Airborne. The Special Forces were the first to adopt the beret in the US with the blessing of President John F. Kennedy and the then Ranger and Airborne units were authorized. When the decision was made for the entire army to wear the beret I have to admit I was a little upset - this was a special item that had only been worn by special units. Now I realize the significance of the entire army wearing it - the United States Army is a special unit, we are different from any other army in the world, we carry a presence about us and we serve the people of the world and not ourselves.
What makes the beret even more of a symbol of the United States Army is what must be done to it before it can be worn:
When a beret is first bought it looks nothing like the final product - it is unformed and covered with extra fuzz - kind of like the civilian who is on his or her way to becoming a soldier, they are untrained, undisciplined and bring extra baggage with them.
The first step in preparing the beret is to take a razor and meticulously shave away all of the fuzz. The soldier is similar, he or she must be torn down, to be stripped of all that separates a civilian from the professional soldier. This includes attitudes, individualism and mental weakness.
Next, once the beret has been stripped of all the fuzz it is then soaked in water and placed on the head and formed into the shape of the soldiers beret. This takes time, it must be done carefully or it will look bad. It has to be left on the head until it is dry or it will not hold its shape. The soldier is the same, once broken down he or she it built back up into a new creation - that of the United States Soldier, full of confidence ability and espret de corp. This is also a slow process but once done he or she looks like nothing else, like the beret, everyone knows a United States Soldier has entered the room