Becoming a Navy Chaplain: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a Navy chaplain career? Get real job duties, training requirements and salary info to see if becoming a Navy chaplain is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Navy Chaplain

Navy chaplains live in a dichotomous world, acting as patrons of peace and religious freedom in a military arena. It's important to weigh the pros and cons of a serving as chaplain for the Navy before pursuing the career.

Pros of a Navy Chaplain Career
Competitive salary with structured pay raises and cost-of-living adjustments *
Benefits include medical, dental, housing, etc.*
Extensive travel opportunities when deployed*
Can serve part-time or full-time*
Opportunity to work with people of diverse faiths*
Satisfaction from improving service members' lives through religious counseling*

Cons of a Navy Chaplain Career
Cannot resign your commission until you've completed at least eight years of service*
Must have completed, or be in the process of completing, a graduate theologian degree*
Without the ability to be tolerant of other faiths, you will be ineligible for service*
On-call 24/7 while deployed*
Cannot bear arms during service*

Source: United States Navy.

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

As a Navy chaplain, you will provide spiritual guidance to the coast guards, sailors and marines who you are deployed with. There are about 800 Navy chaplains ministering to about 50,000 deployed personnel of differing religions. Since the Navy promotes the right to freedom of religion, and it's impractical for a chaplain of every religion to accompany each vessel, chaplains must be willing to minister to people of all faiths; however, a clergy member is not required to compromise his or her faith, so while a Rabbi may need to hear a confession, he will not be required to give absolution.

Military members are on call 24/7, so a chaplain must be ready to provide spiritual support to a service member in need at any given moment. Chaplains also minister to the families of service members. As a Navy chaplain, you will also be a Navy officer, but it's important to note that you will be classified as a non-combatant in potentially dangerous situations and will not be allowed to carry firearms for protection of yourself or others.

Salary and Benefits

Military wages are structured according to factors such as rank and time in service. All chaplains enter as ensigns, which is the first officer grade in the Navy and offered just under $3,000 per month as of January 1, 2015. This pay is augmented by situational considerations. If a chaplain is stationed in a war zone, hazardous duty pay may be added. Expensive areas garner a Cost of Living Allowance (COLA), for the duration of the orders. For married personnel, supplemental family pay is added.

The Navy has its own corps of medical and dental personnel to provide care, free of charge, to military personnel and their immediate families. Housing is also provided free of charge and, when it isn't available, extra pay is added to compensate for reasonable civilian accommodations. Meals are free to service members at every duty station, and you get 30 days of paid vacation per year. The Navy also offers low-cost life insurance, low-interest Veterans Affairs home loans and educational opportunities.

Training Requirements

Education and Commitment

Navy chaplains can choose to serve full-time through regular service or part-time through the reserves. Both options include an initial 84-day training period and an 8-year commitment, but the reserves only require you to serve two days per month and two weeks per year. You must have a graduate theologian degree to enter the service as a chaplain, but if you've begun your program and meet other qualification standards, the Navy may help fund your advanced degree. You must also have an ecclesiastical endorsement from an organization authorized by the Department of Defense.

When pursing the education necessary for this career, you may be tempted to seek a college that offers a Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) program; however, NROTC programs weren't created for chaplains and do not provide proper training for this career. Rather, these programs are designed specifically for people with nursing or warfare designation career goals, and you'd be better prepared for a career as a chaplain by attending a school that offers a theological program geared toward your personal faith.

Physical Factors

Age is a factor in this career choice. The age window is narrower for other career options in the Navy, but to become a chaplain you must be at least 21 years old but no older than 42 when you join. You will also need to meet physical and medical standards for entry as well as for periodic personnel reviews and advancement.

How to Stand Out in the Field

When considering an officer candidate, the Navy takes scholastic achievement into consideration. If you have a low grade point average you may be passed over in favor of someone who excelled. Since you'll be counseling and ministering to people of other faiths, you might also consider a well-rounded theological education that teaches the practices of many other religions in addition to your personal faith. Once you've been accepted, take advantage of the continuing education opportunities offered by the Navy, such as online study programs you can participate in while deployed at sea.

Alternative Career Paths

You may wish to become a chaplain but are not willing to make a commitment to the type of structured environment inherent in the military. Perhaps the military is right for you, but the educational qualifications are beyond your means. There are other options available in both military and civilian life.

Religious Program Specialist

If you want to support religion in the Navy, but you don't want to become an officer, consider becoming a religious program specialist. This is an enlisted job rather than an officer position. The religious program specialist is an all-around aide to the chaplain and even acts as a body guard. To perform this job, you must be willing to type, file, drive and shoot. You don't need a college degree for this position, though starting pay for a seaman recruit - the first enlisted rank in the Navy - is just under $1,500 per month, which is about half the salary of an officer or chaplain position. The benefits are the same as those accorded an officer.


If you want to care for the spiritual well-being of people, but the military doesn't work for you, you might consider a civilian post. This will also allow you to focus on your personal faith, which is particularly suitable if you have an issue counseling ministering to people of other faiths. The educational requirements are less strict than for those in the military, and most clergy men and women enter the profession with a bachelor's degree. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary of clergy people was around $44,000 as of May 2011, and jobs in this field were predicted to grow by 18% from 2010-2020.

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