Chaplain Kit Development (1971)

Chaplains Go Mobile

By the Staff of the Chaplain Agency, U.S. Army Combat Developments Command. Soldiers, June 1971, pg 35.

From the days of Rogers’ Rangers to today’s ARVN advisors, American soldiers have worshiped God under the canopy of Heaven. For soldiers far from hometown church and city spire, rows of helmets become pews, tree stumps double as pulpits and the chapel is frequently a plot of ground where the action is. Here the chaplain and his enlisted assistant improvise facilities as best they can.

But they are not alone. Backing up their efforts, researchers at the Combat Development Command (CDC) Chaplain Agency at Fort Lee, VA., are developing equipment that will enable the chaplain to conduct services with all the essentials of a worshipful setting.

Chaplains in the 164 different type TOE Army field units are usually provided a jeep and trailer, tent, stove, field desk, typewriter, table and chair. They are also issued a chest for hymnbooks, a combat altar kit and a musical worship aid.

The chest has been used for many years for storage of hymnbooks and other ecclesiastical items needing protection from the elements.

Before the Korean War all necessary altar equipment was carried in a wooden case. This was later replaced by a metal case that is still being used by some chaplains.


“In the shadow of the guns, a chaplain celebrates mass with a combat kit and improvised altar.” (Photo by SP4 Jacob S. Hawes, Soldiers, June 1971).

Airborne and airmobile units, however, require a lightweight altar kit that can be strapped to the chaplain who jumps from aircraft. To meet this need a lightweight compact chaplain kit was developed. Made of weatherproof fabric and weighing only 6 pounds with all components, the kit meets minimum requirements for conducting worship services under all combat and field conditions. Both Protestant and Roman Catholic kits have the same carrying case.

The present combat altar kit, first made available in Vietnam in 1966, has been modified to reduce its cost without decreasing quality or seviceability. It features a shoulder strap, carrying handle and nylon mesh straps to secure it tightly and allow quick and easy access.

After many years of faithful performance, the portable pump organ has been replaced by an electric model. But in Vietnam, where chaplains usually travel by helicopter, transport and maintenance of the electric organ is difficult and qualified organists are seldom available. Because of many problems, no more electric organs are being acquired for field use.

Instead, portable tape recorders have been found to be more practical in the field. Currently, a commercial, off-the-shelf portable cassette tape recorder is being field tested. It costs less and is more easily maintained and operated than the electric organ. Under present plans a cassette recorder with recorded tapes will be issued to each chaplain rather than be carried as unit property.

The CDC Chaplain Agency is responsive to the suggestions of chaplains with troop units who evaluate field gear and suggest improvements. With the resulting lightweight and more readily transportable equipment, Army chaplains have better means to minister to soldiers in the field.

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