The position of Chaplain Assistant was officially established by General Orders No. 523 issued December 28, 1909, which specified that the commander of any organization with a chaplain assigned to duty would detail “one enlisted man” to “[assist] the chaplain in the performance of his official duties.”

While soldiers selected for the position were required to display high moral character, there were no other mandated skill sets or qualifications necessary to be given the assignment, and a soldier assigned this duty became little more than a “Man Friday” who helped out as best he could by serving as a clerk, caring for the Chaplaincy’s official property and equipment, and assisting in the organization and delivery of religious, educational, and entertainment programs.

On more than one occasion, the Chief of the Chaplain Corps pushed for the Secretary of War to create an institutional training program to educate a cadre of assistants equipped with skills that would help the Corps achieve its various goals. But it was only during the Korean War that steps were taken to make the Chaplain Assistant position a true occupational specialty with its own MOS (71B), albeit with a rudimentary training regimen. Drawing on volunteers who had already completed Army Basic Training as well as over two months of Advanced Individual Training as Clerk Typists, the Army sent potential Chaplain Assistants to Fort Dix and Fort Ord where they could learn Chaplain-specific functions, duties, and missions.

Related Chaplain Corps Items
Chaplain Corps Collar Devices

In 1965, Chaplain Assistants were redesignated 71M and the MOS was given a job description with specific skill requirements; several years later the MOS was incorporated into the Non-Commissioned Officer Education System. 1974 marked the year the Army created the Unit Ministry Team, which paired a Chaplain Assistant with a Chaplain to not only assist in the delivery of Chaplaincy services such as conducting religious observances and practices, but also serve as “force protection" for the Chaplain, who is a non-combatant and cannot carry any type of weapon even for self-defense.

The MOS was changed to the current designation of 56M in 2001.

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