USAF JEWISH CHAPLAIN BADGE

Because of the relatively late arrival of the United States Air Force when compared the other branches of the armed services, the inclusion of faiths other than Christianity (Protestant and Catholic) in its chaplaincy was not a subject that generated as many questions as it had for the Army and Navy.

When the Navy approved its first Jewish rabbi in 1918, for instance, a debate quickly arose over what corps device he would wear instead of the Latin Cross that all Chaplains wore at the time. By the time that famed genealogist and rabbi Malcolm H. Stern enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1943 to serve as a Jewish Chaplain, on the other hand, the insignia for Jewish Chaplains had already been determined to be an image of the Tables of the Law surmounted by the Star of David. (Interestingly, the Jewish Chaplain device featured Roman numerals on the Tables until 1981, when they were changed to Hebrew numerals). Before leaving the service in 1946, Chaplain Stern had reached the rank of Captain.

In 1951, the Air Force became the first branch of the United States Armed Services to receive a rabbinic graduate of Yeshiva University as a chaplain through a “draft” system that the school said it had created to meet requests from different branches of the U.S. military. Michell Geller, a 25-year-old rabbit from Houston, Texas who was a member of the Rabbinic Alumni of Yeshiva University, was sworn in as an Air Force Chaplain First Lieutenant on March 22.

Another notable former member of the USAF Jewish Chaplaincy is Simeon Kobrinetz, who joined the service in the 1950s and eventually reached general officer rank before moving on to become director of the Chaplain Service at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Because of the small percentage of Airmen of the Jewish faith, there are currently fewer than ten rabbis serving as Jewish Chaplains. At Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska, for instance, a full quarter-century elapsed where the facility did not have a Jewish Chaplain.

Candidates hoping to serve as Jewish Chaplains must meet several requirements. Among the most notable of these are that they must not only be U.S. citizens, but also are not allowed to have dual citizenship. They also must be between the ages of eighteen and forth and be the recipient of an Ecclesiastical Endorsement for an endorser that is recognized by the Department of Defense.

Along with Aeronautical, Cyberspace, Space, and Missile Operations badges, the Jewish Chaplain badge is above all occupational and miscellaneous badges, and the Chaplain badge is worn in the highest position if authorized.
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