When it comes to providing guidance for troops on the front lines, perhaps few people are in as good a position to help as the chaplains.
And with the special operations community finding itself stressed and in the midst of several scandals after nearly 18 years of continuous deployment, U.S. Special Operations Command is looking to find additional ways for those men and women of faith to help get its operators back on track.
The command, based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, has put out the call for an ethics guide for its special operations chaplains, according to Navy Lt. Phillip Chitty, a spokesman for SOCOM.
SOCOM posted an announcement on Aug. 2 that it intends to “negotiate and award a sole source” contract with Merit Leadership, Inc. The notice was published on the government’s business opportunities site known as FedBizOpps.
Details about the contents of the chaplain field guide are scant. Military Times reached out to Merit Leadership and have yet to receive a response.
The company produces The Business Ethics Field Guide, which its website describes as providing leaders “the ability to clarify individual and organizational values and to find a way forward when these values conflict.”
In addition to several scandals in the SEAL and Green Beret communities, suicides across the SOCOM community nearly tripled in 2018 when compared to the previous year. There were 22 suicides in 2018, and eight deaths by suicide in 2017 across special operations units, according to data provided by SOCOM. There have been 11 so far this year as of Aug. 16.
According to SOCOM, its chaplains can play a special role in suicide prevention. SOCOM noted a recent DoD study that found service members often take personal issues to chaplains, partly because those conversations are kept confidential.
Chaplains can be a resource, among others, for special operators to discuss issues without fear it could damage their careers.
Military chaplains can also be used to advise on ethical decision’s made during conflict.
Chaplains are identified as protected personnel and are considered noncombatants, according to the Geneva Convention.
While they cannot actively engage in hostilities or intelligence gathering, chaplains can be used to advise commands and troops on the “ethical, moral, and religious dimensions” of a decision to strike a particular target, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff publication on religious affairs in joint operations.
But, SOF has also been spotlighted for recent misconduct and shenanigans. In July, Navy Times reported that a SEAL Team 7 platoon was booted from Iraq due to a July 4th party involving alcohol. Navy Times also reported that SEAL Team 10 had been investigated for drug related incidents and fraudulent drug tests.
Prosecutors also say a pair of Navy SEALs are linked to the June 4, 2017, death of Army Special Forces Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar at his residence in Bamako, Mali.
Throughout August, admirals have dismissed five prosecutions involving SEALs linked to either war crimes or their cover up in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the botched court-martial of Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher.
A military panel of his peers cleared the SEAL of murdering an Islamic State prisoner of war, obstruction of justice and other serious specifications, finding him guilty only of the minor charge of posing with the dead detainee’s body.
There was also trouble in the ranks of Army Special Forces.
A former 7th Special Forces Group soldier and a West Virginia National Guard Special Forces soldier pleaded guilty Dec. 21 and Dec. 17, respectively, to two federal charges each of conspiracy to traffic cocaine, according to court documents and a release from the Justice Department.
Former Master Sgt. Daniel Gould, 36, and Sgt. 1st Class Henry Royer, 35, had planned to smuggle 90 pounds of cocaine ― about $1 million worth ― on a military transport plane from Colombia to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, according to federal court documents.
In the wake of these scandals, SOCOM commander Army Gen. Richard Clarke ordered another review into the the command’s culture and ethics. And Naval Special Warfare commander Rear Adm. Collin Green recently issued a four-page “back to basics” directive for SEALs and specials operations boat crews designed to shore up shoddy conduct, restore moral accountability and create better leaders.
Chitty said the SOCOM chaplain’s office "has been working over the past year " to create a “pragmatic field ethics guide” for its chaplains.
Chitty said there is no publish date yet for the ethics guide.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.