BISMARCK For the first time in more than 15 years, all eight of the North Dakota Army National Guard's Chaplain Corps' chaplain positions have been filled, bolstering the spiritual and religious support available to soldiers and their families across the state.
The N.D. Army National Guard on April 17 celebrated a special event and reached the significant milestone within its Chaplain Corps prior to the Easter weekend.
Yacob Makonnen was promoted to captain and appointed to the remaining, vacant chaplain position in the N.D. Army National Guard in front of family, friends, and fellow Guard members during the ceremony at the Raymond J. Bohn Armory in Bismarck.
"This is a great day for our 'Guard Family,' and I am proud of Chaplain Makonnen's willingness to volunteer to serve our National Guard," said Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota adjutant general. "The Army Guard's chaplaincy is entrusted with the spiritual needs of more than 3,250 soldiers across our state. Chaplains, truly a force multiplier, are critical to the well-being of our Guard members and their families as they participate in missions within their communities and around the globe"
Makonnen began his training for the chaplaincy by serving as a chaplain candidate in the N.D. Army National Guard in 2009. Chaplain candidates train under the supervision of a chaplain prior to attending the Chaplain Basic Officers Leadership Course in Fort Jackson, S.C. While there, chaplain candidates are introduced to a number of military skills, including map reading, military customs and courtesies, operations in field conditions and combat survival. They also learn their Army chaplain-specific duties during the 12-week course.
"I am honored and thankful for the amazing opportunities I've had to connect with soldiers," Makonnen said. "I really look forward to being there for them and helping support their families. We (in the chaplaincy) always talk about 'ministry of presence.' I think that's important, just for soldiers to know that their chaplain is there and fully accessible."
In addition to military training, chaplains also must fulfill civilian education requirements, including a secondary education degree from an accredited seminary or theological school. Chaplain candidates also must receive ecclesiastical approval from their faith communities.
Makonnen, who is an ordained Baptist minister, holds a master of divinity degree from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. He recently has served as a chaplain candidate with the Fargo-based 141st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade. He now is assigned as the chaplain for the Bismarck-based 68th Troop Command. He and his wife, Kim, both originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, currently live in Fargo.
The National Guard chaplaincy provides religious support to soldiers and their families and assists commanders in ensuring the right of free exercise of religion for all their members. While providing pastoral care and counseling to Guard members and their families, chaplains also advise the commanders and staff on matters pertaining to religion, morals and morale.
According to the U.S. Army website, since July 29, 1775, "approximately 25,000 Army chaplains have served as religious and spiritual leaders for 25 million soldiers and their families."