Each year, we observe Veterans Day on Nov. 11.

The tradition dates to a break in fighting during World War I on “the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month,” or Nov. 11, 1918.

A year later, President Woodrow Wilson instituted Armistice Day, which would become our current observance of Veterans Day.

“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the council of nations.”

Over time, Veterans Day has encompassed reflection on the sacrifices that come with service to the U.S. Armed Forces.

Roughly 0.4 percent of the U.S. population, or 1.3 million, are active duty members of the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. Another 1.1 million serve the National Guard and Reserves.

For many, this service is tied to personal and community religious beliefs and matters of faith.

The U.S. military strives to ensure all service members can select and practice their specific religious affiliation. It is one way we can honor the long hours, time away from family, physical demands, exposure to mortal danger and other sacrifices that accompany military service.

To that end, the Department of Defense now recognizes 216 different religious affiliations.

The changes reflect a growing desire among some who want to be clearer — and more transparent — about their religious beliefs. Such shifts in demographic reporting among military personnel mirror societal trends.

This includes expansion of military accommodations for a growing list of religions.

For example, the list of recognized groups added by the DoD this year run the gamut, from the Independent Baptist Bible Mission to Sikhs to Ohio Yearly Meeting of Friends.

Responsibility for managing and accommodating religious diversity in the military falls under the purview of the Chaplain Corps.

While chaplains adhere to their individual faith traditions, they become conversant in a variety of other belief systems. The military standard is essentially to build chaplains’ religious literacy and understanding without compromising their own beliefs.

In navigating religious diversity, chaplains walk a fine line, writes Kim Philip Hansen in the book “Military Chaplains and Religious Diversity.” Chaplains are public employees “in a country that separates church and state,” where “constitutional concerns frame everything they do.”

Religious accommodations for soldiers often focus on religious services, faith-related food requirements and providing religious texts. Chaplains also ensure wounded soldiers and casualties are handled according to individual religious traditions. Some religious also require exceptions to military uniform policies.

“Culturally, the military chaplaincy raises questions about who we are as Americans and about some of our most cherished values,” Hansen explains. “We think of ourselves as tolerant and inclusive people, committed to freedom and fairness. We don’t just take note of religious diversity as a demographic fact; we embrace and celebrate it — in principle. Chaplains are tasked with translating this principle into practice in a very specific, institutional context — to take what’s written in the constitution and in memoranda from the Pentagon and make it come alive on aircraft carriers, in war zones and in base chapels.

Golden writes the Courier’s weekly faith and values column. Email her at onfaith@karrisgolden.com.


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