For Salvation Army officer (minister) and Defence Force Chaplain, Major Brad Watson, his calling to serve others remains the same regardless of which uniform he is wearing.
Why did you decide to become a Defence Force Chaplain, and what process did you have to go through?
The initial impetus came through a free feed! My father-in-law was The Salvation Army’s acting divisional commander in South Australia and was asked to a dinner to celebrate Army Chaplains—on the condition he brought a potential chaplain with him. I went along and the rest is history.
Obviously there was a bit more to it than that. My father had done national service and my brother is in the Army Aviation Corps, so we have a strong history with the Army. Chaplaincy provided me an opportunity to serve in another environment.
The process was a long one. Once you apply and establish your credentials (degrees, experience, etc.) there are aptitude, medical, fitness and psychological tests, and then you sit before an Officer Selection Board. You must also be endorsed by your denomination and subsequently the Religious Advisory Council to the Services.
What does an average day for a Defence Force Chaplain look like?
It varies, depending on the unit that you are posted to. I find that each day there is always something different.
Typically after a bit of PT (the gym) and logging in to check emails, I would concentrate on either following up pastoral contacts or starting a round of visits to each part of the unit. The role of the chaplain is quite diverse and includes training or instruction, such as leading sessions on suicide prevention or alcohol use, religious ceremonies, memorials, Anzac Day and other civic observances, pastoral care, welfare and personnel advice to command, and participation in as many unit activities as possible.
This year I have been out camping with the cadets at some spectacular parts of Tasmania, and it’s in these environments that the most amazing pastoral conversations can often occur. I was also recently privileged to lead a church parade for one of our of our hospital units. This year I’ve also conducted a wedding and a funeral.
How do defence force personnel generally respond to you as a chaplain?
The ‘Padre’ is well respected in the defence force, and we don’t take this for granted. It’s due to those who have gone before us and proven their worth to the units they have served and this reputation is only as good as the next pastoral incident that we are involved in.
I often find that we are the ‘safe’ person. In many ways I am outside the chain of command, which means that service personnel can talk to me with a sense of safety.
How do you engage with people of a different faith, or no faith at all, in your role?
People with no faith will often have a joke with us, and they will typically refer to us as the ‘skypilots’ or the ‘God botherers’. Still, they will seek us out for welfare matters or for a listening ear, and our pastoral contact with them is no different to anyone else. Frankly, they are often the first to defend our involvement in ceremonial days and expect us to say grace at the regimental dinner. They are also the first that will clip a recruit around the ear if they swear near us, or seem not to show respect.
I have had good contact with people of other faiths, and as above, the pastoral contact is no different. The only real difference is that I would facilitate a cleric from their own faith if they wanted any rites or ceremonies performed.
You’re currently divisional public relations secretary for the Salvos, but you’ve got a great deal of experience as a corps officer. How does this influence the way you approach being a chaplain?
To me there is little difference between corps officership and chaplaincy, except that in the corps (church) I had a lot more administration. The basics of being present in the community, providing pastoral care, representing people as advocate and support, providing feedback to leadership and being Christ in the world are all the same.