I have been in the Navy Chaplain Corps for about 2 years now and I have come to some conclusions. One is that the chaplaincy is not like being a pastor. I don't think that anyone in the Chaplain Corps would say that being a chaplain and being a pastor are the same things, but the DOD says that 2 years of ministry experience (more than likely in a church) are needed before you can apply to be an active duty chaplain. My experience is that 2 years working in a church hardly prepares you for life as a chaplain.
In my experience (which again is limited) there are two lives for chaplains, your deployed life and your not deployed life. First the deployed life.
When you are deployed as a chaplain you experience the closest thing to being a pastor that you ever will as a chaplain. You have a certain group of Sailors or Marines in your care for an extended period of time (sometimes 6 months, most of the time 7 months, and maybe even up to a year). But even this situation is miles away from being a pastor. When you are deployed as a chaplain you live with all the people that you are ministering to, even those that don't want you there. You are a pastor to the people who view the church as an intricate part of their lives. You are a counselor to those who happen to go through difficult life situations during the deployment. You are an advisor to the command when situations arise that involve religion, ethics, morals....... And you are a waste of space to some people. It is funny you hear things like "why are you here?", "you don't even stand a watch", "you only help those people who are weak." This is as close as it gets to being a pastor.
Second, not deployed life. When you are not deployed you basically become a counselor. I have five ships that I cover with about 1500 Sailors total and my role is a first line counselor for these Sailors. These counseling sessions range from "I'm stressed out" to "I'm being abused" to "I think my marriage is over" and on and on. There are no sermons to give, no bible studies to run, maybe a change of command ceremony to pray at, or a retirement or two, but mainly it is counseling. Alot of counseling.
Now I felt called into the Chaplaincy since my junior year of college so I have had a while to prepare. Part of that preparation was to get in contact with as many chaplains as I could and to ask them what things they wish they would have known about before they entered the Chaplaincy. Every single chaplain I talked to said they wished they had more counseling training, so I took this information and tailored my Masters of Divinity to include as much counseling classes as possible. This has been a tremendous asset for me in the past two years and I imagine it will continue to be an asset as I move forward in my Navy career.
But because the Chaplaincy is so unique and different from the pastorate, I will more than likely (Lord willing) leave active duty Navy chaplain work after 9 or 10 years. My dreams are to eventually have a group of people that I can lead not just for months at a time but for years at a time.
So if you are thinking about the Chaplaincy or just interested in what we do, realize that it is not the same as being a pastor. No matter what anyone says.
Chaplain but pastor at heart.