A Pittsburgh mohel recently has set sail on a new mission: bringing God to soldiers and soldiers to God as a chaplain with the U.S. military.
Rabbi Elisar Admon graduated Sept. 3 from the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School at Fort Jackson after taking part in an extremely thorough, eight-week training program at the South Carolina fort. In recent years, Admon has performed brit milah on young Jewish boys throughout Western Pennsylvania. He started his path toward military service last year in November.
Though Admon’s — and his peers’ — job after the COVID-abbreviated training is to counsel soldiers about their faith and religious beliefs, the group was treated no differently than other new officers who required training, he said.
“They treat you like a private,” said Admon, who was born in Israel and became an American citizen in 2017. “They teach you how to march, how to stand in all of the positions, how to talk — all the basics of the Army.”
Most days started with drills at 4:30 a.m. and extended with classes past 6 p.m.
“They wanted us to know what our soldiers are doing during this time,” Admon said. “It was hard. We saw some long days.”
On paper, the Chaplain Basic Officer Leader Course, as it is known formally, aims “to produce religious leaders that advise commanders, provide targeted integrated religious support to the Army family by demonstrating the core competencies to nurture the living, care for the wounded, and honor the fallen,” said Maj. Lou Foyou, a chaplain and the program’s course manager.
Additionally, the newly commissioned chaplains train in the fundamental skills required of troops — establishing a foundation in leadership, physical fitness, mental toughness and tactical and technical proficiency.
“The strength of the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps is our diversity,” Foyou said. “Rabbi Admon, while attending CHBOLC this summer, shared a valuable lesson to his classmates on how to provide religious support across a diverse/pluralistic environment. His action embodies the essential values of the Chaplain Corps.”
Admon’s graduating class was approximately 75 religious figures strong, with chaplains representing multiple faiths. He said he was one of only a few rabbis. Nobody else in his class — which was tightknit, in part because of the COVID-19 circumstances under which it operated — hailed from Pittsburgh or the Greater Pittsburgh area, Admon said.
Now comes the work.
Admon has been attached with the U.S. Army Reserves at the 316th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) in Coraopolis, part of a unit that counts among them some 9,000 officers and civilians, and reports up to Brig. Gen. L. Scott Linton, a New York native with a lengthy resume.
Admon is one of the three chaplains serving the 316th. As a member of the U.S. Army Reserves, he expects to serve at least one weekend each month and two weeks at the end of the year.
“It’s a good opportunity and it’s a good experience — I love it,” Admon told the Chronicle. “As a U.S. Army chaplain, I feel it: a mission to serve here, to help here — and not just Jews. We have the opportunity to help.” PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.