The chaplaincy service within the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) should be disbanded, given the need for defense spending cuts, EDF commander Lieutenant General Martin Herem said Tuesday.
Lt. Gen. Herem said "If someone in the daily ministry needs Christian pastoral care, this will be arranged via local church. And if he or she belongs to another denomination, there is a coordinator for them, who will find the right church in time."
Lt. Gen. Herem made his remarks in the context of news that the EDF's orchestra may be facing either the axe, or amalgamation with the Police and Border Guard Board's orchestra, or being placed under the defense ministry or interior ministry's area of governance. This would lead to savings of €1.4 million in operating costs, including wage costs of professional musicians who make up the orchestra.
The EDF chief cited recent surveys of military personnel, which he says: "Show that there is a greater need for psychologists. There is also a need for chaplains, but that overlaps with the same issues that psychologists have."
From autumn, a pastoral coordinator will remain with the EDF full-time, with remaining staff being placed on reserve lists.
Both regular and reserve chaplains are set to meet to discuss the matter further, ERR's online news in Estonian reports.
One EDF chaplain, Lt. Col. Aleksander Sarapik, who is a reservist, says that the service is essential, noting that chaplains, commissioned officers who are available 24/7, sometimes receive: "Nocturnal phone calls - these are about taking one's own life, about other worries, such as death … a chaplain's readiness is what really guarantees morality, the will to protect. If we give this up, we have to think seriously about what we will need to compensate for this."
Lt. Col. Sarapik added that, unlike secular, civilian psychologists, chaplains were always with their unit.
"Often the work of a psychologist and the social assistance that the EDF provides via its social workers is still a response to what has already happened. A chaplain can always be with the unit, in fact, directly involved in the decision-making process," Lt. Col. Sarapik , who has 20 years' service with the EDF, added.
The chaplaincy service carries with it a particular significance in that it was restored in 1995, some years after the restoration of Estonian independence, following half-a-century of occupation by the avowedly atheist Soviet Union, and attendant conscription for men into the Soviet armed forces.
The EDF's chaplaincy service is divided into three branches, with 10 regular EDF chaplains, around 50 in reserve, plus those chaplains appended to the volunteer Defense League (Kaitseliit).
Lt. Col. Sarapik said disbanding the service had been discussed before, but abandoned without any further, major changes.
The government is looking to save around €10 million in defense spending, taken from operational costs rather than defense investments, which are to remain intact.
In addition to disbanding or merging the EDF orchestra, cutting the number of conscripts or even amending their status has also been suggested as possible savings measures.
Editor: Andrew Whyte