Preparing to Heal Soldiers’ Spiritual Wounds
PROVO, Utah – Oct 19, 2022 – Despite knowing almost nothing about the military, Chaim Zuniga followed a prompting and joined BYU’s Army ROTC program, which is hosted through the BYU Marriott School of Business. Now, Zuniga—who credits God for his life’s direction—plans to become a United States Army chaplain so he can help others spiritually.
Chaplaincy has not always been the plan for Zuniga, who is an economics senior from Gilbert, Arizona. Entering college, he envisioned himself pursuing government or politics, but one semester into BYU, Zuniga had an out-of-the-blue feeling to explore the university’s ROTC program. However, after participating for only one semester, Zuniga changed his mind. About a year later, he married his wife, Madeline, and impressions to consider the ROTC program returned. The couple prayerfully decided that the military was indeed the right path, and Zuniga recommitted to the program.
“The ROTC program has shaped my life in a humbling way,” Zuniga says. "I don’t see the full picture, but being a cadet gives me the opportunity to follow step-by-step what God wants for me and my family.”
Family and spirituality have always been high priorities for Zuniga. Growing up, he was known by his friends as a spiritual person; Zuniga recalls spending time with those who struggled with emotional and spiritual confidence. These experiences led him to explore the field of chaplaincy.
“An Army chaplain acts as an ethical and spiritual guide for soldiers of all faiths,” he says. Furthermore, chaplains assist soldiers with relationship issues through counseling. “The mark of a good chaplain is not how well he connects to the spiritually strong but to the spiritually weak,” Zuniga continues. “Nothing invigorates me as much as helping people develop spiritually.”
Similarly, Zuniga’s fellow cadets have greatly strengthened him. “The best part of ROTC is being surrounded by excellent people,” he says. “They set high standards and give me something to aim for.” Zuniga explains that his peers' example stretches him and elevates his character. “The people in ROTC are the type of people I want to be like. They have their lives together and are smart, physically fit, and attentive to their spirituality and the needs of their family,” says Zuniga. “That is what kept me invested in the program.”
Last year, Zuniga’s diligence and high aim led him to receive an impressive distinction. Among all the battalion’s cadets in Zuniga’s school class, coming from companies at BYU, Utah Valley University, and Southern Utah University, he was ranked third. Zuniga considers the ranking his biggest career accomplishment so far.
Although Zuniga enjoys connecting with his peers and teaching spiritual lessons, becoming a chaplain has rigid qualifications. In addition to two years of ministerial work, which Zuniga fulfilled by serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Maryland Baltimore Mission, a master’s degree is also required. Zuniga says he is seriously considering BYU’s chaplaincy program to reach his goals.
Additionally, Zuniga explains that his current studies at BYU are preparing him well for chaplaincy. Since he is also minoring in modern Hebrew, Zuniga is excited to use his skills to begin studying the Bible in its original language. “Even the minimal amount of Biblical Hebrew that I know has transformed the way I think about the scriptures,” he says. “This new approach will make a big impact in my chaplaincy career.”
Another way Zuniga has developed his skills at BYU is by participating in Model United Nations (MUN), an experiential course hosted by BYU’s Kennedy Center where students participate in mock United Nations conferences with students around the world. He has attended four conferences and guided other students on the team as a TA. Zuniga says MUN helps him refine skills he will need as a chaplain, including leadership, public speaking, and connecting with others.
After “wrestling” with many career options in the Army, Zuniga says that being a chaplain will best suit his skill set and allow him to touch countless lives. “Chaplaincy wasn’t necessarily part of the plan,” Zuniga says, “but this is what I was meant to do.”
Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Jaden McQuivey