As submitted by Jessica K.
My husband attended CH-BOLC at Fort Jackson, SC January 06, 2008 – April 04, 2008. Overall, ours was a positive experience with the Chaplain School and Fort Jackson in general. My husband was in the National Guard at the time, but all Army components currently are sent to Fort Jackson for their Chaplain training, and they are building a larger Chaplain school in which Army, Navy, and Air Chaplains and Chaplain candidates will come together to train at Ft. Jackson.
In looking back, there are a few things my husband and I wish we had known before beginning CH-BOLC, and I’ll attempt to share these with you.
The first is that computers and printers are not “suggested” as they say, but truly necessary in order to get through your time at Ft. Jackson. You will have lots of projects and homework during your time there, and there are only 8 computers available for your use, and the computer lab closes at 4pm, while you won’t finish your training till 5 pm or later most days, making projects nearly impossible to complete using their computers. And then the main base library has computers, but keep in mind you have to compete with other soldiers trying to use them.
Second, it is imperative that you have your dress uniform bought and ready for inspection (complete with your unit patch, especially) prior to going to the final section of CH-BOLC, because you will be required to pass inspection on this in order to graduate. And the cadre will get out a measuring device to make sure all items are the exactly where they are supposed to be, or else you will have to go to a tailor to have it adjusted.
The third thing you should know, as a spouse, is that the final few days before graduation, they offer a spouse seminar (complete with daycare provided on base) that is very informative. They’ll teach you everything from acronyms to how to behave at formal functions, as well as giving you information on Army health care, who to call in emergency, dealing with deployments, etc. Plus the time is just great for meeting other Chaplain’s wives and forming lifelong friendships with those who have been in, and will be in, the same boat as you. I cannot stress the importance of taking time to attend this training enough.
The week of graduation, your spouse and you will be invited to his graduation banquet at the Officer’s Club on base. This is a semi-formal event, and will require that you wear something nice. This is your chance to play Cinderella, so enjoy it by finding a nice formal or semi-formal dress or at least some very nice evening wear. If you bring a church dress, you will feel slightly underdressed, and if you bring a ball gown, you may feel slightly overdressed, something in-between is perfect, but no one is going to look down on you whatever you choose to wear as long as it is fashionably modest. Don’t worry about feeling lost, if you’ve attended the spouse training, you will learn everything you need to know about protocol at formal affairs in the Army, so just plan to enjoy yourself!
Summer CH-BOLC is the fullest class, and apparently it is very, very hot [over 100 at times] and humid during the summer there, so you will likely be happier doing your time in the fall or spring at Ft. Jackson. The weather was 65-75 degrees almost every day from January through April, so it was a great time to be there!
One other thing that we found essential to dh’s success was that he chose to do CH-BOLC all at once. It is divided into 4 sections, the first section being the longest (4 weeks), and some people choose to do a little at a time, which works for them, but we found that doing the whole 13 weeks at once was much more beneficial. Will you get the same training if you split it up? Sure, but you won’t form the friendships that you would have if you had chosen to do it straight through. There was a sense of camaraderie that only comes through 3 months straight of bonding. It was of course difficult to be without my husband for 13 weeks, but I was able to visit one weekend a month at least, and spent the whole final week with dh as well, and that made it easier. Columbia airport is quite nice, and there’s a children’s museum and zoo right there in Columbia, as well as several bowling alleys and even a water park on base, so I encourage you to visit on weekends when you can! You will be allowed to stay with your spouse in his room, which is a tiny apartment, basically. It has a separate bedroom and sitting room, bathroom, and small furnished kitchen. If you are looking to save yourself some money, you can cook in the room, but be warned that the pots and pans are small, and you may wish to bring some of your favorite utensils to make cooking a little easier. Most rooms have ovens, too, but not all, and you won’t know which one your husband gets till he arrives, so ask him what is available to you before you make your trip.
We were so glad that my husband chose to attend CH-BOLC early in his career as a Chaplain Candidate, because he learned many valuable skills that he was able to take back to his unit. For example, he learned how to do a military memorial service, and a few months after returning from Ft. Jackson, he was asked to perform one; so if you can find it in your schedule, you should do CH-BOLC as soon as possible, you will be a better Chaplain because of it!
While Phase 0 (CIMT) is pretty restricted and you can’t leave for any reason during that phase, it passes quickly, and once you move on to phase 1, the homework lightens up, you’re allowed to grow your hair back out to a reasonable length [i.e. “high and tight”], and you can finally get off-base to go check out the scenery in Columbia! There are some great restaurants and shopping in the area, so it’s good to get out a little and explore. Grab a buddy and head for a civilian church service, too! We found a lovely little Baptist church just outside the gates which was totally military friendly and were of great support to dh and I when I had my miscarriage. It was horrific in every way, but I know that because of our faith, my own wonderful support system at home, and dh’s friends at the Chaplain school and off-base church, we were able to get through this. At the same time as my miscarriage dh was sent to the hospital for chest pains which ended up just being severe allergy-induced asthma, but it was very difficult being apart from one another with both of us sick. So I feel I should warn you that spring in South Carolina finds you with pollen coating your car and your allergies going nuts, so even if you don’t have a severe history of allergies, be prepared to deal with them. Our experience at Ft. Jackson, and dealing with tragedy during his time there allowed us to feel better prepared for deployment in the future, which was helpful for both of us, and I truly wouldn’t trade our time there for anything in the world. After my miscarriage, my husband was able to get special permission to have me stay with him for the entire final week before graduation, and they even let me attend classes with him (they were being trained on how to teach marriage enrichment seminars), but if you want to visit any time other than the weekends, you should have a valid reason and you’ll need to get special permission from the Commandant of the Chaplain School, so keep that in mind before making any reservations.
Communication is easy to come by if you bring your cell phone and computer, and we were able to talk every evening with the exception of two four-day stints where all the Chaplains were doing field exercises. We just used the cell phone till it died during those nights, b/c there wasn’t any place to plug it in, and it wasn’t too bad. Evenings and weekends are mostly free time after the first phase [with the exception of “surprise” homework assignments given on Fridays], so that helped us to have some time to keep in touch. Having a vehicle was really important, too, and I highly recommend that you bring yours with you. Mail was slow and we had trouble with on-base UPS deliveries, so you may wish to consider setting up a PO Box at the UPS store just off-base. We really enjoyed the experience of CH-BOLC despite the distance between us, so I encourage you to find out everything you can to prepare yourself, and then just look at it as an adventure! Life in the military is what you make it, and you can either be a blessing or a hindrance to your husband’s career, so do your best to make the most out of every experience, including this one.
If you go to Ft. Jackson’s website and look up the Chaplain School, you can find out the official list of what you need to bring and what you can and cannot do while there. We had to search it out for ourselves, but that page held everything important we needed to know about Ft. Jackson and CH-BOLC. I wish you the best at Ft. Jackson and truly hope you enjoy the experience as much as we did!