Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Thomas Solhjem, the U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains, speaks to guests during the Torah scroll dedication ceremony at Fort Bliss, Texas, April 26, 2021. “Thanks to everyone who made this a reality,” said Solhjem. “We have been together since our founding. Jewish people have committed to the founding of our country, yet they were not always received and welcomed. Today’s Army is something much different.” | Photo By David Poe
The Army’s top chaplain joined the Fort Bliss Religious Support Office, the Jewish worship community at Fort Bliss and El Paso, and distinguished guests for a traditional dedication of the Torah scroll at Fort Bliss, Texas, April 26, 2021.
Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Thomas Solhjem, the U.S. Army’s Chief of Chaplains, and Sgt. Maj. Ralph Martinez, the U.S. Army Chaplains Corps’ regimental sergeant major, joined the Bliss RSO and unit ministry teams from across the installation as they gathered before installing the Torah in a face-lifted Chapel 3, the synagogue at Fort Bliss.
With many distinguished guests in attendance, Solhjem said he appreciated the engaged show of support for the RSO and the people who made the revitalization of Chapel 3 a success.
“As the chief of chaplains, I have two priorities and I’m a very simple man,” said Solhjem. “They are ‘people,’ we put our people first, and it’s all about ‘community,’ and what is a strong and healthy community? I think we’re seeing the essence of that here this evening as an element–a critical element in the founding of our nation is the diversity that we see in our faith communities. The inclusivity of our faith and beliefs are represented in the military by the chaplains who serve this great Army and by the communities that gather within our Army family.”
The dedication of the Torah scroll, the installation’s first in 20 years, marked the end of a three-month grassroots renovation progress for the synagogue, located at 1441 Pershing Road on west Bliss.
“Thanks to everyone who made this a reality,” said Solhjem. “We have been together since our founding. Jewish people have committed to the founding of our country, yet they were not always received and welcomed. Today’s Army is something much different. Across the Army at all three ‘compos,’ active, guard, and reserve, we have three-dozen Jewish rabbis who serve our military family, the Jewish community, and the Soldiers, the men and women, who wear the uniform of this country.”
In transit to Chapel 3, the procession stopped for Col. Stu James, the Bliss garrison commander, and 1st Lt. Scott Klein, the Bliss Jewish distinctive religious group leader, to light the new menorah, a permanent fixture along Cassidy Road at Chapel 3.
The festivities were drawn-down in respect for social distancing during the continuing Covid-19 pandemic with only invited guests asked to enter the synagogue for the service. Soldiers from the Bliss RSO live casted the event on Facebook, as well as hosted the event for a slew of distinguished visitors. Performers from the 1st Armored Division Band were on-hand for musical accompaniment for the outdoor part of the program.
Before transporting the Torah scroll from the Field of Honor to its permanent home in Chapel 3, Klein said he was “in awe” to see the show of support for something he holds dear–his faith.
“Wherever I’ve been in my short Army career,” Klein said, “I’ve been asked to share some of the Jewish education and the values that have been a part of my core. I’m beyond grateful for the RSO’s support in my role, as every chaplain, every [enlisted religious affairs specialist], every individual on this installation bent over backward to make this the inclusive environment that makes Fort Bliss so special.”
Klein, a 647th Regional Support Group Soldier, said when he received one-year orders to the Bliss mobilization brigade, he assumed he would be called upon again to offer religious support services for his unit and the deploying Reserve units they’re supporting during their time at Bliss, but with the work at Chapel 3, he’s welcomed the opportunity to serve the entire Bliss community.
“This isn’t just about the massive improvements being made [at Chapel 3], tonight, I want to highlight what they represent and the community that is being built,” Klein said. “We’re celebrating a revival of Jewish life on this installation. Spiritual health is crucial to all Soldiers and mission success. We’re building a foundation here for spiritual readiness that allows us to be successful on the battlefield or at home.”
Chapel 3 is open Friday evenings for Shabbat at 7 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. Torah study, as well as most Jewish holidays. For more information on worship services at Bliss and more, click here.