MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- A pastor stands in front of his congregation and gives them words of wisdom and inspiration. He’s dressed in camouflage and dirt from the field like the rest of his flock. Armed with nothing more than a Bible, he’s walked the desert with his Marines and sailors.
He chose the life of ministry and military and they call him chaplain.
Today’s chaplains like yesterday’s can be found in the field with their fellow service members or wherever else they may be called to serve. They serve in several different capacities, but the most fulfilling will always be found standing next to Marines and sailors as they prepare to step into combat.
"There is no greater place than to be here with the men and women who are making it happen, who are providing freedom for our country and other countries," said Lt. Robert B. Wills, 1st Tank Battalion chaplain. "There is no other better place to minister."
Wills deployed with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, from July 2005 to January 2006 and described it as the most rewarding ministry he ever had.
"Being on the front lines, I get to face life and death with the men,” he said. “I get to hear them talk about their experience and share with them about Christ and what God can do for us. When you face life and death with the men and you get to minister to them, the color of the carpet at church really is unimportant."
When Lt. Matthew S. Weems, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, chaplain, deployed with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, from January to July 2005, he spent his time riding in convoys and going on patrols alongside the infantry. Being on the front lines with infantry Marines can be difficult, but it was one of the most rewarding experiences, he said.
"I want to be with them wherever they are at," said Weems. "I know I am a non-combatant, but I wanted to be out when the young guys are doing the unexpected."
Many chaplains who join the military ranks do so for the ability to help their fellow service members maintain their spiritual strength and welfare. They value the courageous will of Marines and sailors on the front lines to defend the freedom of others and strive to aid them in their morale.
"A chaplain is defined more for who they are than for what they do," said Cmdr. Thomas P. Hall, Catholic chaplain. "There is a great symbolic value attached to the Chaplain Corps that is often overlooked. Just as the U.S. flag represents the highest aspirations of our nation, the mere presence of the chaplain reminds us of our freedom of thought, our freedom of conscience as individuals and as a people. When a Marine gives their life on the battlefield it is for the highest principles represented by the U.S. flag as well as those represented by the Chaplain Corps."
Unfortunately, a stigma keeps some Marines and sailors from seeking the help of a chaplain when they most desperately need it.
"People have sometimes been afraid to see a chaplain because they would feel repercussions in their career," said Lt. Cmdr. Emile G. Moured, deputy director of Religious Ministries Directorate. "There is a stigma, if you’re going to see the chaplain you must be mentally unstable, and if you’re mentally unstable, you’re unfit for command."
Though some will disagree, even Marines are human. Everyone faces difficulties, whether civilian or military, and they all have the same inefficiencies and the same frustrations.
"The Marines are a notch above everybody else in that they are committed to certain values and principles, and they’ve gone through training that no one else has gone through," said Moured. "But the reality is, we are human beings. Sometimes it’s joyful, sometimes it’s frustrating."
Even counselors need counseling sometimes. Life isn’t selective; it affects everybody all the time.
"Even chaplains are affected by small problems, we’re human too," said Lt. Karen J. Rector, Headquarters Battalion chaplain. "Life comes at everybody like a freight train."
But this stigma couldn’t be further from the truth. Chaplains want to assist in whatever capacity they are able in order to help the service member find answers to their problems.
"I have always made it clear that whatever is shared with me as a chaplain never leaves the confines of my office," said Hall. "I think that this is clear in the mind of any Marine or sailor who has ever come to me."
From the chaplains on the front lines to the office, they care about Marines’ and sailors’ problems. Whether too hot to handle or too cold to hold, they want to help every service member to be in control.