Navy Capt. Tremblay's Prodigal Son Route To Chaplain
by U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Francesca Landis
“In the Bible there is a story called “The Parable of the
Prodigal Son”, a fall from grace only to be welcomed back into your
father’s arms, no questions asked, this is what becoming a chaplain
was like for me,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Paul Tremblay, the III Marine
Expeditionary Force Chaplain.
U.S. Navy Capt. Paul Tremblay, III Marine Expeditionary Force Chaplain at the III MEF Chaplain office, Camp Courtney, Japan on May 5, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Francesca Landis)
In 1978, Tremblay’s third oldest sibling out of 15, John, came
back home from four years in the Coast Guard with a newly developed
faith in Pentecostal Christianity.
Eager to share the impact
his new beliefs had on him, John soon inspired 12 out of his 15
siblings to join him in the faith, including Capt. Tremblay.
Tremblay flourished in
his new found beliefs until his freshmen year of high school, when
he fell in love with the rush and excitement he found in long
For the next three years of high school,
running became his life; and faith faded out of it.
a hiatus from God, and from the church for about five years,” said
Tremblay. “I ended up dropping out of high school my senior year. I
just wanted to do my own thing.”
By dropping out, he also
turned down an opportunity to go to college with a full ride track
scholarship. He chose instead to start working construction,
building houses with his brother-in-law until one hot, sunny day in
June when he stumbled upon a Navy recruiter’s office.
Between dropping out of high school, fighting with his father at
home and just feeling like he needed to get away, the military
suddenly seemed like an excellent idea.
“June 5 of 1986 I
walked in the recruiter’s office,” explained Tremblay. “Didn’t know
anything about the Navy, didn’t know anything about the military and
by June 8, I was in boot camp.”
A few short months later,
Tremblay was officially a Stinger Missile Operator in the Navy and
left for an overseas deployment.
Over the next few years
Tremblay became engulfed in military life. He described himself as
living the epitome of the single enlisted guy life, enjoying
whatever the world had to offer.
“Ya know, I tell this
story,” said Tremblay. “And all the stuff that I counsel Marines and
Sailors on now, I lived it out for years. Kind of like the prodigal
But even then, he felt a higher calling. An
opportunity opened for Tremblay to go into a new specialty, which
led him to work at Naval Air Station Brunswick, two hours from the
small town of Sturbridge, Massachusetts, where he grew up.
Being stationed so close to home, Trembley would make regular
weekend trips to see his family, which he had grown to miss terribly
over the years of being away.
One Sunday night, after a long
day of playing basketball, Tremblay, very sweaty and in desperate
need of a shower, was packing up to head back to base when his
sister, Susan, rolled by with her two little twin daughters on their
way to church, explained Tremblay.
Jessie, one of the twins,
excited to see her uncle asked loudly from the back seat of the car,
“Uncle Paul, you wanna go to church with us?”
declined and got in his car, fully believing he was heading back to
base, when suddenly he found himself driving in the opposite
direction – towards the church.
“I look back in retrospect,”
said Tremblay. “God had other plans for me.”
“I ended up
going into church,” said Tremblay. “I sat in the backrow, don’t
remember what was preached, but I remember my sister.”
explained that hearing Susan’s testimony about God’s goodness in her
life was a turning point for his own faith and led him to become a
The process of earning the title of Navy
chaplain wasn’t as simple as just walking into the career
First, Tremblay would need a master’s
degree in divinity, then the endorsement of a specific religious
organization for military chaplaincy. Finally, he would need to
spend two years working in civilian ministry to have the required
After years of hard work, Tremblay was able to
complete all the prerequisite requirements, and was accepted into
the Navy Chaplain Candidate Program. A year later he began his work
as an active duty chaplain, counseling Marines and sailors and
ensuring the spiritual health and wellbeing of the service members
and families in his command.
After serving as a chaplain for
10 years, Tremblay found himself working in Washington D.C., where
one of the senior chaplains he worked with, advised him to google
his name every now and then and see what came up.
“So I did
and I came across a blog written by a Sailor that I served with on
my first ship as a chaplain, the USS Constellation” explained
Tremblay. “10 years later he’s writing this blog and he said I want
to tell you about a chaplain I served with, you can take a man out
of the Navy but you can never take the Navy out of a man. This is
Chaplain Tremblay, I understand that you’ve been selected for
Lieutenant Commander, congratulations, you were always everywhere,
you were always available and you were always a light.”
words sunk deep into Tremblay’s heart, realizing that he had the
opportunity to impact a Sailors’ life in that way.
of it from that perspective, the moments we have to be present with
people,” said Tremblay. “How can I as a representative of the
Almighty, help whomever that is be more firm with who they are as a
human being, in their faith and just a hope and inspiration for
One of Tremblay’s first assignments was with 3rd
Battalion, 3rd Marines. During which they made two deployments to
After his first tour to Iraq in 2006, Tremblay
remembers stepping off the plane with the commanding officer. During
their time in Iraq the convoy they were on had sustained small arms
fire, mortar fire and IED strikes, killing 18 and wounding 110.
“The CO and I were the last two off the aircraft,” said
Tremblay. “He said to me, ‘Chaps we didn’t bring them all home’ and
I said, ‘I know Sir.’”
Tremblay’s time in Iraq earned him a
combat action ribbon and helped him grow an understanding of what it
really meant to be a chaplain, being that presence of peace when
everything around you is chaotic.
“I made probably 100
convoys with Marines,” said Tremblay. “I’d make my way to the
vehicle and the gunner would be like ‘hey Chaps we’re glad you’re
with us!’ and I used to say ‘well I’m prayed up how are you doing?”
Over the years Tremblay has been stationed in 10 different
locations around the world on various bases and ships. He has
impacted hundreds if not thousands of lives.
walking through the hospital checking in, just beep bopping down the
passage way doing my own thing, when some old gentleman says ‘Good
morning Chaplain’”, said Tremblay. “It was like instantly God said
he didn’t say hello to Paul, he said hello to this (points to cross
on collar) the sanctity and sacredness of this. I grew up on Podunk
road. Who am I that you would bestow this kind of blessing on and
opportunity to do this day in and day out for 20 years.”
head of all III MEF Chaplains, aide to the commanding general and a
great mentor to the Marines and Sailors of III MEF, Capt. Paul
Trembley makes a tremendous impact on the spiritual health and
wellbeing of III MEF personnel and families daily.
retire today with 28 years of service and be perfectly fine
financially, it’s not about the money, not about the rank,” said
Tremblay. “It’s about doing the work of the one who has called me
into this at this level for his glory.”
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