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Spiritually Prepared For Combat
by U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Sydni Jessee
February 9, 2023

The feeling of despair becomes overwhelming as darkness set in. The sound of bullets whizzing past, and distant screams of agony surround the area. The world is in pure chaos. Amidst this chaos, U.S. Navy chaplains are expected to keep their heads clear and fulfill their duty of tending to their Marines and Sailors in the most challenging of conditions.

U.S. Navy chaplains and religious program specialists from across 3rd Marine Logistics Group conducted a Professional Military Education class at Maeda Escarpment, also known as ‘Hacksaw Ridge’, in Okinawa, Japan, February 2, 2023. Maeda Escarpment is a historical World War II site from the battle of Okinawa and provided an ideal location for the chaplains to discuss their heritage and history, and share insights on spiritual preparation for combat.

February 2, 2023 - U.S. Navy chaplains and religious program specialists with 3rd Marine Logistics Group pose for a photo during a Professional Military Education class at Maeda Escarpment, also known as 'Hacksaw Ridge', Okinawa, Japan. The class discussed the heritage and history of chaplains and provided insight on spiritual preparation for combat. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Sydni Jessee.)
February 2, 2023 - U.S. Navy chaplains and religious program specialists with 3rd Marine Logistics Group pose for a photo during a Professional Military Education class at Maeda Escarpment, also known as 'Hacksaw Ridge', Okinawa, Japan. The class discussed the heritage and history of chaplains and provided insight on spiritual preparation for combat. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Sydni Jessee.)

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Jeff Jenkins, a chaplain with 3rd Marine Logistics Group, began the class with the illustrative story of Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Navy Vice Admiral James Stockdale. Stockdale, a naval aviator, crash landed into the main street of a village in Vietnam, where he was imprisoned for seven years.

As a POW, Stockdale made it his mission to help the men at the camp keep their faith, their strength, and help them maintain esprit de corps in the worst of conditions. Stockdale is famously known for his coping strategies that helped him and others survive the prisoner camps. His strategy is referenced as the “Stockdale Paradox”. When asked, who perished the most in Vietnam, Stockdale replied:

“Oh, that's easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, 'We're going to be out by Christmas.' And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they'd say, 'We're going to be out by Easter.' And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart. This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

The role of chaplains is to uplift service members and help them keep their faith during even the most trying times. U.S. Navy Lt. Leotra L. West, a chaplain with Combat Logistics Regiment 3, described the responsibility of a chaplain as someone who can be a shoulder to lean, on and that sometimes their role is not saying anything at all, but just being there to provide solace and encouragement. While chaplains aim to provide spiritual comfort, they do not relieve fear.

“The goal is not the absence of fear because fear is real and natural and okay. It's not letting the fear debilitate you”, said Jenkins.

During the class, the participants discussed their fears of conducting their mission in real-world combat environments.

“The real struggle would be that you can't really address your feelings at that moment, because that's not why you’re there,” said West, “I will have to really block out everything else and find that peace, while being aware that I am scared and don't want to die.”

Another example that the class discussed of a chaplain who looked past his fears and kept the task at hand was Medal of Honor recipient, Chaplain Vincent Capodanno. Known as the “Grunt Padre” for his frontline service with Marine Corps infantry units, Capodanno was killed in action in Que Son Valley on September 4, 1967, while providing last rites and comfort to the wounded and dying on the battlefield. “He was dedicated to the task of caring for Marines and Sailors. That’s what matters.”, stated Jenkins.
Like Capodanno, all chaplains are tasked with the responsibility of tending to the moral and spiritual well-being of service members regardless of their own suffering. Jenkins proceeded to pass on advice that he had received from two of his close friends who have extensive combat experience.

“It’s having an understanding that despite all the above, it still hurts to lose anyone. Trust not having all the answers. Never forget your calling. Pray a lot. Stay in the word. Forgive others and yourself often. Remember that God loves you and is always with you even if you don't feel it. It's not about you. You are the representation of something larger than yourself. Everyone dies, finding joy in the memories of life is essential. It's okay to ask for help.”

Jenkins reminded the group that chaplains and RPs need to work together as a team and be there for one another. He closed the discussion with a prayer.

“Lord, thank you for this team that is assembled here. Lord help each of us in our own ways that we will be prepared for whatever challenges we might face in combat, and any other missions that our units are given. Father I just pray that you would guide us, that you'd bless us, to strengthen us, that you’d give us resilience, Father we pray that we would be able to help others as an overflow of how we have taken care of ourselves, Amen.”

As the participants of the class walked along the now-serene Maeda Escarpment, full of the echoes of history, they left with a sense of peace from their newfound knowledge, and their aspirations of living up to the heritage of the Chaplain Corps.

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