A Chaplain's Journey Into Service Ministry
U.S. Navy Lt. Donald Keim, the Landing Force chaplain aboard the Harpers Ferry-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49), was in his junior year of high school when one of the greatest tragedies struck the United States on September 11, 2001.
Like many others, this event sparked a desire in Keim to enlist in the armed forces. He enlisted in the Marine Corps Delayed Entry Program at 17 years old during his senior year in high school. His acceptance into college led him to the decision to put the Marine Corps on the back burner.
This decision however, led him down a path he never expected.
Keim grew up in Temecula, California, in a Catholic household, but he later turned Protestant Christian. Even though he grew up with a family that attended church, he never imagined he would have a career in ministry. It wasn’t until he went to college that this all changed.
“I started off studying classics and philosophy,” said Keim. “In one of my classes, Ancient Greek, they had us translate the first chapter of Gospel John, and it sparked my curiosity and my interest to want to study it further, so I changed my major to religious studies.”
At the end of his junior year of college, Keim decided to enlist in the Navy. He told his recruiter he would only enlist as a Religious Program Specialist because of his degree in religious studies and he still wanted to work with the Marine Corps.
Keim deployed to Iraq in 2008 as a Religious Program Specialist 3rd Class. It was during his time in Iraq that he felt a calling to become a pastor and specifically a Navy chaplain.
“I saw what Navy chaplains brought to the fight,” said Keim. “I saw what they did for Sailors, Marines, Soldiers, and Airmen during the war in Iraq. God called me to do that, so I said ok.”
Keim ended up deciding he wanted to go greenside and serve with Marines since he had wanted to join the Marine Corps back in 2003 but never did.
“I had always wanted to serve with the Marines and so far it’s been a blessing and an encouragement,” said Keim. “They’re a very disciplined and unique force, and it’s been intriguing to see how they work and operate within the department of the Navy.”
For five years now, Keim has loved being a chaplain but his job doesn’t come without challenges.
“The hardest part of being a Navy chaplain, whether it’s serving with Sailors or Marines, is being able to meet their needs. Sailors and Marines all have unique issues and experiences, so the challenge is knowing what to say and when to say it.”
He said it’s challenging knowing the right things to say when Sailors and Marines ask him to speak into their life and help them get through whatever crisis they’re going through.
Keim has served in the Navy for a total of 13 years now. He spent eight years being a Religious Program Specialist and five years as a chaplain. This wasn’t his career choice growing up but now he couldn’t imagine being anything else.