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Navy Chaplain Candidates Learn What It Means To Serve God and Country
by U.S. Marine Corps Valerie OBerry
May 14, 2018

“The candidates were energetic, open-minded, and flexible in regards to how they learned and experience life in the Marine Corps context,” said Chaplain Lt. Brian Burd, Marine Corps Officer Candidates School.

The chaplains came from various denominations such as Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Assemblies of God, Roman Catholic Priest and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

February 2, 2018 - Lt. Jayson Nicholson, Lt. Amy Blevins, Lt. Junior Grade Timothy Lee and Lt. Junior Grade Daniel Swartz stand inside the United States Marine Corps Memorial Chapel aboard Quantico during the Chaplain Candidate Program. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Jeremy Beale)

They also hailed from different backgrounds, such as Swartz, who came from New Lexington, Ohio or Lee who grew up in Annapolis, Maryland. In addition the chaplains had backgrounds ranging from Blevins, who had no personal connection to the military to Nicholson who is fifth generation military.

The Navy Chaplain Candidate Program allows individuals working toward their graduate education or ecclesial requirements to be commissioned as officers and experience what it means to be a Navy chaplain and discern if becoming a chaplain is a right for them.

However, candidates are not guaranteed appointment to become a chaplain, but the program provides unparalleled training and first-hand experience.

“I feel as if I have been given a blank check,” Lee said. “I may not have the responsibility of a chaplain, but I have the ability to explore and see how everything works so that we may reinvest this knowledge later in our career.”

According to Lee, to be able to already invest in them, to get to know them, is an awesome experience.

“When it comes to chaplaincy the Navy doesn’t want more line officers, but the best priests and pastors in their field,” Lee said. “All of the officer stuff they can teach us.”

According to Burd, the unique experiences expose the chaplain candidates to what it is like to serve Marines and their families.

And in turn members of the base community are given the opportunity to learn from those working toward one day serving them.

According to Burd, the local chaplains who have engaged with the Navy Caplain Candidate Program Officers (CCPO’s) seemed to enjoy the opportunity, as it gives chaplains hope for the future of the Chaplain Corps.

Cmdr. Maurice Buford, Marine Corps University chaplain oversaw the candidates and gave them the opportunity to observe and plug into the daily grind of commands throughout Quantico.

“There is a notion that only Marines can understand Marines, but that window has been opened up a little for us,” Nicholson said. “You can’t understand this environment unless you fellowship with them.”

The candidates visited Headquarters and Service Battalion, The Basic School, Marine Corps Air Facility, Marine Corps University and Quantico OCS. Additionally, they received briefs from Marine Corps Combat Development Command and Wounded Warrior Regiment chaplains.

The candidates also helped support Sunday services at the base chapel. Their roles were primarily observation and support, because chaplain candidates are not allowed to oversee services.

Where the Marines traveled to each part of base, Swartz was intrigued by how chaplaincy hits the different strata of the military all the way from the new and enlisted Marines and sailors navigating life to commanding officers and senior enlisted officers maintaining the functionality of the base and a broader mission.

“As a candidate you hear a lot that Marines love chaplains, but it is different experiencing it,” Blevins said. “This is especially true at a training command, as you watch individuals who want to be better Marines, it only inspires us to want to be a better chaplain.”

Blevins described how welcoming and helpful the Marines were as the candidates learned how to serve them.

“We are chaplains to everybody not just Christian, Jewish, Muslim,” Lee said. “A lot of people believe because they aren’t religious there isn’t a purpose in seeing the chaplain and it is a stigma that needs to broken.”

Blevins explained, it is her as an individual—her values, her faith and her beliefs are why she cares, but it is what she believes about others and their worth—her personal religion, which fuels her passion to care and minister to the community.

With more than 100 faith groups including Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and more, the Navy Chaplain Corps is comprised of more than 800 chaplains.

However, even with so many faith groups and chaplains, Lee believes people can still be lonely, even when surrounded by people, but it is a chaplain’s job to fill the void of isolation and separation.

Swartz explained chaplains aren’t medically trained professionals or counselors, but deal with situations involving medical and emotional issues regularly.

“People are our greatest asset,” Swartz said. “Wherever there is a human need, chaplaincy is significant because we deal with a soul which deals with the mind, emotions and the body.”

A chaplain’s job spans a broad range of duties, meeting people in moments of joy and mourning.

The candidates believe as chaplains preach, perform religious rites, conduct weddings, guide funerals or counsel individuals seeking guidance it is important they stay motivated and uphold a sense of humor, approachableness, humbleness and authenticity.

“The Marines and sailors don’t want you to be just another Marine or sailor, they want you to be a chaplain.” Swartz said.

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