Friday, April 27, 2007

Chaplains

Chaplains, like corpsman, are naval personnel that serve with Marines. I have had the pleasure of knowing more than a few chaplains and have gotten quite a few stories from them alone.

The first chaplain that really struck a chord was Father 'Joseph'. He had actually served as a Marine sometime in the late '80s, gotten out of the Corps, lived in the civilian world for a while, felt the call of God, became a priest, signed up for the Navy, and found himself right back with the Marines. He figured it was God showing him where he was needed, I kind of suspected that Murphy had his fingers in the process somewhere. Anyways, this guy was cool.

His introductory speech was given by our platoon commander. The Captain gave a brief bio, and explained that we might see Father Joseph wandering around here and there. Captain turned the floor over to the Chaplain, and left to take care of some other business. Father Joe expounded on his bio, and emphasized that he was an enlisted man before he was a priest, so more likely than not any of the trash that we were doing, he could relate to as he had probably been doing the same stuff, if not worse. He mentioned that one did not have to be Catholic to need to talk to him, his office was open to all Marines, religious or not. Proof of his enlisted Marine Corps lineage was evident when he spoke of 'the rule'.

"I could give a rusty @#%! about anything else, but if you take the name of sweet Jesus in front of me, I will kick. your. ass., understand?" Something you don't hear everyday from a) an officer or b) a priest. The man turned out to be a great asset, and actually had one of the best singing voices I have heard in person.

Another notable Chaplain was one in Iraq. My squad had just lost a man and had several laid up in several hospitals in and outside of Iraq. We had enough numbers on the FOB to support another couple of squads taking our place for a day or two. One of them promptly got hit and lost two Marines with several others seriously wounded. Morale (read overwhelming desire to make a serious bump to the enemy body count) was still high, but was showing signs of stress.

We got the word that a sister squad from another FOB way up North was making a trip down to our FOB with a delivery and to possibly help out with the patrol rotation. I made several trips to the command center to see what was going on in the area of operations, and to drink the 'good' coffee. On the patrol rotation or not, if there was some serious shit going down, my Marines would be ready to go at a moments notice. On one trip I noticed that the day had been somehwhat quiet, on another, I heard that the squad was patrolling down to our FOB with an unusually large number of people. The squad wasn't going to stay more than a day or two, but the extra bodies were going to stay and fill in the new boat spaces in our squads.

That evening, I was in the command center as the patrol arrived. I had just gotten the down and dirty update on the upcoming schedule of events for the next couple of days, and was just about to go greet my buddies from up North and to pass the word to my squad. As I was exiting the command center, I almost ran over an officer on his way in from the newly arrived patrol.

A description of hatches in remote Forward Operating Bases in Middle al Nowhereia, Iraq.

Aside from the standard sandbags that are all over the place, a concerted effort is made to have some sort of contraption that blocks the light from the interior of buildings to the outside environment, in certain locations. This is intended to impede the enemies ability to use any light as a nighttime aiming point. Using stuff that was lying around, some of the more mechanically inclined among us constructed this small photo booth-lookin' contraption just outside of the command center hatch.

As we were face to face in the hatch exchanging our 'scuse me Sir/Sgt. I noticed a few things. First of all, he was an unfamiliar Naval Officer, the Chaplain, as it turned out. A few steps outside of the hatch, I realized a few things more. He had on a kevlar helmet and flack jacket just like everyone else out here, and strapped to his thigh was a drop holster. He had no weapon on him. The drop holster? Specially designed for his Bible.



A man goes out on patrol. He straps on his heavy flack jacket with the armor plates, knowing that it can only stop so much. With some of the stuff out there, you might as well be wearing a floral Hawaiian shirt. For what it is designed to do and a little more, it is great, if not a little heavy, gear. You snap on your Kevlar helmet, idly wondering if it really does work as well as advertised (n.b. it does). Water? Check. Eye protection? Check. Blood type and personal information reported to those that need it? Check and check. Where all others reach for their personal weapon that has been no further than arms reach for the past 5 months, you reach...for your Bible. To carry on patrol. In Iraq. To go where Marines have just yesterday been wounded and killed.

Crazy? Brave? CrazyBrave?

1 comment:

Hammer said...

Father Joseph sounds like a heck of a guy! Thanks for the story in his honor.