Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Passing the Baton

My vacation journey now moves from Newport, Rhode Island to Corea, Maine. The reason I was in Newport was to visit two young men that I had commissioned into the Navy Chaplain Corps in the past nine months: Jason Ulven and Mark Torres.

The process for becoming a military chaplain is daunting, to say the least. There is a pile of paperwork that must be completed without error, and then there are the interviews with various military folks who then must give their okay for you to continue. Then there is the need for a specific level of education (Masters in Divinity) for you to even be considered. And obviously, a candidate for the Chaplain Corps must meet the physical requirements.

Shortly after I returned from the current war in 2004, I was asked to mentor Jason through a program used by Fuller Theological Seminary. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Jason had previously served four years in the Navy as an enlisted man. As we spent time together I asked him if he’d consider the Navy chaplaincy. We met one evening so our wives could talk, giving Jill, Jason’s wife, an opportunity to ask my wife, Isaura, questions about military life.

Last summer Jason and his family moved to Chicago where he is completing his seminary training. It was about this time that all of his paperwork was completed for his being commissioned. So in early September I flew to the “Windy City,” meeting the Ulvens at Great Lakes Naval Base. We stood on the shore of Lake Superior where I officially swore Jason into the Navy Chaplain Corps.

As for Mark, I was asked last December by a Navy recruiting officer, LTJG Matt Galvin from the San Francisco Bay Area, to meet with Mark. Mark and his family live near Lemoore Naval Air Station in the Central Valley of California. My family and I were going to be in Fresno (45 miles from Lemoore) later in December for a friend’s graduation from nursing school, so I made arrangements to meet with Mark while I was in the area. Though Mark did not have any prior military experience, he was very motivated and has kept himself in excellent physical condition. Later in January he and his wife Jody, met Isaura and me for dinner at our home so the ladies could, once again, talk about military life.

Both Jason and Mark began their official training at Naval Base Newport in May. Since I was going to be passing by on vacation, I stopped in, arriving a couple of days before they graduated from ODS (Officers Development School) which is specifically designed to prepare staff officers to be naval officers. Basically, it works like this: Line Officers are command officers. Staff Officers serve in support of command officers. So doctors, lawyers, chaplains, dentists, nurses, supply officers, etc are all staff officers. ODS introduces them to the regimen of military life.

Now that Jason and Mark have completed ODS they will begin the Chaplains Basic Course, which is an orientation course for Navy chaplains providing ministry in the “sea services.” This could be the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard or Merchant Marines. This course of instruction is also in Newport. Once they are done, they will be assigned to a command somewhere around the world.

I must say that visiting Newport again where I began my Navy chaplaincy twenty-four years ago, and seeing Jason and Mark doing so well, was very gratifying. On Friday, June 20, there was a wonderful military graduation ceremony on the athletic field on base. The four platoons of one hundred and fifty-nine graduates marched in with all the pomp and ceremony befitting such an occasion. You should have been there!

Jill was committed to a church denominational event, so was unable to attend. However, her mother, Joyce, drove down from her home in Vermont. Jody flew in from California for the ceremony. We sat together and enjoyed the hour long event. At the conclusion, after the new staff officers were officially dismissed, the guests gathered on the field to wish them well.

As I complete my time in the military this September, I’m pleased to pass the baton on to Jason and Mark and the many others I met that weekend. They will be the next generation of chaplains to provide for the spiritual needs of our wonderful men and women in the military.

May God bless them as they serve our nation’s finest, and may God bless America.

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