Pacific Ocean --
As the Marines and Sailors of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Boxer Amphibious Ready Group begin their deployment through the Pacific and Central Command areas of responsibility, they will continue to push themselves to complete the mission. One way the service members take a breather through this grueling deployment is their religious beliefs and faith practices. And when they’re thousands of miles from their home faith groups, who better to turn to then their friendly, neighborhood chaplains?
“The purpose of a chaplain is provide Marines, Sailors and Coast Guardsmen with four things: Provide religious services, facilitate religious freedoms, care for service members and their families, and advise commanders on troop morale and religious accommodation,” said U.S. Navy Lieutenant Lloyd Wicker, a battalion chaplain with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Marines and Sailors come from all different walks of life and are brought up with different values and creeds, so when they are forward deployed, it is up to the religious team of the chaplains and religious program specialists to assist the service member in practicing their faith.
“It is up to the religious team to protect their religious freedoms, such as advocating for accommodation, finding lay leaders where the chaplains cannot lead,” according to Wicker.
The religious team is also a bridge between the service member and their families, assuring their families that their service members are cared for.
“We offer the service members and their families the privilege of absolute confidentiality when they converse with the religious team, without fear of judgement or punitive action due to the nature of their problems,” said Wicker.
But the religious team is not limited to religious topics.
“A large portion of the individuals I have conversations with are non-religious and, when it is religious, it gives us more tools in order to facilitate the service member’s problems,” according to Wicker.
The religious team not only offers worship services and counseling opportunities but programs for the service member and family members who are willing to participate.
“We provide the service members a multitude of programs, such as book study, marriage enrichment classes, faith-based parenting classes and the United Through Reading program,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Phillip Schmierer, a religious programs specialist with the 13th MEU. “The United Through Reading program allows service members to read a book of their choice, while being recorded, and send the video home to their families.”
The religious team is an asset that allows the 13th MEU service members to continue to become physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually strong.