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SOUTH CHINA SEA (Jan. 22, 2023) - U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Austin Grimes, a chaplain with 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, leads a chapel service aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8), Jan. 22. The 13th MEU is embarked on the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group, comprised of the Makin Island and amphibious transport dock ships USS John P. Murtha (LPD 26) and USS Anchorage (LPD 23), and operating in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations. 7th Fleet is the U.S. Navy's largest forward-deployed numbered fleet, and routinely interacts and operates with Allies and partners in preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Carl Matthew Ruppert)

Photo by Cpl. Carl Matthew Ruppert

Full Spectrum Readiness: How the Navy Chaplain Corps Safeguards Marine Readiness

26 Jan 2023 | Capt. Kevin Buss 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit

The U.S. Marine Corps is a fight-tonight force. The Marine Corps’ brand is based on persistent readiness, and its ability to rapidly respond to emergent crises. What makes the Marine Corps unique is that our brand is embodied by the spirit of the individual Marine. Our readiness goes deeper than administrative requirements, up-to-date medical records, and vehicle and aircraft maintenance. The spirit of the Marine is what drives our Corps. Therefore, spiritual readiness is a keystone element of the Marine Corps’ value to the Department of Defense. The U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps is the backbone of ensuring high levels of spiritual readiness. 

 “Spiritual readiness is the ability of a warfighter to accomplish their mission with honor,” said Lt. Cmdr. Austin Grimes, chaplain, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit. “It derives from one’s deeply held religious and philosophical commitments – the north star of one’s conscience.” The Religious Ministry Team for the 13th MEU, currently deployed in the Indo-Pacific region, provide spiritual guidance to assist Marines and Sailors in their pursuit toward spiritual stability and progression.

“Being a chaplain is less of a job and more of a calling,” said Grimes. “Some spend decades working as civilian clergy and then feel a calling to be spiritual leaders for Marines and Sailors.” The Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group/13th MEU has eight chaplains across the three amphibious ships. The job of a chaplain is to provide religious ministry, facilitate other faiths, care for all Marines and Sailors and advise the chain of command for matters pertaining to overall spiritual readiness.

Chaplains are not mandated reporters, meaning that their counseling is 100 percent confidential. This confidentiality, coupled with the nature of chaplains to embrace all hardships their Marines and Sailors experience, forges a distinctive trust between chaplains and their service members. “If service members are sleeping in the field, the chaplain is sleeping in the field,” said Lt. Cmdr. Aaron Walling, chaplain, Battalion Landing Team 2/4, 13th MEU. “If service members are enduring hardships, the chaplain is right there with them, offering care and building resilience, while emulating toughness and tenacity.”

Similar to how an F-35B, a light armored vehicle or an amphibious assault ship needs consistent maintenance, chaplains provide a 24/7 resource for Marines and Sailors to conduct spiritual maintenance. Some of these resources and services include:

  • Weekend worship services.
  • Multiple mid-week services.
  • Daily devotionals.
  • Numerous weekly counseling sessions.
  • Marriage enrichment.
  • Community relations projects in foreign ports.
  • Evening prayer - a tradition at sea that dates back prior to the founding of our nation.
  • Suicide intervention programs, including training in SafeTALK and ASIST.

One of the most effective methods of maintaining spiritual readiness is through “walking the deck plates,” meaning chaplains go to service member’s spaces, do what they’re doing, get to know them and build relationships. Plainly stated, a chaplain’s job is not in the office, it’s with the Marines and Sailors.

A force as diverse as our Marine Corps requires a variety of spiritual avenues for Marines and Sailors to reach their spiritual objectives. “Chaplains provide religious services for those with a similar faith, and they facilitate religious services for those who practice a different faith,” said Walling. “Chaplains ensure all service members have the opportunity to practice their faith, and when possible, help connect those service members to appropriate religious services, resources and leaders.” The MKI ARG/13th MEU chaplains provide ten services for eight religions in two different languages. While chaplains do not directly provide religious services outside of their religious organization, they facilitate opportunities for all members, regardless of belief, to exercise their first amendment right of religious freedom. Chaplains are prepared to provide, or source, effective spiritual counsel to the diverse population of our Corps.

The Marine Corps fights and wins our nation’s battles, but that is not possible without the spirit of the Marine. As lethal as we are, Marines are human too; and may carry spiritual burdens that inhibit their performance. A gap in one’s spiritual defense can be just as detrimental to mission success as a gap in a physical defense. We measure risk to force and risk to mission before every operation, and part of risk management is a holistic look at influences on the force and mission. If neglected, spiritual readiness can increase risk, by having a negative and dominant influence on the force. “Just as we dedicate attention to our physical and mental readiness, we must attend to the strengthening of our inner mind and spirit,” said Walling. The chaplains deployed with the MKI ARG/13th MEU provide structure for Marines and Sailors to take care of their spiritual readiness, combatting risk to mission success.

Readiness is not a binary concept, it’s a spectrum. Not only is readiness a spectrum, but it transcends through all elements that make up the Marine Corps. Aircraft may become more advanced, weapons may become more lethal and administrative policies may change, but the spirit of a Marine has been the one constant since 1775. Thanks to the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps and spiritual readiness, this enduring beacon, our spiritual identity, is guarded from decay. Full spectrum readiness is what keeps our Marine Corps a ready and lethal, fight-tonight force.

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13th Marine Expeditionary Unit