MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- “I have not spoken of the battle of Fallujah hardly at all during the past 11 years; it was an absolutely heartbreaking and horrific event that took a toll on myself and my fellow chaplains and RPs,” said Col. Willard A. Buhl, commanding officer for Expeditionary Operations Training Group, I Marine Expeditionary Force.
Navy chaplains and Religious Program Specialists gathered Sept. 18 at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., to discuss the roles of religious personnel during times of heavy combat; specifically revisiting the 2004 events of the second battle of Fallujah. During Phantom Fury, the operation became an iconic battle in Marine Corps history due to the intensity of urbanized combat not seen since the Battle of Huế City in Vietnam in 1968.
Lt. Cmdr. Ron Kennedy, the 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division chaplain recounted his personal experience during the battle and his role as a caregiver and religious guide to wounded Marines.
“I knew what was coming from the reports and stories I heard from that area of Iraq. When we got there it was shocking,” said Kennedy. “So many Marines had been disfigured and torn apart that I was hard pressed to push it all aside and focus on guiding them to a place of spiritual peace.”
During the chaplain and RP's seminar, both Lt. Cmdr.Kennedy and Col. Buhl made an emphasis on establishing relationships within Marine units and mentoring colleagues as a fundamental aspect of being a spiritual care giver.
“Having my mentors, my senior chaplains, set me up for success,” said Kennedy. “It’s imperative to care for one another in an environment that is as harsh as Fallujah was.”
Buhl followed by saying that the close working relationship between chaplains and RPs is necessary for the intimate privilege of looking after Marine's spiritual well-being.
The seminar continued with an open panel for questions from five subject matter experts that were present during the battle. Junior sailors and chaplains asked a myriad of questions ranging from operational roles to combat action.
Kennedy added that the determination and fierceness that Marines displayed was both heroic and legendary.
“I’ve seen the sacrifice that the men and women who fought for Fallujah be romanticized time and again and I can tell you now that there was nothing, absolutely nothing that compares to the devastation our forces experienced in the past 11 years during that battle,” said Buhl. “We owe them everything.”