On Dec. 3, 2015, Navy chaplains from the National Capital Region came together in Crawford Hall at Marine Barracks Washington, D.C., to celebrate the 240th anniversary of the Navy Chaplain Corps.
The Navy Chaplains Corps can be traced back to Nov. 28, 1775 when the second article of Navy Regulations was adopted.
“For the past 240 years, chaplains have been a faithful reminder of the fidelity of God to the men and women of the sea services, while bringing hope to the hopeless, a message of caring when the last thing they feel is cared for, and comfort when all around then is beyond uncomfortable,” said Rear Adm. Brent W. Scott, the Chaplain of the Marine Corps and Deputy Chief of Navy Chaplains. “We gather each year to reflect and consider the value of the vast, cumulative, and mostly undocumented history of the chaplain’s daily faithfulness to our people and to honor the impact this faithful presence has had on our people.”
The Navy Chaplain Corps is comprised of over 1000 Chaplains from more than 100 different faith groups, including Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist and other faiths. Though there are chaplains of different faiths, they all provide and facilitate religious ministry and support, facilitate the religious requirements, care for service members and their families, and advise the command in ensuring the free exercise of religion.
“It’s always important to honor the history of one’s community and to come together and build camaraderie as a community,” said Christianne M. Witten, the special assistant for communications at the Chief of Chaplains office. “It is also inspiring to have speakers share their personal stories on the value of chaplains.”
Though chaplains devote their service to the well being of service members on the home front, they also are prevalent in combat operations. Rev. John L. Lenhart was the first Navy chaplain to lose his life in combat. Lenhart went down with the USS Cumberland on March 8, 1862.
However, this was not the first or the last time chaplains showed their dedication to the service members. Navy Lt. Vincent R. Capadanno was posthumoniously awarded the Medal of Honor on Jan. 7, 1969, for his selfless service in Vietnam with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines.
“The job of a chaplain is important because when we think about the Navy and the Marine Corps we think about a mission and that things are going to get done and bombs have to be placed on target and airplanes have to be flown and ships have to be sent forward, but the only reason why that takes place is because there are people and people are really the heartbeat of the Navy and the Marine Corps,” said Rear Adm. Margaret G. Kibben, the 26th Chief of Chaplains. “In some ways the world has changed but the Chaplain Corps has not. We have always been there to take care of the sailors and the Marines and to make sure that they have the access to religious ministry and they also have somebody there to listen to them who is always available.”
Chaplains can access to the heart of service members in a way that no one else can, and they use this ability to help and support the service members in their times of need whether it is in combat or at home, said Kibben.
After the invocations for the event ended, the United States Silent Drill Platoon conducted an indoor performance with a seven-man line. Following the performance, Kibben delivered a birthday message and conducted a cake cutting with the assistance of Gen. John M. Paxton Jr., the 33rd Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, who made an appearance at the celebration as the guest of honor to support and honor the rich and selfless history of the Navy Chaplain Corps.
“There are only two thing that I want to humbly ask you to take away from tonight; the first one is thank you for who you are, what you do, what you bring to the teams, and thank you what you bring to Marines, sailors, their families, and their loved ones,” said Paxton. “I just want to say thank you. Message number two is to please keep doing what your are doing because there are challenging time out there.”
After dinner, Gen. Paxton was bestowed The Church Pennant that was flown on the USS Essex by the chief of chaplains.
“The mission of the chaplain is fourfold. We provide for our own, facilitate for all other faith groups, we care for all, and we advise the commander and commands,” said Kibben. “I do believe that in the last seven years we have professionalized our Corps in such a way that all of our chaplains from the ones who are walking in from the very first day out of chaplains school to those of us who are a little bit longer in the tooth that we really have had the opportunity to do all four of those capabilities.”