Navy Chaplain Corps Anniversary

Cmdr. Dan Mode, command chaplain aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73), leads a Roman Catholic Mass in the ship’s chapel. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class William Pittman/Released)

By Rear Adm. Mark L. Tidd, Navy Chief of Chaplains

The Navy Chaplains Corps pauses to reflect on 237 years of ministry to members of the Naval services and their families, both ashore and afloat.  We currently have almost 850 active duty chaplains and over 200 in the Reserve component, representing over 100 different faith groups. We have been led by the call to serve our God by serving our Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and their families, and we strive to do that in a number of ways:

We provide ministry to people who are of our own faith group. We facilitate to ensure that the religious needs of those from other faith groups are met. We advise our leaders on matters of unit morale, resiliency, ethical issues, and we help ensure the free exercise of religion, wherever we are operating. Above all, we care for all with compassion, regardless of religious affiliation.  The ministry Navy chaplains provide, supported by Religious Program Specialists, contributes to the overall well-being and readiness of our people and their families as they defend our nation.

From the USS Constitution in 1812, to the battlefields of Belleau Wood; to the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor in 1941; to the frigid Chosin Reservoir and the jungles of Vietnam; in the sands of Iraq in 2003 and the mountains of Afghanistan today, chaplains have played a critical role in sustaining, inspiring, and mentoring the warfighter.  In humanitarian crises like Hurricanes Katrina, Issac, Irene, and most recently Sandy, to Operation Unified Response in Haiti and Operation Tomodachi in Japan, chaplains bring a unique message of hope, redemption, and grace in the wilderness, to all corners of the globe.

Lt. Cmdr. Henry Holcombe, chaplain, reads the benediction during a ceremony commemorating the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65).  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Randy J. Savarese/Released)

In times of humanitarian crisis and disaster relief, chaplains have been among the first on the ground, supporting needs assessments which drive logistical and medical support and facilitate response efforts. Chaplains also help coordinate support between government and non-government agencies for the affected population. Chaplains benefit from a universal passport of acceptance and trust, which plays a critical role in the coordination and delivery of care to those in need. We often build bridges of understanding between humanitarian service providers and the local population and also help service providers and military responders to cope with the stress associated with such operations.

Chaplains are often a visible reminder of the presence of God in what often seems to be God-forsaken places. Ultimately, we can be a visible reminder of the reality and power of hope.  Our unique role, operating forward, embedded within the command 24/7, allows us to be a source of comfort and refuge for the Sailor and Marine to enter into sacred spaces and face the barriers to hope.

Chaplains have an integral role in shaping the 21st Century Sailor and Marine, ensuring that they have the spiritual resilience to cope with the inevitable hardships of military life, and the ability to remain ever-ready to do what is required of them as warfighters.

I remain humbled and honored to serve as the Navy Chief of Chaplains. Our legacy is rich, and our future is full of promise.  The men and women of our diverse Chaplain Corps remain ready to support the needs of the equally diverse Naval services. On this day, I ask that we remember the legacy of those Navy chaplains who have gone before us serving God, their country, their Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.

May God continue to bless our ministry as we inspire hope and resiliency on the deck plate, in the field, operating forward, and ashore. We are truly one Chaplain Corps unified by one mission: The call to serve.

Happy Anniversary,

Navy chaplains!