I serve as a chaplain in the US Navy Reserve, and my military duty takes me to Norfolk, Virginia once a month where I am the deputy force chaplain for Naval Surface Forces Atlantic, comprising 78 ships and 25,000 sailors.
This year I have gone to sea twice aboard the USS Arlington, a brand new 684-foot San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock with 385 sailors. In July I sailed out for a week while its crew tested the ship’s defensive armaments: two 30mm guns and two air-defense missile launchers. They passed with flying colors. My purpose, however, was more peaceful. While on board I preached in the ship’s chapel and led a daily Bible study. Every evening I put the sailors to bed by saying the evening prayer over the intercom just before taps at ten. Instead of just a prayer I always give a prayer and a story, usually a clean joke or parable that leads into my prayer for the evening.
In November, I embarked aboard the same warship for three days to conduct a burial at sea for five veterans, including three who served during World War II. Sailors wearing their dress blue “Cracker Jack” uniforms brought urns with the cremains to the ship’s rail and scattered the ashes in the sea, while I said the words of committal. A rifle detail fired off a 21-gun salute, then taps was played as the ship gently rocked on the ocean waves. Finally, a flag was presented in honor of the departed. The families, who were not on board for the ceremony, will each receive a letter of condolence from the ship’s captain, a CD with pictures, a chart marking the location of the burial, and a flag that was flown from the ship’s mast. The ship returned to port just before the Veterans Day weekend. By Sunday I was back in the pulpit of my church. I am proud to serve my country in uniform, especially as a chaplain. Herman Melville wrote that a “chaplain is the minister of peace serving in the host of the God of War.”