Monday, March 28, 2011

TEAMS (Tools, Empowerment, and Ministry Skills)

Last week was the third and final phase of our training at the Navy Chaplaincy School and Center.  TEAMS is all about placing the final touches on our instruction and experience before we graduate and depart for our various duty stations.

We were all grateful for the classes Reporting to Your Command and Your First Month.  The content here was very practical regarding details of how to make the transition during the first few days and weeks at our new command.  Other practical input came from our class on Wardroom and Social Etiquette.  The military has certain customs and expectations that we need to abide by in these areas.  Other classes focused on counseling and suicide prevention.  Much of our time as chaplains will be spent addressing these issues, necessitating further instruction and discussion. 

We also had the privilege of hearing from a few special guests.  First, we had a presentation from a chaplain at Motor Racing Organization (MRO) which provides chaplains to a variety of motor sports, including NASCAR.  Although there are distinctions between chaplaincy in the MRO and in the military, there are many similarities as well from which we could learn.  Second, we had a presentation from a representative from Military Ministries, a branch of Campus Crusade for Christ.  This organization works closely with military chaplains and provides many helpful resources to them without cost.  Third, we had a presentation from a representative from CREDO (Chaplain's Religious Enrichment Development Operation).  This is a ministry of the Chief of Chaplains and offers a variety of education and counseling programs to military personnel and their families for free (including transportation and lodging).

The final two days of TEAMS was spent at NS Mayport near Jacksonville, FL.  During our time there, we had the opportunity to hear from the chaplains that serve at this base.  That evening we attended a pre-deployment brief that was being given to sailors and their families, a brief that many of us will give often during our career.  Experiencing one first hand was very helpful.  We also were given a tour of a destroyer (USS Farragut) or a cruiser (USS Vicksburg), met some of the personnel on board, and then spent the night.  Those who have served aboard ship before tend to call the berthing spaces for enlisted personnel "coffins".  Now I know why!  Not a whole lot of room to move around.  We also had the opportunity to tour a nearby Coast Guard station and two of the ships stationed there.  All in all, this was an amazing and worthwhile experience, providing us the opportunity to envision life and ministry aboard ship. 

In some ways that last three months have gone by slowly and in other ways they have gone by very quickly.  As I graduate this week, I do so with mixed emotions.  I am excited about my future life and ministry as a Navy chaplain and look forward to the move to El Centro, CA.  The last twelve weeks have been difficult and challenging, but they are exactly what I had hoped for when making the decision to become a Navy chaplain.  I have no regrets.  I have seen God's hand in protecting and preserving me throughout this process, proving to me over and over again that His will and ways are perfect. 

I will greatly miss my fellow chaplains who I have trained with during this time.  This experience has brought us together as a brotherhood.  I have benefitted greatly from their friendship and encouragement along the way.  It has been a special class that God will use to minister in His name and for His glory in the years to come.  See you in the fleet!

Next stop... El Centro!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

RMTEX (Religious Ministry Team Expeditionary Exercise)

RMTEX is an important experience in the training of a Navy chaplain.  First, it serves as an introduction into life and ministry when serving with the Marine Corps--a real possibility (and privilege) that I will have at some point in my career.  We sleep how they sleep.  Eat what they eat.  (MREs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!)  March how they march.  And train how they train.  You can't truly minister to a Marine until you've walked a mile (and then some!) in his boots.  

Second, it serves as a guage of our ability and willingness to serve in this kind of environment.  During the week our class was stretched physically, mentally, and emotionally. Our physical stamina and courage would be tested.  Our leadership and teamwork skills would be assessed.  Our perseverance under pressure would be measured.  Would I quit when the going got tough?  We would soon find out...

RMTEX officially began on Thursday and Friday of last week.  We had two days of classroom instruction on the Marine Corps.  Emphasis was placed on Marine Corps history--development, significant battles and leaders, etc.  Other topics included common phrases, saluting, uniforms, range of military operations, and land navigation. We were then given the weekend to gather and pack our gear, rest, and wait for what was coming next.

On Monday morning our class formed up in front of the Navy chaplain school house and we began a forced march ("run") with full packs to our base camp approximately 2 miles away--our new home for the next 4-5 days.

After setting up camp, we traded our large packs for our assault packs (school backpack size) and marched approximately 1.5 miles to the team obstacle course.  We were divided into groups and given a series of obstacles to complete together.  The purpose of this exercise was not to assess our physical ability and/or stamina (although this was involved to some degree) as much as our ability to think strategically, give leadership, and work together as a team.  While we were not graded on successfully completing each obstacle, our team did finish 4 out of 5 in the time limit allowed.

After our time at the team obstacle course, we marched back to our base camp where we had lessons on conducting field services and on conver and concealment.  Throughout the week a few of us had the opportunity to hold a field service for the group.  All of us had the opportunity to perfect our face painting techniques.

It was about this time that I realized I had injured my right knee/lower leg.  Whether it was from our forced march that morning or from the team obstacle course that afternoon, it was clear that something wasn't quite right.  More on that later. 

Soon it was time for hygiene and bed.  Throughout our time in the field, hygiene consisted of brushing our teath and baby wipes applied to key areas of our bodies.  There was no running water and certainly no showers.  Gratefully, we did have access to portable toilets.  Not exactly a flush toilet but much better than the alternative. 

Although sleeping quarters were tight with two men per tent, few of us had any problem falling asleep given the events of the day.  The only thing that interrupted our slumber was "fire watch".  Every hour through the night two person teams were on watch, ensuring the camp was safe and secure.  This was the procedure for each night we were out.  Everyone had at least one watch during RMTEX and some of us had two.  My watch was from 0200 to 0300 Tuesday.

On Tuesday morning we marched approximately 1 mile to the location for our Marine Corps combat fitness test.  While my knee/leg was still bothering me to some degree, I was well enough to participate.  There were three phases to this event (with a few minutes of recovery between each one)--a 1.5 mile run (in boots), an ammo can lift (2 minute time limit), and the obstacle course.  I was very pleased with my performance, completing the 1.5 mile run in 3:26, doing 93 ammo can lifts, and finishing the obstacle course in 4:10.  Although physically demanding, I loved every minute of it.

The obstacle course portion of this event involves some detailed explanation.  To view an example of Marines completing the course, please visit  It is exactly the same course that we used for RMTEX.

After the Marine Corps combat fitness test was over, we marched approximately 1 mile to Victory Tower (50 feet high), where each of us was required to successfully complete a series of maneuvers, including rappelling (2x), three rope walks, and a cargo net decent.  While my knee/leg had become very painful by this time, I felt that I could and should continue.  I was grateful to have been able to conquer Victory Tower.  In a side note--rappelling is a blast!!

At this location we were also given lessons on tactical formations.  As chaplains serving Marines, it is possible that we would find ourselves on a patrol with them.  It is essential, then, for us to know what they are doing and why they are doing it, both for our own safety and for the Marines around us.

After our time at Victory Tower, we began an approximate 2 mile march back to our base camp, utilizing the various formations we had just been taught.  Unfortunately, I was not permitted to participate in this march nor any of the other marches conducted over the next two days.  My knee/leg had become so painful that I was unable to walk without a considerable limp.  My concern now was whether or not I would be dropped from RMTEX.  The leadership assured me they would do all they could to ensure that this would not happen.  I am grateful that they allowed me to continue.
On Wednesday morning we marched (I rode) approximately 1/4of a mile to the confidence course.  Unlike the team obstacle course, this event focused on individual effort and was designed primarly to test one's physical strength, agility, and stamina.  While I was unable to participate in this event, it did give me the opportunity to take some photos.

After completing the confidence course, we made the short march back to our base camp for more instruction.  Our classes included enemy prisoners of war and combat lifesaving skills.

On Thursday morning we traveled by van to the land navigation site.  We divided into groups of 3-4 and worked together to find a series of four navigation points scattered throughout the area.  Today, instead of 3 MREs per person for the day, we were given just one--for our entire team.  It would be the only food we would have for the rest of RMTEX.  How long that might be we did not know--at least 16 hours. 

Thankfully, the pain in my leg had subsided enough at this point to allow me to participate in this exercise.  Here's one of the points my team found.  Sadly, it was the wrong one. :)

After completing this event, we traveled to yet another land navigation site.  Here we had further instruction on emergency medical combat evacuation and on tactical assault.

As evening approached, we began to make preparations for our night navigation exercise.  It was essentially the same event as earlier in the day but at a different location and without the benefit of daylight or flashlights of any kind.  Night navigation ended around midnight on Thursday.  What happened next is a secret that I will not share.

On Friday morning we were given our RMTEX written test covering all of the material we had learned in the last week.  An 80% was required to pass.  I was very happy with an 88%.

RMTEX was now officially over.  Just one more week before graduation...

Injury update:  While the pain in my knee/leg subsided by Thursday, it began to swell signficantly.  The swelling continued into Friday so I went to the base clinic to have it examined.  There was enough concern of a blood clot in my leg that I was transfered to a nearby hospital for further testing.  At this point a blood clot has been ruled out.  It is currently being treated as an infection.  Although I am much improved, there is still concern.  I would appreciate your prayers on my behalf.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Naval Chaplaincy School and Center

I graduated from Officer Development School on 4 February 2011.  All in all it went very well.  (Honestly, I think we were just glad to make it through the ceremony without anyone fainting or falling out.)  That moment was and will continue to be a very memorable day in my life.  It was almost exactly one year ago that I had decided to seriously pursue my passion to become a Navy Chaplain--and it was truly amazing to know that I was one step closer to it becoming a reality. 

Our ODS class held a reception the evening prior to our graduation ceremony.  Tammy, managing to get out of Chicago after a 20" snowfall that week, was able to come for both the reception (arriving just in time!) and the graduation.  She was also able to stay for the next two days and we did some sightseeing in Newport, RI, visiting some of the historic mansions in the area.

Sunday came all too quickly as we had to say goodbye once more.  She returned to Chicago and I went on to Columbia, SC, to continue my training at the Naval Chaplaincy School and Center located at Ft. Jackson.  The training at the school is divided into three components--the Basic Course (4 weeks), RMTEX 1 week), and TEAMS (2 weeks).  Today is actually the final day for the Basic Course and I can honestly say that I've enjoyed every moment.  The physical training (PT), classroom instruction, etc. have exceeded my expectations. 

We've received our physical training from a Marine gunnery sergeant.  Given that all of us in the class (20 students) will likely serve with the Marine Corps at one time or another (and some directly when they leave from here), it is imperative that we are pushed to meet the Marine Corps fitness standards and try to stay there once we've left here.  Our gunnery sergeant is a decorated veteran (IEDed twice!) and we have the greatest respect for him.  During our first two weeks, we had PT five days a week.  I've never been pushed this hard physically in all of my life--and I love it!  On the first of PT we took our first physical fitness test.  I was able to do 91 sit ups (2 minutes), 69 push ups (2 minutes) and run 1.5 miles in 12:31, a very similar result from my last physical fitness test ODS.  Now, four weeks later, we took another fitness test.  I was able to do 103 sit ups (2 minutes), 81 push ups (2 minutes), and run 1.5 miles in 12:03.  There is still plenty of room for improvement, but I'm grateful for the progress that I've made.

Our classroom instruction has been excellent.  Topics have included ethics, confidentiality, collateral duties, deployment ministry, chaplain corps history, religious accommodation, leadership, etc.  These courses have included two tests and three written (4 page) papers, and a number of other miscellaneous assignments and practical exercises.  The instructors and leaders here at the school are of the highest caliber both inside and outside the classroom.

RMTEX officially begins tomorrow morning!  We will have two days of instruction this week and then approximately five days out in the field next week.  Activities will include long hikes (with heavy packs!), the confidence course, endurance course, climbing tower, and night land navigation.  A written exam will be included as well.  We will be pushed physically, mentally, and emotionally.  But the one thing we cannot do is give up.  One concern we all have is for physical safety.  Others who have gone before us have gotten hurt and have had to drop out of the course and return at a later date.  No one wants that to happen.  Please pray for me and our team that we will be kept safe and that we will persevere together.

I look forward to giving an update of RMTEX when I return.  I'm sure I'll have some stories to share...