AL ASAD, Iraq -- He’s got the whole world in His hands – so it should not come as a surprise that after almost ten years two lives come back together in Al Asad, Iraq and with them, families.
Lt. Cmdr. Ray Stewart, chaplain for Marine Air Control Group 28 became acquainted with the family of Lance Cpl. Chase R. Hartsell more than a dozen years ago at Harbor Lake Baptist Church in Goose Creek, S.C. Stewart was the pastor of the church and Chase’s father was stationed at the Naval Nuclear Power School also in Goose Creek.
Stewart was their pastor and friend for three years, but said good-bye to the Hartsells when he left the church in 1995 to become a Navy chaplain.
It would prove to be a decision that would bring these families together again.
Their paths crossed again just two years later when they were both stationed together briefly in Virginia., “We were neighbors there for about a year before I left to go to Okinawa,” recalled Stewart.
Stewart remembers the Hartsell family fondly, “They all have wonderful thick southern accents and they are full of life and lots of fun to be with. They were some of our best friends."
As is all too often the case when friends move away the families lost touch as the years passed. But by some marvelous twist the families were recently reconnected.
While catching up Stewart learned that the young Chase he remembered as, “a good kid, who was active and liked doing stuff with his dad,” was now a Marine reservist. He also discovered that Chase had been activated and was serving here. “I hadn’t seen Lance Corporal Hartsell since 1997, when both I and his dad were stationed in the Norfolk, Virginia, area,” said Stewart.
Stewart said he is a little surprised that Chase joined the Marine Corps, but was quick to add, “I was a Navy brat as well and I joined and did six years in the Marine reserves, so I have a lot in common with him in that regard.”
Stewart is looking forward to getting reacquainted with the Hartsells who now live in North Carolina. “I am e-mailing [Chase’s] parents on a regular basis and we are talking about getting together when I get back from deployment.”
It is said that the Lord works in mysterious ways, and while it is no mystery how Stewart and Hartsell ended up in Iraq, they got orders here just like everyone else, it is interesting how their lives are linked. It is divine, especially for Chase’s parents, as doubtless they find a special peace knowing that Stewart, a friend, is close to their son and can watch over him. “Tammy, Chase’s mom, writes and asks me to keep tabs on him,” says Stewart. “I have seen him a few times at church and the chowhall, but since he is at CLB [Combat Logistics Battalion] I don’t see him as much as she would probably like.”
Chase, who is now 20, is a tactical network systems specialist assigned to 2nd Force Service Support Group’s Combat Logistics Battalion 2 here. “I’ve been working a lot” he said, “but it is good because it makes the time go by faster.” When asked to describe his work he said, “I work on computers and set up local area networks. I also work with other types of communications such as radios, phones and satellites.”
Chase has been deployed now for more than three months. He plans to go back to school when he gets home and while he is not sure what he will do he said he thinks, “one day maybe I will get a job with computers, and I have even thought about being a teacher.”
Stewart was a Marine reservist from 1976 to 1982 and was a motor transport operator and attended seminary from 1980 through 1983. He pastored churches for twelve years before joining the Navy in 1995.