AL ASAD, Iraq -- “In a land where this concept of Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims worshipping together with pride and safety did not exist, you have built it.
“Because of your willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice, this house of God now stands. It is part of a long chain back to Solomon’s temple, and in its own way, is just as grand.”
These words were spoken by Navy Lt. Cmdr. Seth Phillips, a Jewish chaplain with II Marine Expeditionary Force, to the Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and civilians attending the first religious services, Oct. 2, at Al Asad’s new chapel, which was built with the devout dedication of eight Soldiers and a Marine.
The Soldiers, carpenters from 364th Engineering Battalion, A Company, and Chief Warrant Officer 4 Daniel Young, the embark officer for Regimental Combat Team 2, spent six weeks working and toiling together to build a place where people can worship in freedom.
“The chapel is a symbol of the American spirit,” said Sgt. Jim Bishop, a carpenter with the 364th, and native of Horse Shoe, N.C. “Here on camp, it stands for our principle of freedom of religion. It will be here, standing for a long time.”
Bishop and Young started the process with an idea and drew out their plans, but could not have completed the project without the help of many others.
“A lot of hands went into this,” said Bishop. “Whenever we needed something, lumber, door locks or even air conditioning, everyone came together for a noble cause.”
Young said all the supplies they needed were in the right place, at the right time, suggesting the aid of a higher power.
“The timeline was just perfect, people can’t make that happen,” said Young, a native of Moundsville, Minn. “The project was a complete success, and although there were a couple of smashed thumbs, no one was seriously hurt during the construction.”
Young and Bishop had a working relationship before building the chapel. They traded supplies back and forth, helping each other through the difficulties of getting supplies in Iraq.
“(Young) found an old jarhead and the rest is history,” said Bishop, a former Marine. “Throughout our deployment, the Marines have helped us immensely. Anything we have needed, they have gone out of their way to get us.”
Young was thankful that Capt. Allen Floyd, commanding officer of the 364th, was able to lend him skilled workers to build a chapel which will primarily be for Marines.
The chapel will be the first thing people will see upon entering Camp Ripper, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brad Telleen, the chaplain for Regimental Combat Team 2. He said that no matter what command a service member belongs to, they are invited to come attend the chapel’s services.
“Wow,” exclaimed Telleen, to the servicemembers attending the first services. “‘Wow,’ is the word I used throughout the building process. Every change, every improvement that took place, I just looked back and said ‘wow.’ When we left the United States, six or seven months ago, I never envisioned something like this could have happened. This is truly a gift to the base that will serve many people.”
According to Telleen, RCT-2’s old chapel was a cramped building shared with a library. There people would plan missions, watch football, yell and scream.
“This is a place where service members can find a sense of solitude,” said the Jacksonville, N.C., native. “This is strictly a chapel, strictly for the spiritual life. Marines just take care of it. Its doors are opened to everyone.”
Telleen, only moments before, had spoken to a member of the Ugandan Security Forces interested in religious services for him and his men. The act was a simple display of how U. S. service members are spreading their belief of freedom of religion.
“This chapel will stand the test of time,” said Col. Stephen W. Davis, the commanding officer of RCT-2. “In this land, this little chapel has turned into quite a magnificent building. Keep in your heart and prayers the young men who go to do the mission they have been entrusted with.”