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Navy Lt. Michael Wietecha cuts a cake in celebration of the Navy Chaplain Corps? 230th birthday. The ceremony took place at Al Asad, Iraq, Nov. 28.

Photo by Cpl. James D. Hamel

Navy Chaplain Corps celebrates 230th in Iraq

28 Nov 2005 | Cpl. James D. Hamel

Marines and Sailors at Al Asad, Iraq, celebrated the 230th anniversary of the Navy Chaplain Corps at the base’s Morale, Welfare and Readiness center, Nov. 28.

The 30-minute ceremony was unique from other celebrations because its focus was largely historical, as opposed to traditionally shorter ceremonies where the cake-cutting is the main event, said Navy Capt. Steve Epperson, the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing command chaplain.

Epperson, who organized the ceremony, said his time spent with Marines inspired him to celebrate the Navy Chaplain’s birthday in a different manner.

“When I first served with Marines, I realized the importance of the Marine Corps birthday to them,” he said.  “I thought I could use the (Chaplain’s birthday) to make my chaplains and (religious program specialists) feel closer to their traditions.”

The ceremony included military music provided by the 2nd MAW Band and biographical readings of five of the Chaplain Corps’ greatest heroes.  Each biography was read in the first person by chaplains from the 2nd MAW, the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 24.  After a brief slideshow, the ceremony ended with the traditional cake cutting.

Epperson said each of the chaplains chosen to read a biography had to thoroughly research the history of each man they honored.

“I assigned each of these (past chaplains) personally, so (current chaplains) would have to dig deep and research these people,” he said.  “I wanted it be very historical.  I wanted people to know something about these chaplains.”

The emphasis on the historical implications and traditions was not without reason, Epperson said.  He was trying to inspire the chaplains and RPs to rededicate themselves to their mission, a mission that has become critical in Iraq.

“Too many commanders view chaplains as insignificant staff officers,” said Brig. Gen. Robert E. Milstead Jr., the 2nd MAW (Forward) commanding general.  “They are very important.  I need chaplains to support the ethical and moral training of our troops.”

Milstead added that although Navy Chaplains were celebrating their 230th year, military chaplains have been around for millennia.

Epperson said in Iraq, chaplains and RPs have become an invaluable tool to inspire courage and maintain morale among service members.

“This is a very personal war,” he said, referring to the stress placed on Marines and their families because of the danger.  “As a chaplain, we have to be out there with Marines, praying with them before convoys and going on missions with them.  We have to be available.  We can’t sit in our office and still be successful.”

That mission has been successful, Milstead said, so it was appropriate that commanders and others at Al Asad took the time to commemorate 230 years of success for Navy Chaplains.

After the ceremony, chaplains from all across Al Anbar, Iraq, gathered with Epperson to reflect on the Navy Chaplain Corps’ past and plan for its future and the troops it serves.

“This was an all day thing,” said Epperson.  “I wanted to use this occasion to energize my chaplains and RPs, and I felt pretty good about today because it was factual and meaningful.”

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