Sunday services, weddings and counseling sessions are some of the things that come to mind when most think about the work done by chaplains.
What many may not realize is chaplains spend a tremendous amount of their own time strengthening the bond between service members and local communities.
Chaplains with Marine Corps units on Okinawa organize many community relations events, both on and off base and throughout the Asia-Pacific region during exercises, ensuring Marines and sailors are able to volunteer within the community.
“Community relations events give Marines and sailors a unique chance to be a part of the local community,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason Gamley, a religious program specialist with Combat Logistics Regiment 35, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force.
“Community relations events come up (during) conversations at least three times a week,” said Lt. j.g. Kristian L. Carlson, the Camp Kinser base chaplain. “I have only been here six months and have attended two community relations events with CLR-35.”
Carlson has attended a beach bash and a sports day and plans on organizing events with local orphanages for Marines to participate in around the holiday.
“These events have a high impact on the local community,” said Carlson. “I have a lot of plans for future events and I am excited to get started.”
While chaplains usually prepare community relations events on their own time, they also use their knowledge and connections made through their churches to think of new opportunities.
“One of the members of my church is the principal of a school and that opens up many possibilities,” said Carlson.
Chaplains receive a great deal of help from their religious program specialists while planning these events, according to Carlson.
“It is a joint effort between the chaplains and the religious (program) specialists,” said Gamley. “We both plan and organize the events so everything will run smoothly.”
While planning the events takes a great deal of effort, it is more than worthwhile, according to Navy Lt. Kyu C. Lee, the chaplain for 3rd Supply Battalion, CLR-35.
“Coordinating is the biggest part,” Lee said. “We have to come up with a plan, find transportation for the Marines, and send letters to the organizations, but we always have a good time once we are out there.”
Marines, sailors and chaplains commonly organize visits to orphanages and schools, but soon they will participate in a different kind of visit.
“We are going to a day care for the first time,” said Lee. “Starting next week, the Marines and sailors will (play) games and interact with the children.”
These events not only have an impact on the community, but they can have a strong effect on the volunteers.
“A lot of Marines tell me that they want to go to college once they leave the military,” said Lee. “After volunteering a few times, I have had numerous Marines tell me they are interested in (teaching) special education or being a teacher. I like giving them the opportunity to use their skills.”
The chaplains plan and participate in these events not only for the benefit of Marines, sailors and the community, but also because they find it personally rewarding, according to Carlson.
“These events are so important because they are priceless,” said Carlson. “You cannot put a price on the smile on a child’s face.”
Article by Lance Cpl. Brianna Turner, III MEF