Chaplains job is to get recruit through training and ready to be Marines
Published Saturday, June 27, 2009

Twelve weeks of sand fleas, limited contact with friends and family and drill instructors screaming in your face all day, every day -- boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island is often as tough as advertised.

From the moment recruits step onto the yellow footprints outside the depot's receiving office until the moment they proudly strut across the Parade Deck as new Marines, recruits are in the hands of Navy Capt. James Fisher and the depot's 10 juniorchaplains.

Together, Fisher, the chaplains and 10 enlisted religious program specialists work to ensure the 25,000 Marines who graduate from Parris Island each year have the spiritual and emotional support necessary to navigate the depot's notoriously tough training regiment and persevere as Marines.

"Spiritual fitness is just as important to a Marine as physical fitness," said Fisher,the chief of staff of religious services. "We play a pretty significant role in that when a chaplain is with his Marines, be it at The Crucible, out at the obstacle course, or in the classroom, we're a reminder that God is with them."

Though called to perform a variety of tasks on base, Lt. Patrick Joyner, a former submarine officer, said his most important role is that of confidant for the would-be Marines he works with as chaplain of 2nd Recruit Battalion. Each of the depot's four recruit battalions has a chaplain assigned to it.

"You have to remind these guys that every day in the Marine Corps is not like every day in recruit training," he said. "They have a unique set of stressors here, and this atmosphere can start to feel very, very constraining. I'm a guy that they can come talk to that isn't going to yell at them. I'm not in their command, so they enjoy a certain level of confidentiality with me that they may not even be aware of."

Joyner and Fisher both said they are sometimes called on to counsel recruits who have either tried to leave Parris Island or think they shouldn't have enlisted.

"After about the second week of boot camp, and they're tired and the sand fleas have been eating them, they've been rained on, they've got sand in every pore and their drill instructor has been yelling at them for two weeks, they begin to doubt their decision," Fisher said. "I've personally talked to recruits and said, 'Look, I want to affirm you of your decision. It may not feel like you've made the right decision, but you can make it, do something with yourself, and be a success.'"

"These guys do a lot of second guessing," Joyner added. "But recruit training is not set up for a trial run."

The Navy Chaplain Corps -- which services the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard -- requires its members to have an undergraduate degree, amaster's degree in theology or a related field and complete a 45-day basic orientation class at Navy Chaplain School in Newport, R.I.

At Parris Island, chaplains teach classes on suicide prevention and spirituality, conductSunday church services and deliver bad news, or "Red Cross Messages," to recruits training at the depot.

Recruits are allowed two hours every Sunday to participate in religious education and attend church services, said Staff Sgt. Tracie Kessler, depot spokesman.

Each Sunday, the depot hosts as many as 20 different church services for recruits, Fisher said.

"As chaplains, part of our role here is to keep the government honest by saying every recruit that comes through here has a constitutional right to practice their faith," he said. "The chapels are the only buildings on this base built with a constitutional foundation. We have every denomination of the Christian faith here, we have some Jewish folks here, we have a group of Wiccans that come together and study, we have Buddhists and Hindus."