Story and photo by MC3 Aja Bleu Jackson
U.S. 5TH FLEET AREA OF OPERATIONS - Sailors assigned to the guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) completed lay leader training and can now provide religious support services aboard the ship to interested members of the crew.
Smaller ships may not have a permanently assigned chaplain and receive visits from affiliated strike group or destroyer squadron chaplains. Throughout Carrier Strike Group 11 and Destroyer Squadron 9, there are seven chaplains from multiple faith backgrounds, including Judaism, Protestant, Christianity and Catholicism. Lay leaders reflect a wide variety of faith traditions and can lead prayer or religious study groups and augment religious opportunities the crew would not otherwise have when a chaplain of their faith is not embarked.
“The [lay leader] program seeks to 'fill in the blanks' in terms of helping us to provide for the religious and spiritual needs of the entire crew,” said Lt. Cmdr. Charlie Mallie, from Tomball, Texas. Mallie is a Lutheran chaplain and the Carrier Strike Group 11 lay leader coordinator assigned to flagship USS Nimitz (CVN 68), but visits deployed ships in the strike group via helicopter.
A ship wide Religious Needs Survey determines the need aboard a ship, and volunteers receive training from a chaplain aligned with their religious affiliation. Ensign Juvany Frianeza from San Diego; Operations Specialist 3rd Class Brenden Campbell, from College Station, Texas; and Retail Services Specialist 3rd Class Michael Chavez, from Devine, Texas, completed lay leader training to support their catholic shipmates.
“Chaplains for each religious group train their lay leaders in accordance with the doctrinal principles of that faith and teaches them the scope of their [lay leader] responsibilities,” said Lt. Matthew Benjamin, a catholic priest and Navy chaplain who like Mallie, is embarked on Nimitz but provides strike group-wide support.
Frianeza, Campbell and Chavez are now able to augment catholic support services.
“A Catholic lay leader is someone who is in good standing within the church and is also someone who is willing to facilitate prayers for the faithful in the absence of a Catholic priest,” said Benjamin, a Madison, Alabama native. Some of the responsibilities for a catholic lay leader include leading interested service members in praying the rosary and providing daily readings.
“Growing up, I’ve always been really religious,” said Campbell. “I went to church every Sunday. It makes me feel more centered to have faith and read the Holy Bible.”
“I really enjoy it,” added Campbell. “Praying the rosary pretty much saved my life.”
Frianeza said she believes it is important for service members to be able to practice their religious beliefs.
“Finding a group of people to relate with who have the same beliefs and values to find that solace and peace, especially on deployment….this is a great opportunity for that,” added Frianeza.
John Paul Jones is part of Nimitz Carrier Strike Group and is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the central region, connecting the Mediterranean and Pacific through the western Indian Ocean and three critical chokepoints to the free flow of global commerce.