News: Chaplains tour Helmand, provide services to Marines
Story by Sgt. Ned Johnson
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan— A new chaplain had just been assigned to a Marine infantry unit in Vietnam in 1967 when his unit was ambushed. At one point, a young Marine fell mortally wounded. The chaplain ran to his side to offer the man last rites.
As the chaplain said his prayers, the man looked up at him and said, “Thank you, Father. I was an altar boy.” The Marine died less than ten minutes later.
This is the story Capt. Francis Foley, the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing chaplain, heard from the Naval Academy chaplain when he visited the school as a young parish priest in 1983. From that point forward, Foley knew he wanted to be a Navy chaplain so he, too, could have the opportunity to provide services to personnel on the front lines of combat.
Foley joined Cmdr. Michael Williams, the Regimental Combat Team 7 chaplain, on a two-week tour of the smaller bases in the RCT-7 area of operations to provide Easter services and counseling starting March 23.
These smaller bases often do not have chapels or a chaplain so religious services are not always conducted regularly.
“The greatest part is that we are able to provide for a need that is there,” said Williams, from Kodiak, Alaska. “It’s not something we have to provide, but a need that the Marines [and other service members] have.”
Foley is only in Afghanistan for only a few weeks to help with Easter services for Catholics, but he said the trip is not an accident.
“The extraordinary thing is that I have met Marines who I talked to that immediately said, ‘I have wanted to talk to a priest,’” Foley said. “If I hadn’t been to Now Zad or many of these other places, these Marines would not have had the opportunity, and I believe God wants me here.”
Foley said he met two Marines who want to be baptized and one Marine who wants to get married after the deployment. He gave them the information they needed and his contact information so he could help them when they return stateside.
Foley went to seminary at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Lower Marion, Penn., and was a parish priest in Philadelphia before he became a Navy chaplain. Williams attended Denver Seminary and was an associate pastor before he joined the Navy. The two men are similar in many ways, including their love for Marines and their desire to help them.
“I have always loved the military, and I love the Marines,” Williams said. “The esprit de corps and the warrior sprit is something that I really enjoy.”
Both agreed the most difficult part of being a chaplain in Afghanistan is the amount of traveling that is necessary to assist service members. Foley is going back to 3rd MAW near the end of the month, but Williams will continue to travel to each base across RCT-7’s area of operations and establish relationships with service members.
“It’s not easy because we don’t spend a lot of time at these bases with the Marines,” Williams said. “But there will be more travel in the future and I thank God that I have had this chance.”