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    "Holy Helo" touches down on USS Sterett

    Sterett Sailors participate in Catholic service

    Photo By Seaman Drace Wilson | 200717-N-NC885-1008 South China Sea (July 17, 2020) Religious Program Specialist 1st...... read more read more



    Story by Seaman Drace Wilson 

    Carrier Strike Group 11

    The sole Catholic priest in Carrier Strike Group 11, Lt. Matthew Benjamin often leaves the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) to provide religious services to Sailors on the other ships in the strike group via a helicopter known as a “holy helo.”

    “There’s only 47 priests in the fleet,” explained Benjamin who brings Catholic services to those who seek it across the strike group. “I also provide counsel to all Sailors and Marines who want it, regardless of their faith. I am humbled in this position. It is a great gift to do this.”

    Most small ships typically have only one chaplain, and lay leaders of faiths differing from the chaplain can lead prayer or religious study groups. Carrier strike groups and destroyer squadrons can augment chaplains through “holy helos”. Throughout Carrier Strike Group 11 there are seven Chaplains from multiple faith backgrounds, including Judaism, protestant Christianity and Catholicism.

    On July 17, Benjamin climbed aboard the "holy helo" from the "Battlecats" of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 73 bound for USS Sterett (DDG 104).

    Despite only recently becoming a Navy Chaplain, Benjamin is not new to the military. After graduating high school, the Madison, Alabama native enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1988 as a Radio Operator. He served until 1994 and was discharged as a sergeant.

    It wasn’t until much later in life that Benjamin discovered his true calling of becoming a Chaplain.

    “From my youth I always thought I had a vocation,” said Benjamin. “It was after a year in Iraq as a contractor where I was in touch with my morality and through the intercession of the Holy Mother that I committed to priesthood.”

    Benjamin graduated from Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis in 2010. He became a Navy Chaplain in 2017.

    “It’s surreal being back in the military after all these years,” said Benjamin. “A lot has changed since I enlisted in 1988, but the mission and dedication of the men and women who serve is the same. I’m happy to be back.”

    A Navy Chaplain is hardly ever seen without a Religious Program Specialist by his or her side, and the same can be said for Benjamin. Religious Program Specialist 1st Class Sennen Agorchukwu accompanied Benjamin when he made his visit to Sterett.

    “My role is to make sure our mission is accomplished by assisting the Chaplain in any capacity,” said Agorchukwu, from San Diego. “I have to make sure that we have all of the necessary religious materials and resources, like Holy Bibles, rosaries, Scapulars and Catholic Handbooks for Military Personnel. I also have to rig and unrig the Altar for the celebration of Holy Mass.”

    Benjamin’s presence and teachings were greatly appreciated by service attendees.

    “You can have as many prayer services as you want, but having a full service with the readings, the singing and the Eucharist, it just made us feel complete,” said Lt. j.g. Cori Ruby, from Tiverton, R.I.

    While the “holy helo” departed Sterett later that day, Sailors can count on it returning again soon.



    Date Taken: 07.17.2020
    Date Posted: 07.23.2020 09:38
    Story ID: 374424
    Location: SOUTH CHINA SEA 
    Hometown: MADISON, AL, US
    Hometown: SAN DIEGO, CA, US
    Hometown: TIVERTON, RI, US

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