MARINE CORPS MOUNTAIN WARFARE TRAINING CENTER BRIDGEPORT, Calif. -- The thoughts and prayers of those who attend a service echo inside the walls of churches every Sunday. Every song of praise lifts up the spirits of the people as they clap and sing along to the hymns. Every stressful thought and hardship melts away as joy fills the room through worship and rejoice. Patiently, members of the church listen to gospel and come together as a congregation.
The chaplain serves as a minister and a bridge to the civilian community from the military community. Often times the chaplain is looked to as a leader of both service members and the local churches. He is someone whom can be depended on for advice and guidance in the stresses and moral challenges of day-to-day life.
Navy Lt. Paul Armstrong is a chaplain for the Marine Corps Communication-Electronics School. Armstrong was sent as a temporary chaplain to the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, Bridgeport, Calif., to prepare for the arrival of a personnel chaplain scheduled for the summer.
In his time aboard the base, Armstrong did many things to help the Marines and improve relations with the local community in order to rebuild a relationship.
Chaplain Armstrong held ethics classes for the Non-Commissioned Officer course at the base and held ‘meet and greets’ with military families.
“As a chaplain, you have to make sure people know you’re there,” Armstrong said. “Making your presence known to everyone makes them more open to talk to you and that is part of what being a chaplain is, being able to comfort people in times of hardship and give guidance.”
The ethics classes Armstrong instructed dealt with situations that occur in the workplace. He did not touch upon religion but instead, brought up points that made leaders reconsider how accurate their moral compass was when dealing with subordinates, superiors, or even moral decisions in daily life, according to Armstrong.
Knowing the people who live in the local towns is a fundamental part to adjusting to a new environment. With so many people always moving from base to base, having an established relationship with the community helps a chaplain assist the families in settling into the new area.
“It’s always good to know where you stand with the community around your base,” Armstrong said. “Rebuilding a bridge of communication with a community is an important step to being successful as a chaplain who has to be in tune with what’s happening around him to help others.”
The chaplain holds an important role in how the military community interacts with the local community, and the church in the area has always known that.
“Since the summer of 2013, we have not had a permanent chaplain here,” said Betty Jean Wilson, head of the finance committee, Antelope United Methodist Church. “There was a time when the civilian community and military families came together during church and were one. It was beautiful to see young families congregate and spend time together with us as a church.”
The location of the church is also a factor for families stationed at the MCMWTC. With the base being so far from family housing, having a church nearby helps Marines because the base chapel is a longer commute.
“Having a good relationship with local churches opens doors for everyone,” Armstrong said. “Families benefit from it because it’s a short drive from where they live and the church benefits because it has more people to share the gospel with every Sunday.”
On both ends of the spectrum, a healthy relationship with the local area makes for a welcoming atmosphere.
“We want to see a time where the community comes together with the military families,” Wilson said. “We welcome them and their families with open arms to our congregation so they can be part of our family too.”