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24th MEU (SOC) chaplain recounts experiences in Iraq

22 Apr 2003 | Sgt. Zachary A. Bathon 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit

"'By endurance we conquer' that is the phrase I live by," said Cmdr. Bryan Weaver, as he recalled some of his experiences as the chaplain for the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) in Iraq.
And endure and conquer he did.

As the 24th MEU's chaplain, Weaver, affectionately known as "Battle Chaps" by the Marines in the MEU, spent the majority of his time in Iraq climbing in and out of the Marines' fighting holes talking to them or conducting worship services in the field.

"The Marines want their chaplains in the field," said Weaver. "I couldn't count the number of times I would go into a position and the Marines would say 'Hey Chaps, good to see you here.'"

"Conducting combat ministry is what my job as a Fleet Marine Force chaplain is," he added. "I spent a lot of time here just talking to the men and answering some of their questions. Most of the time they were asking whether or not it was okay to take human life in time of war. I would answer their questions or just offer a little comfort for them."

One thing that Weaver recalled as he wiped sweat from his brow with a camouflaged neckerchief, was that he noticed a lot of Marines had written scripture passages on their helmets and took the time to read the bible -- whether it was in their fighting holes or sitting on their packs waiting for the word to move out.

"Quite frankly, America has the soul of the church," said Weaver. "Many of these Marines come from God-fearing families and attend church regularly. That is why it is important for me to be out here with them enduring the hardships they endure, suffering like they suffer."

"If the men see the chaplain doing what they do, the men will seek him out," he added.

But moving from fighting hole to fighting hole and company position to company position can take its toll on anyone.

"I not getting any younger," said Weaver. "I am going to turn 48 this year and keeping up with these young Marines is quite a challenge. That is why I try to stay in shape and ask God to give me the strength to endure."

But Weaver said he wouldn't have it any other way. "The best part of being out here is sharing in the camaraderie and espirit de corps these men have with each other. These guys truly are a band of brothers and the feeling of what the relationship is like between Marines and their chaplain is almost indescribable."

That relationship is what Weaver says, "separates the men the boys."  "The environment dictates the ministry. This place does not have the security one would feel back in a church in the states. Out here you have to be on your toes and constantly be aware of your surroundings," said Weaver.

But Weaver, with a broad smile on his face, said the Marines here would go out of their way to take care of their chaplain.

But serving the 24th MEU wasn't the only job Weaver did out here. He also supported Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Az.

They had already suffered three wounded and had one Marine killed in action, so I did some combat stress counseling for them and helped them have a sense of calm and security out here."

But as the MEU makes preparations to return back the ships of the USS Nassau Amphibious Ready and make their journey home Weaver has the satisfaction of a job well done.

"It is amazing to me the number of emails I have received from families of Marines thanking me for the job I have done out here. That has made everything I have endured out here all worthwhile."