USS IWO JIMA -- A man walks deep within enemy country armed only with the good book and his faith. He travels unfamiliar lands in service to others, providing a kind word here, a good work there. A man of God, his path leads him to the aid of his country and offers the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) one of its greatest force multipliers. He’s Navy Cmdr. Gary W. Carr, 24th MEU chaplain, and he’s making a difference one Marine at a time.
“I try to meet as many Marines as possible,” explained Carr, a native of Lansing, Mich. “With the current war we’re in, our faith plays a significant role. It provides courage and wisdom in times of chaos and critical decision-making.”
For Carr, it’s his job and the job of the chaplain’s office to provide not only a framework for the discussion of faith, but often a trusted friend that a service member can turn to in troubled times, he said. Clearing a confused mind before a combat action can not only save the individual’s life, but the lives of everyone who may be depending on that Marine.
“When we get on the battlefield, they’re going to bump into God,” said Carr. “I’m arranging a way for them to have a frame of reference when the time comes.”
Carr spends his time at sea trying to meet hundreds of Marines a day and says, “I like to eyeball Marines. I like to go into work spaces and talk to them, learn something about each person. It’s all about connecting, because once you connect, you have the opportunity to empower them to do something great.”
In addition to daily rounds aboard the USS Iwo Jima, Carr offers formal counseling, religious education and worship opportunities throughout each week. He also focuses on the families of Marines, saying that he’s “their chaplain too.”
“Deploying is a very stressful event and the loss they feel is real,” added Carr. “Families need to have a chance to see their chaplain. I love to help people.”
“We’re a very unique team,” explained Petty Officer 1st Class Anthony Pilozo, 24th MEU religious program specialist, who hails from Caguas, Puerto Rico. “You name it, we do it. We’re here to make sure that Marines have a clear head and clear conscience so they can concentrate on the job at hand.”
“Church services opened up a home away from home and give people who may not go on a regular basis a peaceful place, a place of serenity” added Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jeffrey M. Banks, a hospital corpsman, a member of the ship’s religious choir and a preacher from Richlands, N.C. “It does ease my mind that when we go ‘in country,’ the Marines will have someone to talk to. It’s a great resource.”
Beyond easing troubled souls, Carr said he takes the welfare of the troops to heart and is genuinely interested in helping Marines master more than just their tangible skills. He urges them to improve their spiritual well being so they’ll be able to serve with honor - always striving for an understanding of what it means to serve under the flag of a higher purpose.
“If wars have to be fought, we will finish,” said Carr. “We will serve our country whenever called and we’ll serve it with the highest values.”
The 24th MEU began an expected six-month deployment last week to the European and Central Command theaters of operation. The MEU is composed of its Command Element; Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment; Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 365 (Reinforced); and Marine Service Support Group 24.