Chaplain, religious services help 24th MEU Marines stay focused

12 Jul 2004 | Sgt. Zachary A. Bathon

"The presence of the cross that the chaplain wears on the battlefield provides a sense of hope to the warrior spirit."

It is that warrior spirit that is fostered during field religious services and visits conducted by the chaplains of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit as its Marines and sailors prepare to move north into Iraq.

Cmdr. James M. Hightower, a Toccoa, Ga., native and chaplain for the 24th MEU, also says, "That cross serves as a reminder to them that regardless of the circumstances -- with God, you are never without hope."

And many of the leathernecks currently deployed with the MEU use that hope to help them remain focused on the task at hand - to make it home safely.

"I think religion plays a big role in a lot of these Marine's lives," said Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Beeler, a Beaufort, S.C., native and religious program specialist with the 24th MEU. "It gives them some relief from what is going on around them and allows them to have a clear conscience."

"It also gives them piece of mind and lets them have some security in their souls," he added.

According to Hightower, there has been a big demand for religious paraphernalia and literature.

"My [religious program specialist] has been busy keeping their hands full with all kinds of things," he said.

"On this deployment, I have given away more medals than any of the previous ones," said Beeler. A lot of the time they come up to me and ask for certain things as opposed to me just giving it to them."

Some of the items the Marines have been asking for have been religious medals depicting St. Michael, St. Christopher and St. Sebastian, field Bibles and dog tags inscribed with Psalm 91.

Psalm 91 says, "I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue them and honor them."

"One unique thing about the dog tags is that I offered them to family members before the Marines left," said Hightower. "That was the first time I had ever done that. It allows the family to form a spiritual connection with their Marine."

This spiritual connection seems to give the Marines strength and courage.
"I think [religion] reminds us that we know we will not be here forever and makes us do a gut check to measure who we are with God and where we stand with our families," said Hightower.

His favorite Bible verse to give to Marines is Proverbs 3: 5,6. It says, "Trust in the lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."

"I like to share that with Marines and sailors because we need to all do as much as humanly possible to keep ourselves prepared, but at the end of our limitations God takes over and that where we trust him," said Hightower. "It reminds us that after we have done all that we can do, we can trust God because he doesn't make mistakes."