SAHL SINJAR, Iraq --
Always faithful; a saying by which Marines and sailors of 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion fight and one by which their chaplain shapes a deeper meaning, exemplifying a way to live a life.
“The honor, privilege and challenge of serving with the Marines are things that truly make for an amazing occupation, and I am here to assist them and be a counsel for them wherever they may go,” said Lt. Cmdr. James L. Johnson, chaplain for 1st LAR Bn. “This battalion is filled with Marines that have all different types of jobs, bringing their skills to the mission we have here. It’s really impressive.”
The Marines of 1st LAR Bn. are currently operating near the city of Mosul in northern Iraq, interdicting smuggling from Syria.
Johnson’s original job was one that could have been useful to the Highlanders when he was in the Navy years ago.
“I wouldn’t say years ago, more like decades. I was a corpsman and I wanted to serve with the Marines, but I ended up working in a hospital instead. So this is a sort of second opportunity,“ said Johnson, now 50. “It was always my dream to serve with the Marines. Though I never thought I would be here, God is full of surprises, and this is where he has guided me.”
As Marines and sailors of 1st LAR Bn. approach the half-way point in their deployment from family and friends, having someone to talk to can be a welcomed relief, especially during the holiday season, explained Johnson.
“This job isn’t like any other. When we say we take care of each other that isn’t some sentimental cozy remark. We take it seriously as matter of life and death and no one person can do this mission alone,” said Johnson. “With that, I think there is a tendency to focus on the service member, so I hope families know how much they are missed and that we really appreciate what they do.”
And, though Marines may be missing home, their mission is one that requires them to continue to be the professionals both the American and Iraqi people need them to be, said Johnson.
“When I served in Japan, there was a sign posted at the gate as you left. ‘You are an ambassador of the United States of America.’ That really stuck with me,” said Johnson. “You may be the only American that some of the people here ever have contact with, and that comes with a responsibility. I think more is expected of our warriors than before in that way.”
With the spiritual guidance and mentorship around them, Marines of 1st LAR Bn. can carry out their mission, which at times may just be taking care of one another, said Johnson.
“The Marine Corps motto is not ’always running’ or ’always bull’s-eye’- it’s ’always faithful,’” said Johnson. “Marines have been Marines even when they have run out of ammunition- when all they had left was their own strength and guile.”