FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELARAM II, Afghanistan -- When service members are deployed to a combat zone, many rely on a chaplain for spiritual guidance and well-being.
Chaplains are a source troops can turn to for help. They help counsel service members, often traveling to forward operating bases to provide support, offer a stress-free worship environment and hold classes to help enrich deployed service members’ lives.
Being sent to a combat environment can be a nerve-racking experience, but for Navy Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Berrens, a chaplain with Marine Aircraft Group – Afghanistan, it is just another day at the office.
“I joined the military because I feel service members come in contact with dangerous situations more than the civilian side of ministry,” said Berrens, a 39-year-old native of Modesto, Calif. “I wanted to be able to help people at the source.”
Having been deployed before to the Persian Gulf aboard the USS Ogden during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003; to Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2009; and now with the Aviation Combat Element, he said it is always a very rewarding experience.
Berren’s father served in the Navy, and both of his grandfathers served during WWII. He felt strongly about continuing the tradition of service in his family; however, he was compelled to be a minister, he said.
“Since I was young, I have always loved the military and wanted to do my part,” said Berrens. “Once I discovered the Chaplain Corps, it was the perfect match for me because I could do both.”
The U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps is an ordained clergy consisting of commissioned naval officers. The principle purpose of a chaplain is to promote the spiritual, moral, religious and personal well-being of the members of the Department of the Navy, which includes the Marine Corps.
Berrens leads a weekly worship gathering at Camp Bastion, which serves troops as well as civilian contractors.
“I feel like I’m helping them along in their journey of life, through challenging and difficult times,” said Berrens. “My role in helping people spiritually improves mission readiness. When service members are put at ease spiritually, they can focus on their job or mission more, which makes them more effective.”
“Many people that come to the worship services feel more at ease afterwards,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Blayne Benavente, a 23-year-old native of San Diego, Calif., a religious program specialist with Marine Aircraft Group – Afghanistan. “I think it’s important because people in the military have someone to trust in, especially someone like Lt. Cmdr. Berrens. It makes me feel good that we can provide services for those serving overseas in a combat zone.”
Berrens said he feels honored to serve an important role that service members and their families rely upon.
“It’s a humbling experience to be so important to people’s lives,” said Berrens. “I really love seeing transformed lives as God works in the hearts of people. Helping people overcome challenges and difficulties is very rewarding.”