GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (NNS) -- On Nov. 28, the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps celebrated its 242nd birthday as humbly and selflessly as they have stood their post since their creation, just 46 days after the Navy's inception.
From the earliest battles waged by the Continental Navy to the current conflicts faced by our Sailors and Marines around the World, U.S. Navy chaplains have put themselves in harm's way to minister to our service members and their families. These exceptionally-devoted men and women have provided them with the moral strength, compassionate care, inspirational leadership, and deep faith to maintain constant readiness and accomplish any mission.
Naval Station Guantanamo Bay (NSGB) is blessed to have three Navy chaplains stationed at its two chapels, the base chapel on Chapel Hill and the Trooper Chapel located on the Joint Task Force-Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) side of base.
These three men have a diverse and unique job, which includes administrative work, walking the deck plates, counseling, worship, command events, religious education, department head responsibilities, facilities management, duty, emergency response, community life, physical readiness and military readiness.
Depending on the time of year, the priorities of the command, the current mission, or important tasks, those responsibilities can expand and change very quickly.
"No two days and no two weeks are ever exactly alike," said Cmdr. Keith Shuley, NSGB command chaplain.
Though they have many demands that require both their time and presence, Navy chaplains find their role to be very meaningful.
"The people are the best part of my job," said Lt. j.g. Izaak Toliver, NSGB deputy command chaplain. "I am rewarded daily by the kindness and humility of so many that I work with and minister to on a regular basis."
Toliver said that his experience at NSGB has been a learning process, as this is his first duty station, but noted that he has a great mentor in Shuley and so many others, to include the incredible chaplains on the JTF-GTMO side.
"We have forged a brotherhood of sorts and work together regularly to positively impact the families here on base and the command," said Toliver.
Cmdr. David Bachelor, JTF-GTMO command chaplain, often finds himself working to bring meaning to the lives of the deployed service members and finds the challenges there to be some of the most meaningful moments of his deployment.
Bachelor noted that "walking with troopers through the crises of life and deployment that have no easy answers" is one of the most challenging parts of his job.
Yet, in his role, Bachelor is able to bring meaning to both the lives of those he serves and his own.
"The most meaningful part of my role as chaplain is guiding troopers to consider living their life and serving their country by the truth claims of their religion," said Bachelor.
Toliver, too, finds that while the people are the best part of his job, that can be a two-sided coin that brings some of his most challenging moments to the forefront as well.
"I think one of the most challenging parts of my duty as a chaplain is to know that there are many Sailors and Marines out there that need to talk with a chaplain and yet keep it in," said Toliver, noting that the entire Religious Ministries Team works tirelessly to provide a warm and welcoming environment that all feel welcome to come in and talk as needed.
Just like any other field of work in the military, Navy chaplains come from all different walks of life and join for all different reasons.
Shuley's experiences with Navy chaplains while serving as a United States Marine influenced him to become a Navy chaplain.
"The chaplains were always there for us," said Shuley, who now returns that devotion. "The most exciting and fulfilling components of chaplaincy are 'boots on the ground' and 'haze gray and underway.'"
Bachelor, who served as an Army infantry officer in the 1980's, said his life had been impacted by the ministry of several chaplains during that period of previous military service. After 9/11, he wanted to come back into the military and serve his country and soon found that while the Army would put him back in the infantry while he applied to religious ministries, the Navy would accept him in the Chaplain Corps.
"Part of my job here is serving the families of the 9/11 and the USS Cole attacks," said Bachelor. "Hearing their stories and being there for them is an extreme honor."
Toliver grew up in a small town in Missouri and never expected to be a part of the Chaplain Corps. He said that one of the key reasons he joined was due to an opportunity that he had to pastor at Cornerstone Bible Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where he came into contact with service men and women of the armed forces on a regular basis.
"I was struck by their resilience, work ethic and passion," said Toliver. "I realized then that I wanted something more for my life and the life of my family. With a huge support system behind us, we decided to make this leap and have never looked back. This is exactly where I was meant to be and what I was meant to be doing."
Toliver's role as a pastor continues to be the one constant that always stands out to him as some of his greatest moments, as he leads the 11:00 a.m. Sunday service at the base chapel and welcomes the opportunity to minister to so many families each week.
"I am constantly struck by their love for people, but most of all by their love for God," said Toliver. "I am humbled by the chance that I have to serve them as their chaplain."
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