ATLANTIC OCEAN (NNS) -- Aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) (Ike) hosted four chaplain candidates for an on-the-job training program while at sea, Jan. 25-Feb. 11.
The Chaplain Candidate Program is a recruiting and training program designed to assist chaplain candidates in superseding as an active duty or reserve Navy chaplain.
Once a chaplain supersedes then they will go on to serve at Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine commands.
The program's participants are Navy officers mentored by the ship's chaplains who collaborated with Ike departments to offer crew-led trainings throughout various work spaces on the ship. The on-the-job training portion of the the program enables prospective chaplains to experience ministry between chaplains and service members across various commands.
"We try to ensure they have a good stay on board, but also a very fruitful one that will empower them, prepare them and give them a better understanding of the career of a Navy chaplain," said Lt. Tomek Maka, an Ike chaplain who is supervising the ship's participation in the program. "This is a great opportunity for these gentlemen to get on-the-job experience."
"It's been a great experience seeing what shipboard life is like in the Navy," said Lt. j.g. David Sensenig, a chaplain candidate. "As a pastor, I didn't live with the people I served. In my normal church setting, I'd see people about once a week, but here you're really living with the people and going through all the same things they're going through."
The candidates were introduced to a diverse command religious ministry program that afforded each chaplain candidate an opportunity to meet Sailors for several faith traditions. When a candidate participates in the program, they are introduced to the challenges and rewards of working in the diverse situations that the Navy has to offer.
Lt. j.g. Gregory Lesher, a chaplain candidate, reflected on how the program allows him to engage "with people, no matter their faith background." Lesher described his time visiting various work centers on the ship as "you never know what kind of conversations you're going to get into."
For many of the candidates, this will be the first situation where they have to serve people of all different religious backgrounds. While Navy chaplains are able to provide for their faith group, it is also their duty to facilitate the spiritual needs of Sailors, and to care for all.
"The Department of Defense requires two years of ministry experience to go active duty," said Lt. Anthony Westerman, a chaplain candidate. "Ministry in that setting is unique because you're just interacting with your own, whereas when you come here, you are interacting not just with your faith group, but all faith groups."
Lt. j.g. Michael Spoke, another of the chaplain candidates, said the program is allowing them to give Navy life a try and to decide if it would suit them.
"The Navy is giving us the chance to find out if this is what we are called to be," Spoke said.
Through the Chaplain Candidate Program, graduate theological students can be commissioned as a Navy officer while they finish their studies at an accredited seminary or graduate school. For many students, the on-the-job training opportunities that this program provides are invaluable.
From here, the candidates may visit several other commands until they complete their packages. Then they must pass a final board to become full-fledged Navy chaplains.
Ike is currently underway preparing for an upcoming Board of Inspections and Survey (INSURV).