PUERTO CORTES, Honduras (NNS) -- On every humanitarian mission there are essential roles without which success wouldn't be possible. Operations is the brains, Seabees are the brawn, Medical is the heart, but the soul is the chaplain.
It's hard to overestimate the contribution of chaplains. They coordinate community relations events, donation opportunities and church services as well as provide pastoral counseling to service members.
Chaplains join for many reasons. Each of them has a unique story about their "calling." Lt. Cmdr. Michael Vitcavich of Bank, New Jersey is no different.
"It's hard to think about it and not get emotional," said Vitcavich, a Reservist chaplain assigned to Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 40. "I became a true believer in 2000 and prior to that I was a successful entrepreneur in construction and contracting. Once the Lord changed my heart, I wanted to break away, I wanted to be a pastor. The bible says we can plan our steps, but it's the Lord that plans our directions, and this is the direction He led me."
As it happens, he was also led to the Continuing Promise 2018 team after accepting the billet at DESRON 40.
"The Lord has been leading me here for a long time," said Vitcavich. "I got the welcome aboard call from DESRON 40 in January and a few days later they told me about the mission. I had 24 hours to accept. So, I called my job, got the O.K. and joined the team the next day."
Vitcavich explained that while he loves helping people in any capacity, his greatest passion is in meeting people in their environment and finding common ground from which both sides can teach and learn.
"I'm more of a getting out and about kind of guy," said Vitcavich. "I love learning about different cultures and sharing something of mine. In the Chaplain Corps, we call that a teachable spirit. Being here in Honduras and exchanging cultures is a gold mine for any Chaplain, but I feel for me, especially."
In the first month of Continuing Promise, the team has already met, treated and shared so much with so many people. The need has been made overwhelmingly clear as thousands of Hondurans have come out for treatment and services. For those with less specific needs, or those with non-medical needs, Victavich planned a number of community service projects.
While touring the Franklin D. Roosevelt School in Puerto Cortes, Vitcavich noticed that only one half of one of the four stoves in the home economics class was functioning. He said it was apparent how badly they needed one as they had kept three broken units for parts. Two days later, Vitcavich and the Continuing Promise team delivered a fully functioning refurbished oven.
"Home economics is particularly important in Honduras," said Vitcavich. "A lot of these kids don't even have parents. You know, 13 and 14-year olds living on their own."
Chaplains are not in it alone. They use an expansive network of contacts and resources to help them change lives for the better.
"The Embassy helped out, too. They donated 1300 school kits to the same students at FDR. We were able to pass them out and raise morale tremendously."
Students were not the only beneficiaries, one of the support staff members who does missionary work told Vitcavich about a number of families with children who live in and off of a local landfill. He assembled a team and went out to meet them.
"It was definitely an eye opener," said Vitcavich. "We don't even realize how much we have and how much we take for granted. Those little things we don't always appreciate are considered great blessings to them. I told them that I wish I could do more, but they said just our presence and prayers were enough. They said they felt like they'd been discarded by society."
Chaplains are far more than religious leaders; their concern is for people. They are a bit of levity in an often heavy profession. They come from different places and join for different reasons, but they all share the same calling, to help their fellow man.
Vitcavich said, "We all join the military to make a difference in the world, and this mission is at the core of that belief."
Chaplain Vitcavich and the Continuing Promise team are slated to depart Honduras soon. They are scheduled to visit Guatemala and Colombia in the coming months.
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