Navy Chaplain Joins Destroyer for First Independent Deployment

Story Number: NNS090517-03Release Date: 5/17/2009 11:03:00 AM
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By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class (SW) Joel Carlson, COMDESRON 24 Public Affairs

USS ARLEIGH BURKE, At Sea (NNS) -- To maximize efficiency aboard USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) during their six month independent deployment from Norfolk, Va., the staff aboard the destroyer called for a chaplain of their own.

Lt. j.g. Len Driskell, chaplain, received his active duty status and orders to the Surface Force Ministry Center in Norfolk, Va., in August 2008. He soon after received word he would go underway with the guided-missile destroyer during its first certified independent deployment.

The cruise is not only a milestone for Arleigh Burke, but also for Driskell, who had never been underway.

"As a Navy chaplain, I have a pretty awesome responsibility. The chaplain may be the only person on a ship or in the sand who just sits down and listens to what people have to say," said Driskell.

He also said that one of the things that drew him to the Chaplain Corps was that in the Navy, the chaplains get to live with their church congregation.

"We are literally in the same boat," he said.

While underway, Driskell facilitates various religious and spiritual needs for the crew, regardless of faith or background.

"As chaplains, we provide for our own in the sense that we do worship services for those who believe similarly to us," said Driskell. "Everyone, though, is in our flock. Even if they don't agree with what we believe, we still guide, counsel, and just be there for the Sailors."

Driskell's presence aboard Arleigh Burke plays a significant role to the overall mission of the ship, with the crew separated from their homes for half a year.

"He unites us," said Lt. Rachele Wharton, supply officer. "He continuously strives to do everything he can to stay involved." Wharton added that Driskell provides weekly workshops, volunteers on the Damage Control Training Team, and can even be found serving food for the mess line.

"I feel like my ministry helps Sailors cope with the demands of their deployment, including both the job demands and the distance from their families," said Driskell.

The chaplain, like many crew members, also has a wife and three children waiting for him at home.

Navy chaplains have served alongside service members since the inception of the Navy, more than 200 years ago. Every world theatre and mission has called for the service and support of the Chaplain Corps, and today's missions are no different.

Arleigh Burke is currently participating in the Joint Warrior exercise, a multinational training environment focusing on cooperation and team-building between U.S. and European allied forces. Throughout Joint Warrior, Driskell may be required to serve aboard any of the U.S. ships involved, and has already spent time on USS Porter (DDG 78) to facilitate needs during the maritime training.

"We're very fortunate to have him," said Information Systems Technician 3rd Class Carrie Hankes of USS Porter Operations Department. "It's very important for him to be able to jump around from ship to ship. Faith is important, and a lot of Sailors deal with spiritual needs and sometimes need help with their problems and issues."

Upon completion of the exercise, Arleigh Burke is scheduled to continue to the African coast for the remainder of the deployment.

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