CCPO Program offers insight into being a chaplain

10 Aug 2000 | Cpl. Derek Shoemake 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Being a Navy Chaplain is a lot of things, but easy isn't one of them.

The U.S. Navy's Chaplain Candidate Program is teaching that lesson to Navy Ensigns Shane Baxter and Jacobo Munoz.

"It's a rewarding life," said Lt. Cmdr. Joseph Scordo, Catholic priest and chaplain with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable). "But it can be very intense."

The Chaplain Candidate Program Officers (CCPO) are aboard USS Saipan getting an initial taste of this intensity. This will be their first in a series of on-the-job training sessions before they become ordained as Catholic priests.

According to Scordo, the CCPOs are seminary students that have been commissioned as Navy Reserve officers. During their graduate studies, they spendĀ  reserve and active training days with Navy Chaplains to assist with ministry ashore and at sea.

"I think its wonderful that these young seminarians get some exposure to really see if this is an environment they want to minister in," said Lt. Cmdr. Arthur Brown, USS Saipan's Command Chaplain.

If the Ensigns first two weeks on the job are any indication, the military is a place they want to be.

"Here we'll be dealing with people from all other faiths," he said. "It's truly an opportunity to broaden your mind."

Baxter is no stranger to the Navy. He was enlisted for six years until getting out with plans to start a family.

"It didn't really work out that way," the Nederland, Texas native laughed. "Now my family will be those I minister to."

Munoz, who went into the seminary after high school, said he sees many similarities between the service and the clergy.

"Today I had an encounter with a (Marine)," said the Rapid City, S.D., native. "It was nothing incredibly major, but I was able to answer questions about what seminary is like.

"We started comparing and I told him we have a similar formation. We have a strict code of discipline, and our training is designed to make us more efficient at what we do."

As a Catholic Priests, that training began with four years of college. Once they received their bachelors degrees, Baxter and Munoz were sent to the North American College in Rome, where they recently finished their first year. Their training as Chaplains began soon after. The CCPOs began a Chaplain's Training Course at Sigonella Naval Air Station in Italy. After nearly a month of learning about various military customs and courtesies, they boarded USS Saipan for their on-the-job-training. When finished here, they will return to Sigonella and wrap up their training course.

Both Baxter and Munoz said some of their best lessons came from working under Chaplains Brown and Scordo.

"They work extremely well together," said Munoz. "We can see their cooperation and dedication by watching the way they minister. They are open to anyone, regardless of their faith. It's good for us baby Chaplains to see."

According to Brown, both CCPOs have what it takes to make good Chaplains.

"To be a good Chaplain you need a clear understanding, you need to love people, care and interact," he said. "These guys have been doing that. They're two of the finest young (Chaplain Candidates) I've ever seen."

Once Baxter and Munoz receive their master's degrees in theology they will be obligated to serve in their home parishes for a number of years before they can apply to become active duty Chaplains.

Brown said it is worth the wait.

"I've had the chance to preach in every environment imaginable, except under the sea," he said. "You really live with people doing this. In the fullest sense of the words, you live with them; you work with them; you play with them. If need be, you die with them. It is place where you can truly feel God."

26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable)