Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition: 1st FSSG chaplain's protector called to serve

9 May 2004 | Lance Cpl. Samuel Bard Valliere 1st Marine Logistics Group

His first calling was to the Marines, the second was to the Lord. Today, one sailor serves both in Iraq.Stretched across a scarlet ribbon on the Navy Chaplain's Corps' seal are the Latin words "vocati ad servitium," meaning "called to serve." Petty Officer 2nd Class Wayne M. George, a 29-year-old religious program specialist, or "RP" for short, with the 1st Force Service Support Group, could use this motto to sum up his own life.Chaplains, considered non-combatants by the rules of the Geneva Convention, are not issued weapons. They are assigned enlisted sailors, like George, who carry the responsibility of not only working as aides, but also serving as bodyguards, so the chaplain can minister to the Marines on the battlefield without having to fear for his own life. "I've been called a guardian angel, but I think there is an angel on every shoulder out here," said a smiling George, the leading petty officer of the ten RPs who are assigned to the 1st FSSG and stationed throughout the Al Anbar province of Iraq.George, a native of Bloomfield, N.M., who seems to be in a perpetually friendly mood, has served in the Navy for ten years, all of them shoulder to shoulder with Marines."They have a certain camaraderie and respect for each other," he said. "I find a lot of pride in fighting with Marines." Afraid of having limited opportunities after high school and attempting to one-up a buddy who joined the Navy, George decided to join the Marines. Turned away by recruiters for having broken his hand too many times during childhood fights, George went to the Navy.He enlisted as an RP for the opportunity to work with Marines, despite not being a religious person.According to Petty Officer 2nd Class Rafael P. Barney, 22, an RP with 1st FSSG units located near Fallujah, being spiritual is not a requirement to be a religious program specialist, since they aren't actually the ones who minister to the troops. For George, practicing what the chaplain preached came after he enlisted."I had been to church a couple times growing up, but I didn't have a personal relationship with God," he said.The transformation for George came during RP school, when he felt "the love of God" after he had a dream where he talked to the Lord.With his new-found faith intact, George attended Marine Combat Training at Camp Lejeune's School of Infantry - and finished first in his class. Shortly afterward, he received orders to serve with the infantry Marines of 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment.While one of his greatest sources of pride, George said serving with the Marines has also paved some rocky roads through the faith he found a decade ago. He concedes that warfare is a strange profession for a man of God and that he often thinks about how his role as a combatant fits into his religious beliefs. Inner conflicts, he said, would probably take a backseat to instinct when the time came to engage an enemy."God has me there to protect the chaplain because he spreads (God's) word," he reasoned after a moment of thought. "It's kind of my way of serving the Lord."George spoke highly of Petty Officer 1st Class Robert Page, a chaplain's assistant who lived to receive the Bronze Star Medal after he put himself between his chaplain and incoming rounds during last year's push through Iraq.After talking about the heroism Page demonstrated, George asked himself if he could muster the same courage to put his own life on the line for his chaplain."I wouldn't hesitate. I know I wouldn't," said George, his hazel eyes staring into the distance.His own confidence is not enough, however. The chaplains must also possess unwavering faith in their "guardian angels" to allow them to turn their backs to the enemy while bullets are flying. "You really have to trust who you're with, and he's very concerned about my safety," said Cmdr. Mike Dory, 54, a Catholic priest George served with around Easter. "I don't have to worry about my own protection; I just have to worry about the service and God's people who I'm taking care of."In a way, George's childhood led him to the role he plays today as a compassionate protector, he said.After being abandoned by his drug-addicted mother as a young child, he was shuffled from foster parent to foster parent - including one abusive two-year stint with an uncle who beat him and forced him to use a bathtub as a bed.George's rescue came after he was 13, when his grandparents fought for, and won, custody of him from his uncle.After a childhood marked with abandonment and abuse, George struggled to make his problems stop. That didn't happen right away. He found himself in so many fights and ended up with so many broken bones that he was not permitted to join the Marine Corps. His journey, though, led him to a life of serving Marines in the Navy.According to George, it was no coincidence.He said everything that happened in his life was building up to what he sees as God's calling for him. Coming to terms with his youth turned George into a man drawn toward protecting people from feeling as much pain as he felt."My childhood wasn't the worst," he said. "I look at it like I'm blessed. It gave me the patience and understanding to have more compassion to those who are in emotional pain."
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