CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – Captain Bill M. Appleton, currently the chaplain of 1st Marine Logistics Group, began his career, not as a commissioned naval officer, but as a recruit stepping onto the yellow footprints of Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in 1976, and enlisted in the Marine Corps in June, at the age of 17.
Appleton, who is from Pittsburgh, served for 12 years active and reserve in the Marine Corps obtaining the rank of Gunnery Sergeant. He accepted a commission into the Navy Chaplain Candidate Program in 1988, after sensing a call to ministry and remains on active duty as a chaplain today.
Q: Why did you feel the calling to become a Navy chaplain?
A: “I was good at taking orders, I felt a call for ministry and ‘Aye Aye Sir’ was the only answer I knew. But truthfully, I came in an atheist and became a Christian from the invitation of a young fellow Marine. A year later, when I was stationed in Hawaii, I felt the call to ministry. I didn’t tell anybody because I couldn’t understand why God would call a Marine to be a chaplain. It seemed contradictory, a warfighter becoming a chaplain. Now I understand more fully. Now I can relate to my fellow Marines. If they want to come and talk with me, they know they are talking to somebody that has at least walked a day in their shoes.”
Q: What role do chaplains play in a command?
A: “There are four functional areas of ministry that commanders should expect from chaplains and what Marines should know about them.
One: To provide ministry for our own in the way we were trained. As chaplains, we enter into the service to represent our own faith.
Second: We facilitate ministry for others. That may take the form of bringing in chaplains or clergy of different faiths or training Marines and sailors to lead services.
Third: to care for all. That may include hospital and brig visitation, or counseling services. Basically providing care for our people in a pastoral perspective in accordance with the needs of those who come to us.
Fourth: Advising our commanders on morals, ethics, morale and religious implications. For example, it may not be a good idea for a commander to think about a military operation during a major holiday in the host country we are operating in. So chaplains bring that expertise of religious belief systems in and help the commanders see the implications of that on the battlefield or the community.”
Q: What would you say chaplains can do for a Marine or sailor that doesn’t identify with any religion?
A: “We remind people of their relationship with something other than themselves. ¬For the [servicemembers] who don’t have a codified set of beliefs or practices, we still help them with that spiritual component. The commandant refers to four areas of resiliency for Marines to be ready to defend their country. He speaks of it in terms of mind, body, spirit and social. The part that is sometimes hardest to get their arms around is the spiritual part.”
Q: How do you fill that spiritual part?
A: “Our role as chaplains is to find creative ways to be a part of their lives without intrusively giving them our religion or making them feel uncomfortable. Bottom line: chaplains are chaplains to those who have no specific faith group and those who do. We align ourselves with them.”
Q: You recently planned and attended the religious ministries training seminar for 1st MLG on April 1. Can you tell us about the seminar’s mission?
A: “The seminar was a training forum that provided the opportunity for chaplains and their religious program specialists to be in a room with the commanders to interface back and forth about insights we might both glean about the roles and responsibilities that chaplains provide and also hear the commanders’ perspectives. They are providing their insights on how they view religious ministry and its support of their mission.”
Q: The Marine Corps has been going through many changes. Did the seminar address some of the concerns facing the draw-down of forces?
A: “The second part of the seminar was to raise the level of awareness of unique changes that are taking place in the Marine Corps, the [1st Marine Expeditionary Force], and the 1st MLG. There is a lot of restructuring going on that is impacting our Marines, sailors and families. The idea was to raise the level of awareness of our chaplains and [religious program specialists] so they can better serve the men and women in uniform.”
Q: We talked a lot about chaplains in general. What do you do as the group chaplain?
A: “I’m kind of the orchestra leader. I don’t own anybody. All the chaplains work for their commanders, they belong to the commanding officer. But I have to responsibility to provide, facilitate, care and advise for a larger audience. I guide and mentor the chaplains and [religious program specialists] and I’m a little bit of that subject matter expert. The guy that’s been around the longest can help them be successful in their ministries.”