CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan --
Marines and sailors have more than two centuries of history fighting together, but over the years, war evolved and so did the way the Marines Corps operates. One thing has remained the same, however – Marines still depend on some of the services the Navy offers – especially religious services.
Working side by side with the Marines and sailors of Combat Logistics Battalion 7, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward) aboard Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan, Navy Lt. Robert M. Hess, from Philadelphia, the battalion’s chaplain, is responsible for upholding the spiritual, religious and personal well being of the troops.
“I love the deployment with CLB-7,” Hess explained. “I love the command and staff, the company commanders, all the Marines and sailors … it's been an awesome place to have my first tour as a chaplain, I absolutely love it.”
But Hess didn’t start off as a chaplain. In the early ‘90s, Hess was part of the enlisted active-duty ranks in the Navy as an aircraft director for four years. After his first enlistment, he became part of the Navy Reserves while attending Houghton College, where he received a bachelor’s of science in religion in 1999.
“I love the military and I love being a pastor,” Hess said. “For years, those two were side by side as a reservist and as a civilian pastor. “One day it just hit me,” he said. “I should bring the two together, and so here I am.”
A few years down the road – after September 11 – Hess was recalled for active duty as part of a Navy security team, where he served for three years.
“During my final year in the Navy security team, I applied for the chaplain corps [and I received my commission] in 2005,” he explained.
Some of his duties as the battalion’s chaplain include marriage counseling, deployment stress counseling and helping troops with their personal problems. On top of the already demanding duties, Hess also maintains a morale center for the troops.
“We've sorted and distributed almost 500 care packages throughout the [area of operation],” Hess explained. “I also advise the command on ethical and moral issues and facilitate religious practices for people of other faith groups.
“I take care of [Personnel Retrieval and Processing] or mortuary affairs Marines and conduct ramp ceremonies and memorial services,” he added. “I have duty at the Army [Combat Surgical Hospital] every three weeks and I am on call every time a wounded Marine or sailor is brought in via [medical evacuation] to care for them.”
Hess travels around to the different combat outposts and forward operating bases to visit the Marines and sailors of the battalion. He also leads a weekly worship gathering, which has served almost 2,500 service members as well as civilian contractors, and gives all the warrior transition briefs to battalions before returning home.
“I love being here in Afghanistan with them, because this is where they need me the most,” Hess said. “I'm able to help where the need is the greatest. That's the best place for a servant to be ... where the need is the greatest.
“The Marines are elite warriors and I identify myself with their spirit and their ethos,” Hess concluded. “I wanted to be a part of it and wanted to serve the warriors that were taking the brunt of the fighting.”