By Navy Chaplain (retired) Richard Pusateri
I was honored to serve as chaplain for Marine Corps in Southwest Asia from 2005 to 2009.
As chaplain of the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Central Command, I served as a member of the Commanding General’s executive staff for the religious support of the 35,000-40,000 Marines and attached Sailors, soldiers and airmen deployed in the combat zone.
As senior supervisory chaplain, I coordinated the ministry of 150 chaplains and chaplain assistants who ministered to those combat troops.
While I spent most of the time in Iraq, I also served in the Horn of Africa, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Afghanistan, Jordan and Egypt.
Throughout my tour of duty, I was continually impressed to see the reach of Strength for Service to God and Country in combat theater.
Books found everywhere
As the senior Marine General’s chaplain I visited some of the most remote outposts and security stations in Iraq. I found copies of the devotional book while waiting for helicopters and convoys in tents, and small huts. I saw the historic books in tiny chow halls, rec rooms, medical-aid stations and on the tables in company command posts.
As I met with our ministry teams traveling out to their units, I saw many chaplain assistants adding the pocket-size books to their backpacks to bring to the combat troops.
As I wandered around troops waiting to go “outside the wire,” I often saw Marines and soldiers huddled in corners reading Strength for Service.
Sometimes I’d strike up a conversation with the person by mentioning Strength for Service was provided by my United Methodist Church.
Almost always the troop expressed thanks when he or she discovered the devotions came from my church. But that wasn’t the important part. Strength for Service contributed by speaking meaningfully of God’s love and guidance—even in the harshest moments of combat. It offered personal spiritual support to the troops in critical moments and places that other outreach rarely reached.
I discovered selections from Strength for Service were also read during troop–led devotions when a chaplain couldn’t be there.
During my late-night visits to Combat Operations Centers I’d come upon staff reading from Strength for Service in the quiet moments while they waited for something to happen.
While making a combat update visit to fellow Colonel staff member or an action officer, I frequently noticed a copy of Strength for Service on his or her field desk.
Most surprisingly, fellow chaplains from denominations very different from the UMC enthusiastically distributed copies of Strength for Service among their troops.
As the troops say about many things, Strength for Service “is what it is.” It’s a quiet and often quite personal devotional guide. In the Southwest Asia combat zone it’s a close-at-hand spiritual resource available to the troops when they seek words of hope, strength and God’s presence in a challenging and unpredictable environment. It’s a reliable and accessible source of broad Christian encouragement for the troops from many religious and non-religious backgrounds.
No doubt, lives are changed and faith is strengthened and sustained by the daily devotions. As the Marine combat force chaplain I always was gratified Strength for Service was there for the troops, and proud my church made it available.
The Rev. Richard (Dick) Pusateri is the executive for Itineration and Missionary Support for the General Board of Global Ministries in New York. A clergy member of the Tennessee Conference, he retired as UM-endorsed chaplain in 2013, following 30 years in the U.S. Navy (16 years with the US Marine Corps).