Chaplain recalls combat experiences
By Cpl. Jennifer Brofer
| | September 20, 2005
MCRD/ERR PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. --
Even while having to endure 100-plus degree temperatures and the gritty air of Iraq, Navy Lt. Brian Kimball, the new Weapons and Field Training Battalion chaplain, was still able to find the good in every situation.
Kimball, who was deployed to Iraq for seven months in 2004, learned to appreciate living in miserable conditions because even though the heat index averaged a whopping 115 degrees and he "never felt clean" because of the abundance of sand, at the end of the day, he was still alive.
"God helped me learn to enjoy each day, regardless of the circumstances," said Kimball, who served as the chaplain for 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines in Camp Taqaddum, Iraq.
It was not just the scorching heat that made it miserable, but the constant uncertainty that each passing day might be his last, he said.
"If you didn't get hurt or killed, no matter how miserable the conditions, you quickly realized that you had a good day," said Kimball, a native of Independence, Miss. "When you're there, you know everything you do every single day matters, and it seems that each day is more important because of the uncertainty of tomorrow."
A Navy chaplain's job is to provide religious and spiritual comfort to Marines through counseling and religious services. Navy chaplains have served side-by-side with Marines on land, sea and air for nearly 230 years.
While Marines in a combat zone would typically carry M-16A2 service rifles, a Navy chaplain is only armed with a Bible - they are not allowed to carry weapons because the laws of war label them as non-combatants.
Kimball, however, had a bible and a guitar.
"A typical day in Iraq was rise and shine at [6 a.m.] ... then going to each of the work areas including the guard towers where I would periodically play Weird Al [Yankovic] songs on my guitar," he said. "Even the 1st Marine Division's chief of staff was impressed that a chaplain would do that!"
While in Iraq, Kimball started up a worship band that performed during chapel services.
He even performed in a joint-service band at Abu Gharib Prison, which he said, "was really special because we had all four branches of service, and I just had peace with God."
When not playing the guitar, Kimball would talk to the Marines, who were not much younger than he was, he said.
At 28-years-old, Kimball believes he is one of the youngest chaplains in the Navy Chaplain Corps, if not the youngest, to have served in Iraq during the Global War on Terror.
"I just turned 27 the night before going to Iraq, and I'm now 28," said Kimball. "The youngest Navy chaplain [other than me], while I was in theater, was 32."
Being as young as he is, he was able to relate better with the Marines on a personal level and provide counseling at stressful times.
"Being one of the younger chaplains in the Chaplain Corps is exciting because I am not very far removed from the struggles of those in their late teens and early twenties," said Kimball. "Because of my youth, I can be sort of a big brother to the younger Marines."
Being in a war zone where the fear of death is constant, the self-described "Bible answer man" would often answer questions Marines had about life after death.
"Marines come to you and they have questions," said Kimball. "A lot of people, because of their free time, will read the Bible, so it's common to get questions like 'What do you think God meant when He said this?'"
Kimball said he was grateful that he was able to provide comfort to the Marines who came to him for answers.
"I count it as a privilege that God has entrusted to me to have served and ministered to the Marines in Iraq, particularly at a young age," said Kimball.
Stationed at Parris Island now, Kimball said his job is equally as important now because instead of just counseling Marines, he is able to provide guidance to recruits in their transition to becoming a Marine.
"For many of them, this is the most strenuous time period they've had in their life," said Kimball. "I find it an honor to be able to help these people who are going to be defending my freedoms and be able to help them, equip them and give them the encouragement they need so they will succeed."
Although he is far away from a war zone, Kimball said he is just happy to be serving with Marines - on or off the battlefield.
"I love serving with the Marines," he said. "There's only one branch of service that takes the level of pride that the Marines do. There's a level of loyalty and commitment, and it surpasses the level of commitment you see with other branches."