Chaplain inspires recruits on Crucible, says goodbye to 3rd RTBn
By Lance Cpl. Jennifer Brofer
| | August 29, 2003
MCRD/ERR PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. --
Walking along the tarmac at Page Field with his "war gear" on, he spots Kilo Co. recruits lying in the prone position near the tree line with their M-16A2 rifles in hand. "Gentlemen, watch for [the enemy]-he's out there, he's looking for you!" he says in a loud whisper, in an effort to motivate them through the rite of passage known as The Crucible."Aye, sir!" respond the recruits with heightened enthusiasm.These were the kind of moments 3rd RTBn. Chaplain Lt. Rick Bradley relished, watching recruits grow mentally and spiritually throughout their training, until their graduation day when they showed how much they had transformed. That was his last Crucible since Kilo Co.'s graduation day was the day he left to become the command chaplain for Marine Air Group 31, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort."I feel like I'm graduating with Kilo Co. because I started out with them, so it's kind of special for me," explained the 47-year-old Tupelo, Miss., native.Bradley has participated in more than 20 Crucibles alongside every company in 3rd RTBn., throughout his three-and-a-half years aboard the Depot, not only completing many of the events with the recruits, but also acting as a ray of hope for those who might otherwise have given up. "To me, the word 'quit' does not exist," he said adamantly. "Some recruits come to me thinking I can send them home. Even if I had the power to, I'd say to them 'you signed an oath, you made a commitment and you will do the time." Throughout the years, Bradley hasn't allowed himself to quit either. Last year, reconstructive knee surgery rendered him unable to run in the three-mile Motivation Run with the recruits. However, his unwavering tenacity wouldn't allow him to simply give up. Instead, he hopped on his bike and rode with them the whole way, shouting encouraging words to fuel their motivational fire. Further demonstrating his "can-do" attitude, he not only inspired them with his words, but also participated in the long hikes with them, singing cadence along the way and showing them through his actions that, "If I can do it, you can do it.""Recruits hike about 45 miles total throughout the Crucible, and it's not uncommon for me to put in 28-30 miles myself," said Bradley.From the moment Bradley picked up a new platoon he let them know that he was simply a request away."I say to them, 'Gentlemen, I know you can count on me, what I want to know through training is can I count on you?'" he said.Bradley, or "Chaps" as he prefers to be called, said he gets his drive from having to survive on the streets of Houston, Texas, eating from garbage cans and stealing food in order to feed himself and his younger brother after being abandoned by his parents at an early age. The self-described "hell raiser" bounced from foster homes to orphanages, nine in all, before finally being adopted at the age of 9. It wasn't until he turned 12 that he surrendered himself to the ministry, thus changing his life forever. Bradley has come a long way since his younger years. Since becoming a minister, he's earned five master's degrees in theology, religious education and more. "If you stay in school long enough, they're bound to give you something," he joked. But he didn't like to brag. He was simply here to provide an attentive ear for any recruit or Marine that may need it. "I'm a chaplain before I'm an officer," he stressed. "There are three things that all people need, and that's to feel loved, needed and appreciated." Whatever circumstances led him to be where he is today, good or bad, he said he has no regrets."This is what God wants me to do," he said as he walked from event to event. "Where I am right now is where I want to be. For them to tell me I have to go home ... that would break my heart." Though he may joke about not being as young as he once was, his age seems to no limitation when it comes to doing what he loves. "My doctor tells me to act my age," said Bradley. "He said, 'you're not 18 anymore, Chaps.'"Not even his asthma, which he developed a few years ago as a reaction to an Anthrax shot he received, has stopped him from completing his mission. He simply carried an inhaler, along with his gear, and hiked on, looking for more recruits who might need a little extra motivation.When a recruit stopped to ask what time it was, Bradley, without even looking at his watch, said, "Time to continue training! Stay motivated!"Though Bradley did his part to inspire the recruits, he still took no credit for their success."The series commanders, series gunnery sergeants, the [drill instructors] and the first sergeant get the credit - all of it," he insisted. "I'm just the chaplain. They're the ones with families back home. They're the ones who work more than 100 hours a week. John Doe civilian out there doesn't understand with their 40-hour weeks and coffee breaks. [Drill Instructors] don't get that." Bradley's way of interacting with recruits was much different than that of drill instructors as shown by the way he addressed them. He didn't call them "recruits," but "gentlemen.""My prerogative is to build self esteem if I so choose," said the husband and father of two daughters. "To me, they're not just a number or a recruit, they're a person, and I've found that calling them 'gentlemen' actually builds their self esteem."And it seemed to work. Recruits who appeared tired or weak were somehow able to find a spot within themselves to strive harder when in his presence. Even his co-workers found his "in your face optimism" contagious."He's very infectious with his constant 'positivism,' for lack of a better word," said Capt. Scott Buttz, operations officer for 3rd RTBn. "He's done wonders for the command, and he's lifted morale spiritually in ways we couldn't have done without him. He's not only our chaplain, but our friend, and he's done the Chaplain Corps very well.""He's jovial and always smiling," added Lance Cpl. Stacy-Ann Lohner, the chaplain's assistant. "He always says 'keep a positive mental attitude.'" Taking his own advice, Bradley carried a positive mental attitude wherever he went. Whether it was preaching to more than 1,000 recruits every Sunday, or hiking out to the Crucible site, in rain or shine, to encourage the "gentlemen.""This one time on The Crucible, the rain drops were so big they looked like doodle bugs," he said. "I looked up and asked God 'what am I doing here?' Then I looked over at [the recruits] and thought 'they're the reason I'm here.'"It didn't matter that the doctor told him to take it easy. He still looked forward to waking up at 1 a.m., to hike the 10 miles home with them -- the last 10 miles he would ever hike with recruits."Some people ask me 'how can you miss this?'" he said, gesturing to the surrounding area on a particularly muggy day.Yet just listening to the echo in the wind of recruits sounding off was enough to make him smile.With three simple words, he said, "I'll miss it ..."