CAMP GEIGER, N.C. --
Religion has been a constant double-edged sword that is seen as either an instigator of war or the driving force behind one’s faith in the world.
The Department of Defense, being a cultural melting pot of service members, accommodates every religious facet to the best of its ability, yet who are the deliverers of faith and lessons that so many Marines seek? Who are the men and women behind the uniform of a military chaplain?
“I wasn’t really exposed to religion growing up,” said Navy Lt. Mike McConville, chaplain of the Marine Combat Training Battalion, School of Infantry-East aboard Camp Geiger. “When I was 15, the only reason I went to church was because there were girls there. But one day, a particular verse of the bible caught my attention, and it started me down the road of Christianity.”
McConville, a native of Battle Creek, Mich., helps service members deal with a variety of issues ranging from marriage counseling to depression. However, unlike most Navy chaplains, McConville did not originally enter the service with a religious focus. In fact, he did not originally join the Navy.
“I joined the Marine Corps in 1992; went right to (Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego) after high school,” said McConville. “I went in open contract and was assigned an (infantry rifleman) billet. After (Infantry Training Battalion), I was attached to 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, did two deployments and got out as a corporal.”
Sometime during his four-year tenure, McConville felt called to become a minister of a local church, but he did not know where he wanted to direct his future. In 2000, while at college for biblical studies, he became homesick – his home in the Marine Corps.
“I looked back at the camaraderie, the deployments, but most of all I missed the friends I had made among the Marines,” said McConville. “Then it hit me – why don’t I become a chaplain for the Marines? The idea of serving God and my country convinced me.”
McConville said everything fell into place for him after that epiphany. After earning his biblical studies degree, he needed a master’s degree to become a United States Navy chaplain. After another four years of college, he attended the Naval Chaplaincy School and Center in New Port, R.I.
“After that, I never looked back or regretted my choice,” said McConville. “My first assignment was doing two years on a cruiser, after which I became the battalion chaplain for both (2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division) and (2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division).”
McConville ended up deploying with both battalions, one to Ramadi, Iraq, and the other to Fallujah, Iraq. After his tours, he became a base chaplain, spending a year aboard Camp Johnson before becoming the chaplain for MCT-Bn.
Throughout his career as a religious advisor for Marines and sailors, one thing has kept McConville going: getting back to his roots.
“I was able to deploy with Marines once again and build the friendships I have, all while doing my life’s calling,” he said. “During my time as an infantry Marine, possessing my religious faith, I never felt a conflict between believing in God and being a warfighter, and now I am doing both in full capacity.”
McConville said that his experience as a Marine helped him conclude there was no biblical prohibition in serving as a defender of one’s nation. He added that his prior experience as a Marine helps him to empathize with the Marines who come to him with any problems.
“I’ve walked in their shoes, been through boot camp, MCT, ITB, and I know first-hand the pain of homesickness and being deployed as a married Marine,” said McConville.
In the end, McConville said the only reward he seeks in his career as a Marine chaplain is being able to help the Marines with their daily problems. More importantly, he makes it a priority to explain to Marines that their choice in joining the Marine Corps was not a mistake, but a journey to growth and maturity.
“There’s nothing the civilian world can throw at you that the Marine Corps will not have already given you,” he said. “It’s easy to quit college or a job, but the Marine Corps won’t let you quit, and if you do find a way to quit, it’ll just take you down a path of ‘woulda, shoulda, couldas.’
Although demanding, McConville’s career and other opportunities that may come in the future are things he looks forward to every day. Not only does he know he is fulfilling his life’s calling, but when that calling is able to help other Marines’ lives, he says he couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
“I’m only 5-foot-1, and I love the look on their faces when they know I made it as an infantry Marine,” said McConville, laughing. “I just use myself to tell them, ‘If I can do it, so can you.’”