A Canadian Forces army chaplain is currently serving aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) delivering religious services as part of the Personnel Exchange Program (PEP).
Canadian Forces army Chaplain Maj. Bastien Leclerc embarked upon Arleigh Burke when the ship departed Norfolk as part of PEP to provide religious services, spiritual guidance and to boost crew morale as it is underway on a regularly scheduled deployment.
The PEP allows selected service members to make a one-for-one exchange with personnel from another military service or foreign service. The program’s objective is to integrate participants into the host organization as though they belonged to the service to which they become assigned.
“Canada and the United States have an exchange program,” said Leclerc. “So right now there is a U.S. Navy chaplain in Halifax, Canada doing the job that I’m doing here.”
This exchange has started a new chapter for the chaplain’s career, offering him a new environment and experiences.
“This is my first ship ever,” said Leclerc. “I’ve never even been on a Canadian ship.”
While adjusting to his new setting and with his first steps aboard, he encountered some minor differences and some eye-opening similarities.
“The way we do paperwork, formats and templates is not the same, so it’s like I’m going back to school and I’m a young chaplain again,” said Leclerc. “But these are little differences; the main core that is very similar is we’re here to take care of the men and women.”
Multiple services, including Sunday services and specialty religious holiday services, have been held aboard while underway. Chaplain Leclerc also helped coordinate a visit from U.S. chaplains on April 15, from different religious denominations to lead services during Holy Week, giving the crew an opportunity to participate in a specialty service from their individual religious practice.
“Receiving blessings from the Canadian chaplain who has joined us for deployment and from chaplains from other religions is wonderful,” said Navy Counselor 1st Class Mona Wells. “Being on smaller ships, it is rare for us to get the opportunity to have a chaplain while out to sea, so it’s great to be able to reflect in the services they led for us, especially during Holy Week. It meant a lot to me, and I think it did the same for the crew.”
Catholic, Christian and Jewish religious ceremonies were held by the Chaplains, and the Sailors who participated seemed to have appreciated the services, as well as having the Canadian chaplain aboard with them for their deployment.
“It’s a pleasure to have Chaplain Leclerc aboard with us,” said Wells. “He is our open door to staying in touch with our spirituality while out to sea, as well as being able to share in one another’s cultures and having him be a part of our Arleigh Burke family.”
Arleigh Burke is currently underway on a scheduled deployment in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.
Press Release, April 21, 2014; Image: US Navy