MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII --
The Marine Corps motto "Semper Fidelis" means “Always Faithful.” For USMC’s entire existence, Marines and sailors have fought gallantly on the battlefield with ever-present faith. That faith was administered through the wise words of Navy chaplains and religious program specialists, who preach religion to devil dogs and promote ethical and moral behavior as well as provide them guidance. Today, Navy chaplains continue to play an integral role in supporting Marines and sailors to improve combat readiness.
Rear Adm. Margaret Kibben, chaplain of the Marine Corps and the deputy chief of Navy Chaplains, serves as the head of all chaplains in the Marine Corps. Kibben, who enlisted in the Navy in 1986, was designated as the 18th chaplain of the Marine Corps and became the first female chaplain of the USMC.
Kibben, a Warrington, Penn., native, came to Hawaii Nov. 23 through Dec. 3. She visited various units around the island and met with military personnel during her stay. While aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii, she conducted an all-hands call for chaplains at the Chaplain Joseph W. Estabrook Chapel as well as visited the Wounded Warriors Battalion. Kibben was also the guest of honor during Hawaii’s 238th Chaplain Corps Birthday Ball.
During her visit, Chaplain Kibben explained her position as Chaplain of the Marine Corps, and to spoke about exactly how important faith is in the Corps.
Q: How did you get involved in your career as a chaplain?
A: “When I was a youngster in junior high, I felt a call to ministry. When I was a senior in high school, I had a friend who went to the Naval Academy and my dad was a sailor in World War II. And I said, ‘You know, I really like this Navy thing. I wonder if I could be a pastor in the Navy. Ah, I could be a Navy chaplain.’ That was really the beginning of it. I went to college and a seminary knowing full well I wanted to be a chaplain, and here I am several decades later.”
Q: You became the first female Chaplain of the Marine Corps in 2010, an amazing accomplishment. How does it feel knowing you’ve opened the door and have shown present and future female chaplains that your billet is a tangible goal?
A: “You know, that’s a very challenging question, because I think the difficulty I have with that is that I don’t like being identified as a female chaplain. I like being identified as a chaplain. But I realize, I can’t ignore that that’s a part of who I am. And it’s also a matter of realizing it isn’t I who got here, it’s a number of people who went before me. Men and women who enabled the Navy, the Marine Corps, the culture to realize that diversity is valuable. And being a female chaplain is an element of diversity. And if that allows other people to exercise their gifts and their graces, regardless of their size, shape or other differential, then that’s okay. And so, for me it’s an awesome opportunity to promote the value of diversity.”
Q: Like a first time for anything, do you face criticism as being the first female Chaplain of the Marine Corps?
A: “Never. Never. If I read the blogs, there are a few little comments in the back-story. You know, that’s the wonderful thing about the Navy and the Marine Corps. They get it. They get the fact that a chaplain is here to do a chaplain’s job. And regardless of our gender, our faith, or our size and age, if we’re doing the job then they are fully behind us. So, frankly I have had nothing but an incredible reception.”
Q: You’ve been Chaplain of the Marine Corps for more than three years now, but we’ve been in war since 2001. Through the years, has your process of delivering faith to Marines and sailors changed?
A: “You know, you’re absolutely right. War does make a difference, and when we have to talk about delivering religious ministry in a wartime footing it’s easy to talk about being present in the battle space and being with our Marines and sailors in the worst of times, and to be home with their families too as they experiencing some pretty traumatic events and as they reenter and reintegrate. A wartime footing does create a slightly different perspective on ministry because it’s so urgent. But what will happen now and what has been happening over the last several years is this reintegration peace is becoming less and less vogue, but it’s still impacting our Marines and sailors and their families. People are different. You don’t come back from combat unchanged. Your family changes, you change, your perspective on life changes, and that’s going to have a lot of impact on how we delivery ministry. In this society, religion is becoming a taboo term, but I firmly believe, whether you call it religion or whether you call it spirituality, there’s a depth of moral foundation on which we must ground ourselves regardless of the environment that we find. And if we don’t have that footing we will find ourselves flailing around.”
Q: Service members wounded on the battlefield sometimes find themselves at the highest states of depression. What do you tell them?
A: “You know, that’s why we have as many chaplains as we do embedded in so many units. Because the chaplains have been there done that with them, have walked alongside them. In many ways, it’s just their presence that gives them a sense of hope that there is more to life than what they saw on the battlefield. And to give them a sense of hope is to help them to realize the value that they contribute to their country is certainly incredible. But more importantly, when you look at what Marines and sailors have done on the battlefield and what they’ve sacrificed themselves for, it’s for the privileges this country has and the freedom it has to enjoy those privileges. It’s also the opportunity to give people like the children of Afghanistan a sense of reassurance. And to watch a Marine play games with a five-year-old in Afghanistan is one of the coolest things. And that Marine may have just come from an operating post the day before where life flashed before his eyes and may have lost one of his friends. But that very next day, the resilience that a Marine can show death doesn’t have the final word. That’s what we share.”
Q: What’s the hardest part about helping those who are struggling to find faith?
A: “The hardest part is when they’re hurting so badly, or their cynicism has gotten such control over them that they won’t let it go. And they won’t allow themselves to see there’s more to life than what’s meeting their eyes. And the hardest part is convincing people there’s much more than they can see.”
Q: After everything we’ve been through, has the Marine Corps’ faith been shaken?
A: “I don’t think the Marine Corps’ faith has been shaken. The ‘Semper Fidelis’ motto isn’t just a phrase. There is a faithfulness in the Marine Corps that transcends time and distance and combat. And the faithfulness of a Marine to a Marine, a Marine to their family, a Marine to their country and a Marine to their command, is one that other services covet, literally. I don’t think their faithfulness has been challenged. What I do think has been challenged is that the individual Marine doesn’t always know where to turn, and the individual Marine finds him or herself, as a result of that, sabotaging their own self through some of the destructive behaviors we’ve seen.”
Q: Since becoming Chaplain of the Marine Corps, what goals have you met so far that you originally set out to accomplish?
A: “I had a number of goals, and I guess everybody does. I think one of the goals I’ve had was to help chaplains realize that the ministry we do is unique, and that we’re not like (Military Family Life Counselors), we’re not like (Marine Corps Community Services) counselors. We bring something unique to the table, and because we are embedded we have that opportunity that no one else has to provide that kind of care to our people. And I think our chaplains have really understood that. And more importantly our commanders have really understood that as well as the Marine Corps. That’s been a goal, but part of that goal is to develop that net that ties MCCS and MFLCs, and all of those resources out there. One of my goals is to tie all of those resources together so we’re not working cross-purposes, but that we’re actually creating the net that’s going to catch that Marine and sailor and their family, to provide them the assistance they need when they need it.”
Q: What has been your most memorable moment while serving as Chaplain of the Marine Corps?
A: *Laughs* “I saw that question and thought to myself, ‘My goodness, I’ve got so many.’ One of the coolest things I’ve gotten to do is I’ve had the chance to travel with the Commandant (of the Marine Corps). Traveling with him, I’ve been to the Wounded Warrior Games, I’ve been into Afghanistan, and I’ve been to Dover Air Force Base. Those moments, as a chaplain, are such a privilege to be with the leadership of our Marine Corps and to strengthen him with the sense of spiritual foundation of those experiences.”
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: “You asked about the faithfulness of the Marine Corps. I take the phrase ‘Semper Fidelis’ slightly different than the average Marine. There’s a faithfulness to which each of us are called. We’re called to be faithful to who we are, to who we were created to be. We’re called to be faithful to the calling that we have as Marines, as sailors, as family members, and to understand how responsible we should be to that calling. But we’re also called to be faithful to each other, to our country and ultimately our God. For it’s our God who’s given us this incredible opportunity, and I am privileged to serve a community that understands what ‘Semper Fidelis’ really means.”