On July 9, REAR ADM. MARGARET KIBBEN became the first female chaplain of the Marine Corps. Serving on the commandant’s staff in Washington, her duties include advising the commandant on the delivery of religious ministry and ensuring the Navy Chaplain Corps is manned, trained and equipped to meet religious ministry requirements throughout the Marine Corps.
The Chaplain of the Marine Corps advises newly-selected commanding officers at the Commanders Course at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., discussing with them their responsibilities to ensure the free exercise of religion for their Marines.
Chaplains and religious program specialists offer four core capabilities in response to national and service regulations and requirements:
• Facilitate the religious requirements for faith groups not their own by indirect ministry (lay leaders, contracts, other chaplains).
• Provide religious and sacramental ministry to Marines of their own faith groups.
• Care for all Marines no matter whether they have any self-identified religion.
• Serve as advisers to commanding officers.
Do you have family in the military?
My husband is a retired Marine lieutenant colonel having served the Corps 26 years. My father is a retired lieutenant commander in the Navy. Having enlisted in World War II, he joined the reserves and was later commissioned an officer. I am the seventh naval officer in my family.
What religious denomination are you?
What inspired you to go into religious ministries within the military?
I decided in eighth grade that I wanted to be a minister. The summer after my junior year in high school, I had the chance to visit a boyfriend who had entered the Naval Academy. I realized while visiting him that I would really like to serve in the military. It didn’t take long, maybe a day, for me to realize that I could do both if I pursued being a Navy chaplain.
What has kept you in the service of our nation for more than 20 years?
I’ve been active duty for a little over 24 years, and each time I was asked how long I would stay in, I’d answer, “as long as the Navy likes me, and I like the Navy.” I guess you could say we’ve liked each other for all these years. Seriously, I have not only loved this ministry but, I have always felt called to remain in this ministry. There has not been one tour that I have felt that God isn’t using me in some way or another. There have been tours where that was clearer than others but overall, the opportunity to serve sailors and Marines has been one of the greatest gifts God has provided me. I have never felt called to serve him anywhere else.
How has serving alongside Marines and sailors affected you personally in life?
Aside from marrying one? I am rewarded daily by the enthusiasm, dedication and true commitment today’s Marines and sailors demonstrate in the face of extreme adversity and challenge. And I am a better person for it, as they “keep me honest” to remain on par with that same level of enthusiasm, dedication and commitment.
How important is religion and faith to the Marine Corps?
Marines represent the essence of “Semper Fi.” Obviously, that phrase is intended to mean faithful to the Marine Corps or to the mission, but by and large, most Marines are faithful to their understanding of God. The importance of religion, however, seems to have changed with time. The underlying discussions of faith and life remain the same, but the resources today’s Marines draw from have changed. When I first came in, corporate worship services or sitting in Bible studies provided the spiritual answers most were looking for. While that remains important to some, and I’d like to say many, it has become much more personal.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and suicide prevention continue to weigh heavily on commands Corpswide. What can Marines do individually to encourage their peers to stay in the fight?
What I believe Marines need to fight for is the preservation of their humanity and that of their fellow Marines. War attempts to rob us of that – sometimes physically, often times emotionally and spiritually. The first thing each Marine needs to realize is that the battle doesn’t just take place on the battlefield, it takes place every moment that our individual and corporate sense of right and wrong is threatened. And it comes home with us. What we have experienced has now become a part of who we are, and will serve to define us for good or ill. We as a Corps, as peers and as individuals, need to take the time to look out for the scars this internal battle leaves, to acknowledge that there is no such thing as coming out of traumatic events unaffected. The strong remain strong only when they acknowledge that there are justifiably moments of weakness. It’s critical that we address and not ignore the fact that there will be times when we don’t have all the answers, when it’s important to reach out to someone to process the thoughts and feelings we’re all prone to. Only then, when we allow ourselves to consider and accept the full range of human emotions we become stronger as individuals and as a Corps.