Sailor finds identity through service, faith
November 20, 2012
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - He sat alone with the chaplain in the back of a CH-53 Super Stallion loaded down with artillery ammunition as it flew through the dark skies of Afghanistan with the twinkle of small-arms fire glimmering from far below.
Chief Petty Officer Andrew P. Stanley, the group religious program specialist for 2nd Marine Logistics Group, said he felt completely at home as the helicopter sped through the night on his last deployment in 2011.
The 48-year-old Long Beach, Calif., native served 11 years in the Marine Corps before he left to pursue a life of ministry. His passion for service never dissipated.
"It was the only job I ever had where I woke up in the morning, jumped out of bed and couldn't wait to get to work," said Stanley. "I've gotten to work with a variety of people, and really, when it comes down to it, they have enriched my life and made me who I am."
Stanley eventually reenlisted in the Navy and became a religious program specialist so he could bring his passion for spiritual service back to the Marines and sailors who helped shape him.
He still serves them nine years later.
"For me, the mission was always the priority," he said. "With my job now, the mission is still the priority, but my mission is to take care of the people who are performing the mission."
Religious program specialists, such as Stanley, support the clergy of all faiths in the performance of their religious activities. They also serve as a valuable link between servicemembers and their spiritual providers in the Navy Chaplain Corps.
They are also responsible for guarding the chaplains in combat, where the noncombatants remain unarmed under the Geneva Convention.
Stanley's particular duties at 2nd MLG place him in a position to mentor his fellow religious programmers and work directly with the group chaplain. He also takes on many of the administrative tasks needed to ensure the unit's religious programs continue to flourish.
He strives first and foremost to remain open to the unit's personnel and to help care for their needs.
"I have a list of things I want to do every day when I start," he said. "Typically by 8 o'clock, that is shot, and I'm shifting things. It is really hard to tell because when you work with people, you can't always tell when somebody is going to have a problem and need something."
Stanley sets aside much more than his daily schedule. He spent the last three years living apart from his wife and children, who he visits primarily on weekends and major holidays.
He admits time away from his family is one of his greatest challenges, but he also considers it a unique blessing when he gets the chance to work with the Marines and sailors in the field.
"It is probably the best thing in the world for me in terms of a sense of accomplishment and belonging to a family," said Stanley.
"You train with these people for years. You work with them. You get to know them, and going out together as a team ... there is no greater experience."
The sacrifices made over two decades of service are taxing, concluded Stanley, but the people he serves continue to define him.