By Mr. Stephen Standifird (Leonard Wood)October 6, 2016
When the Marine Corps Detachment Fort Leonard Wood is called together for a formation, there are two individuals who look out of place.
Navy Lt. Jeremy Bennett, chaplain, and Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Chad Welke, religious program specialist, conduct religious and counseling support for the more than 5,000 Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force students here annually.
Bennett said he enjoys supporting the students at Fort Leonard Wood, but was not expecting the volume of counseling and religious support he has experienced since he arrived here in 2015.
"This place is a lot busier than I expected it to be," he said. "That's probably because of sheer volume of personnel."
The Marine Corps Detachment Religious Support Office supports the Fort Leonard Wood Religious Support Office with services on Sundays in the Main Post Chapel, but provides more individualized support to the students as needed. Bennett and Welke conduct hospital visits, provide counseling, officiate at weddings and funerals, and provide support for various official ceremonies.
"Thankfully, we've done a lot more ceremonies and weddings than funerals," Bennett added.
Bennett's path to becoming a chaplain started as an active-duty Marine aviation electrician from 1994 to 2000, and had some Marine Corps Reserve time from 2001 to 2004. He switched to the Army Reserve in 2004 and served in Missouri until 2009 when he applied to become a chaplain candidate.
"I had a life re-direction occur in my life," Bennett said. "I spent about two years trying to figure out what it was in life that I needed to do."
It was during a church service, where he was praying, that he received his answer. He then began his process to return to active duty as a chaplain. He chose the Navy, because he wanted to return to serving the Marines.
"When the call to become a chaplain came out, I left it open as to what branch," Bennett said.
It ultimately came down to his desire to return to serve the Marines he had grown to love during his time on active duty. Since the Marine Corps religious support needs are met by the Navy, that's what Bennett chose.
Welke's path was more direct. His Family was full of Sailors, so he knew exactly what service he would join. Being a religious support specialist was something that didn't come until he was with the recruiter picking his job.
"I had no clue what a religious program specialist was until I sat down in front of my detailer at MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station)," Welke said. "They explained to me how I would be a bodyguard and assistant to a chaplain, and it just sounded like a cool job to do."
Bennett's background as a Marine helps him connect with the Marines he supports, because he can relate to them on a deeper level, he said.
"(Marines) like having someone there who is part of their team, someone they can identify with, someone who can identify with them," he said. "Sometimes, I do think too much like a Marine though."
It's not just the Marines the Sailors help out. The Navy Center for Seabees and Facilities Engineering Detachment students and staff appreciate their support as well.
"Having a person like Chaplain Bennett for our staff and students to speak with is outstanding," said Chief Petty Officer Mario Perez, operations chief. "He is always a welcome presence when he stops to check in on us. The support (Bennett) provides to the detachment is distinctive; he will always make time to speak with anyone, whether it is out in the training areas or here at our headquarters."
The workload of supporting three student detachments on Fort Leonard Wood can be overwhelming at times, Bennett said, but that's part of what makes the job so rewarding.
"There are days certainly that are challenging, but it's well worth it," Bennett said. "I'm thankful to be able to do what I do and just take care of the folks who we are here to take care of."
The Marine Corps Detachment on Fort Leonard Wood is the largest Marine detachment outside of a Marine Corps installation, with one in every seven new Marines training here.