Friday, February 10, 2012

Marriage in the Marine Corps

A few days ago, our apartment became inundated with piles and piles of stuff (our long-awaited Household Goods Shipment). A lot of the boxes were my beloved books (I missed them, and I think they missed me). Some of the boxes we haven’t seen since they were packed in August; some of the boxes haven’t been seen since they came off the Wedding Registry at Bed Bath and Beyond.

As a couple of the items that I chose for the registry are just making their first appearance in my life now (I’m looking at you Emeril Lagasse Cast-Iron Griddle and Grill), I’m pretty wedding nostalgic. Also, I love my wife, Valentine’s Day is coming up, and the flowers are in bloom.

As a chaplain, I am charged to care for all, to provide guidance and counseling. I think most rabbis do counseling around life cycle events (births, bar/bat mitzvah, wedding, funerals, etc), but I don’t get so many requests for Bar-Mitzvah help. Mostly, my counseling revolves around visits to the hospital and the brig. But I also get wedding counseling some times, and I love it…probably more than the Marines do.

When Leora and I got married, we did pre-marriage counseling with a few rabbis. Some because we wanted them to be part of our wedding, and some because I wanted to see what they do in their marriage counseling and I thought it would be a good way to learn.

Marines are mandated to go to marriage counseling with the chaplain. Should they refuse or neglect this responsibility, they are not allowed to get married. Period. They have a worksheet and it must be signed by a member of the Navy Chaplain Corps (this applies to both officers and enlisted).

There are reasons for this rule. There is a thinking that Marines fall in love a little too fast: “Chaps, I knew that we were meant to be…when she came down that pole last week, it was love at first sight.” And yes, that happens. Particularly to Marines who live in barracks – the idea that they just need to get married to get housing is mighty tempting. As chaplains, we are supposed to weed out the fraudulent marriages and the ones that wont’ last. In reality, if the Lance Corporal and the Stripper want to get hitched, I can tell them of the dangers, I can warn them that its not easy, and I can say that I won’t officiate (which is particularly easy to do here since military chaplains aren’t allowed to do weddings in Japan).

Many chaplains despise this job. It’s very bureaucratic, and can make you feel like the angry city worker on Centre Street. It’s a little degrading to the role of chaplain if you look at it that way. But I love it. In my first week with my Combat Logistics Regiment, I did a surprising amount of marriage counseling. I kept those kids in my office for an hour each (most chaplains are done in under a half hour). We did exercises, watched videos, talked about babies and floorplans and finances. I had a great time.

Last week, I went into the enlisted barracks for the first time. I just needed to run in for a short errand. Saturday night near 11pm is a time when most chaplains steer clear of the barracks: there is a lot of drinking and a lot of fraternizing; I had some mild flashbacks to college.

As I was leaving, the first soon-to-be bride that I had counseled came up to me. She stopped me in my tracks, stared me in the eye, and said “Thank You!” She and her fiancée had a great time at counseling, got a lot out of it, and now feel more ready to get married!

I don’t always feel successful in my chaplaincy, and I sometimes feel that the water is up to my neck. But moments like that make me feel like I’m at least doing something right.

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