Friday, December 13, 2013

Farewell Engineers. Hello MEU!

Seldom does a week go by without somebody asking why there are two Jewish chaplains in Okinawa. 

Sometimes people ask nicely:  “So what will you be doing now that Yonina is out here?”  Depending on my mood, I can answer either “My actual job: battalion chaplain and caring for the Marines”, “Same thing as you: getting a tan and watching the waves”, or some sort of pleasantries that lets on that we actual have different jobs.
Some people ask me with pity: “Are you ok?  Do you have other work?” As if I was demoted because I didn’t do a good job.  I mentally stick my tongue out at those people, and gently remind them that my official title was never rabbi for the Jewish community of Okinawa, that was just something that got thrown at me as a collateral duty as I am also a rabbi.  I prayed for a rabbi to be assigned to base.

I am an operational chaplain (as opposed to the garrison or base chaplain).  While Yonina has a battalion at base, no slight to her - base jobs are sad jobs.  Chaplains want to be out in the field; its what separates us from working in a congregation.  Yonina is doing a good job with that; I'm glad that I don't have to do it anymore.  It's a hard primary job; It's really rough as a side job.  

Until this past week, my primary job was the 9th Engineer Support Battalion.  I had a battalion that maintains an operational tempo – gets out into the weeds, theoretically shoots at things and gets shot at by other things, and performs engineering work.  I like the engineers.

As of this week, that changes.  I will still like the engineers, but I'm moving to a CLB.  The operational tempo speeds up and the deployments begin.

Utilizing the fact that we can keep rabbis in multiple places out here, I will be deploying with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.  Marines are notorious for being expeditionary.  They don’t wait for a fight to break out somewhere in the world before they deploy; instead, they throw a bunch of Marines on ships and send them out to wait for the fight to begin.  Combat Logistics Battalion – 31 deploys twice a year for a few months each time to provide Combat Service Support.  It’s pretty bad-ass.

I’ll get to be on a ship, and hopefully see some of the finest ports in South East Asia.  We’ll do Theater Security/Community Relations Projects in the Philippines, Thailand, Korea and Mainland Japan; we’ll be the first on scene for Humanitarian Assistance, Disaster Relief, Non-Combatant Evacuations, and the like throughout the region.  I’m pretty pumped.

Jewishly: it will be a little lonely, but I already started to find some Jews hidden in the woodwork.  As it goes, these are the true deployed Marines out here and they are never around for the chagim.  I will be sad to be apart from my beautiful loving and always compassionate wife for these days, but I’m glad that I’m going to get to do the rabbi stuff for people who are truly forward deployed – “at the tip of the spear” for the next year.

I will definitely miss the engineers, but I’m excited to do the true operational job.  That’s the work I signed up to do.  Now, we’ll just have to see where the wind takes us.

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