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Latter-Day Saints come together for service in combat zone

14 Jul 2004 | Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

Sgt. Brandon W. Fuller looks forward to his weekly worship service.  They're small gatherings, just a few Marines.  But this Latter-Day Saint treasures the gatherings to practice his faith.

Fuller, a 27-year-old motor transport driver from Salt Lake City, is at a disadvantage to practice his religious beliefs.  He doesn't have a Mormon chaplain nearby, instead gathering with a few others who share his faith according to what some might view as strict beliefs.

"There are a few things that don't set us above many Marines, just apart from them," Fuller explained.

As part of their faith, Fuller and his fellow LDS Marines do not consume caffeine, alcohol or tobacco products.  It doesn't seem like much, but it does cause the Marines to stand out alongside buddies who take in a cigarette or smokeless tobacco.

It's been a point of friction in the past that's turned to a point of pride for the Latter-Day Saints.

"People used to give me a hard time about my beliefs, teasing me," Fuller said.  "When they see I'm serious about not bringing any of that into my life they are very respectful."

Fuller explained how LDS believe keeping the body pure made it more receptive to the word of God.  It has helped him in the past, he added.

"A lot of things have happened to me here that I can't explain," he said.  "I feel like I'm doing what I supposed to be doing and I'm being protected."

Finding other Marines who are also practicing LDS can be a challenge.  Distance and the restrictions of a combat zone make the numbers thin.  The fighting doesn't bother the LDS Marines however.  Even in a combat zone LDS have come together to worship.

"I've heard stories about two guys sitting on a landing zone and one guy hums an LDS hymn.  That gets them talking and pretty soon they figure out they're both LDS," said Corporal Wesley S. Fomin, a field artillery radar operator with the battalion, from Oklahoma City, Okla.  "I learned that one of the Marines I work with is one and we get the word out for everyone to get together for services when we can."

The Marines attended LDS services while at Camp Fallujah.  Moving to Camp Mahmudiyah took them away from the large groups of people on a larger base.  The small numbers don't deter these Marines though.

"I thought I was all alone when I first came out here," Fomin said.  "Then I met Marines from the same ward (church district) as me."

It is indeed a small world for these Marines.

"Even though we have different beliefs from a lot of Marines it doesn't set us above them," Fuller explained.  "We obey the laws of the land.  There's nothing separating us from doing what all the other Marines do during combat."

Four LDS Marines managed to line their schedules up recently to hold a service.  It wasn't large, but it sufficed for the Marines.  Services began with opening prayers and a hymn followed by a blessing of bread and water for the sacrament. 

When the sacrament had been taken, Fomin read from a LDS book about how to live a righteous life.  Marines closed the services with a prayer and talked about their mutual beliefs and experiences with LDS.

"You always leave service with an upbeat attitude," said Lance Cpl. Jacob W. Park, a 20-year-old fire direction control specialist from Blackfoot, Idaho.  "Hopefully you've gotten some solutions to problems you have too."

Getting together to celebrate their faith does more for the Marines than just help them spiritually.

"These Marines getting together instills a deeper sense of camaraderie because they can interact on a deeper level than during the day," said Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Everett N. Headley, a 21 year-old religious program specialist from Missoula, Mont.  "With their community being so small, it's pride in small numbers.  They can maintain high moral standards and relate to each other on a personal level."