AL QA'IM, Iraq --
Accompanied by a bible, religious paraphernalia and an able religious program specialist, Cmdr. Paul J. Shaughnessy, catholic priest for Regimental Combat Team 5, routinely travels across Iraq’s unforgiving desert to serve the religious needs and concerns of Marines and sailors serving with RCT-5.
Shaughnessy, who is from Worcester, Mass., is the only Catholic priest serving RCT-5’s Catholic service members throughout the regiments’ area of operations. The regiment’s area of operations is approximately the size of South Carolina.
“(My job) is to help facilitate all service members’ religious practices,” said Shaughnessy, 58. “Primarily, I’m a Catholic priest and serve the needs of catholics. However, as a chaplain in the military, I help facilitate everyone’s religious (backgrounds).”
“I’m the only catholic priest in the area of operations and there is about thirty-three thousand square miles,” said Shaughnessy. “Because of the shortage of (Catholic) priests, I have to cover those forward operating bases and combat outposts where they don’t get to see a priest, but once a month or once every two months.”
Not only does Shaughnessy accommodate the Catholic Marines and sailors of RCT-5, but he also mentors Catholics and service members of different faiths alike.
“It’s important if you get someone of a different religious background to accommodate them too,” said Shaughnessy. “(Chaplains) want to give everyone the right to practice their own faith.”
“Depending on what they need, there are various things you have to mentor the (service members) on, such as marriage issues or personal problems they may have. I try to help them out with whatever it is,” said Shaughnessy.
On his third trip here, father Shaughnessy, as he is often called, toured Camp Gannon, his first to the Combat Outpost. The outpost is home to Marines with 2nd battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, RCT-5, and it is near the Syrian border. While there, he spoke with Marines on post, and even held a mass for a single Marine.
Along with being someone to confide in, Shaughnessy also participates in the daily activities of the Marines and sailors at the various outposts during their day to day operations, such as going on patrols with them.
“You get to go outside the (camps) quite a bit; it’s a great opportunity to see the Marines and what they do all over the country,” said Shaughnessy. “It’s great being a chaplain with the Marines and the Navy because you get to do everything, you get to see a lot of different things and get to try everything the Marines do. It’s a lot of fun.”
Petty Officer 1st Class Boyd W. Lewis, a religious program specialist, accompanies Shaughnessy while visiting Marines around the area of operations and assists with the worship services.
“The first thing he does is he lets people know that he is their for confession or any other personal sacramental needs they may have, he opens himself up to that and our troops will respond to that,” said Boyd, 41, from Willisburg, Ky.
A challenge that often plagues them is the frequent weather and transportation problems they face while getting to the Marines and sailors at the outposts, but when they do arrive, the service members are more than pleased to see them.
“This is the third time that I have been to Al Qa’im since I’ve been here, it’s all contingent on the weather and transportation,” said Shaughnessy. “It was pretty difficult for a while (to see the Marines and sailors), but we try to visit each outpost approximately every six weeks.”
“(The service members) are pretty grateful, I’m kind of amazed at it really, because a lot of them are practicing Catholics and they don’t get to go to mass, so when I come they are very grateful and appreciative,” said Shaughnessy. “It’s very satisfying for me to see that because they are very devout in their faith.”