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USS Harry S. Truman’s lead chaplain looks to put that ‘sparkle’ in a sailor’s eyes

EDITOR’S NOTE: The North American Mission Board, LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, Union University and Baptist Press have partnered to deploy a reporting team to the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) on station in the eastern Mediterranean. Writer Sara Horn and photographer Jim Veneman are documenting the intersection of faith and patriotism, profiling the life and work of Christians during this time of conflict, as well as highlighting how Southern Baptists touch the lives of these military personnel.

In his personal note to Baptist Press, Jim Veneman summed up the richness of this project. “This has been a full day. It began before the sun came up and has yet to end. As long as our days have been, the guys on this ship work just as long, work far harder — and don’t get to go home next week.

“You’ll see from the images that we had a variety of experiences. What a range of photographs! From worship and prayer to flight operations, from jet engine repair and testing to lives being repaired through ‘Experiencing God,’ a lot happened before our eyes today.”

Baptist Press trusts that these reports will touch your lives richly.

ABOARD USS HARRY S. TRUMAN, EAST MEDITERANNEAN (BP)–The atmosphere tingles with anticipation. Ordnance crews on the flight deck of the USS Harry S. Truman work quickly and efficiently to load guided munitions on dozens of aircraft, including F/A-18 Hornets and F-14 Tomcats. Hours from now, under cover of darkness, fighter pilots will carry them to final destinations — targets located somewhere in western Iraq. The drills and practice sessions are over. Operation Iraqi Freedom has begun.

Below the flight deck, it looks much different than what is happening above. Sailors walk quickly through the various passages and hatches of the ship, tending to the specific jobs and duties they’ve been trained to do. Along the way, many of them greet a familiar and often comforting figure aboard ship, Commander Doyle W. Dunn, command chaplain for the aircraft carrier.

Dunn, a Southern Baptist and graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas, oversees a staff of three junior chaplains and 15 lay leaders through the ship’s religious ministries department for the 5,000 sailors and Marines on board. It is his responsibility to develop religious services and programs for more than two dozen different recognized religions. Deployed with a unit of Marines during Desert Shield/Desert Storm in the early 1990s, Dunn admits that it is quite different today in his role on the Truman, a position he has held for just six weeks.

“The jobs we do on ship are what we do every time this ship moves anywhere,” Dunn said. “Cooks cook, supply folks fulfill their responsibilities. With the exception of aviators, when combat starts, it’s the same job.”

Ministry opportunities on board are as varied as the denominations and religions represented. Numerous church services, Bible studies and even choir practices are available throughout the week. Sunday, in particular, is reserved for worship and rest.

The chaplains on board take their calling seriously. Each has various departments they serve, offering encouragement and keeping a pulse on the morale of sailors.

“I see so many 18- and 19-year-old young men and women who come from broken homes and tough life experiences,” Dunn reflected. “They join the military looking for a sense of purpose. This opens the door to share Jesus Christ with them. Every time I get a chance to see a sparkle of recognition in their eyes — well, that’s what I live for.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: RETURNING HOME, READYING THE CRAFT,CREW MOVES INTO ACTION, LEADING THE WAY and SAVIOR’S REMEMBERANCE.

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  • Sara Horn