United Pentecostal Church Mannheim

Marines find solace, unity in baptisms

Staff Writer

CAMP INCHON, Kuwait ---- Promising to walk the "hard and narrow path to righteousness," dozens of Marines were baptized Sunday in a sandbag-lined pool in this desert camp not far from the Iraqi border.

Hayne Palmour / Staff Photographer
Marine Cpl. Albert Martinez, 21, of Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, from Sunnyvale, gets a reassuring pat on the head from Navy Lt. Cmdr. and Chaplin Tom Webber, 46, of Oceanside, after being baptized in a pool made of sandbags at Camp Coyote in Kuwait on Sunday.

The hour-long ceremony was the beginning of another week of waiting for the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment and several other units in Regimental Combat Team One, that have been positioned here for nearly a month.

But the waiting appears to be over; barring a last-minute change of heart by the United Nations Security Council, President Bush on Sunday said war with Iraq is inevitable --- and imminent.

However, the troops here were oblivious to the diplomatic wrangling thousands of miles away. On Sunday, they were concerned with more immediate matters: their redemption.

Like dozens of his comrades before and after him, Sgt. Scott Fleming, 24, of Texarkana, Texas, stripped down in front of about 100 Marines and dropped his clothes to the sand.

A bit embarrassed, but standing straight and confident, he stepped forward to the edge of the pool and gave his testimony before his fellow Marines.

"For me, it's like taking the hard path in the Marine Corps," he said. "I want to take the hard and narrow path to righteousness."

After Fleming knelt in the pool and reaffirmed his faith, Navy Chaplain Tom Webber plunged his shaven head and bare shoulders into the water.

"I hereby baptize you in the name of Jesus Christ," Webber said as Marines shouted "Ooohhhrrraaa!" and clapped.

The scene was repeated dozens of times as troops stepped forward professing their faith and confessing their waywardness.

A passing duet of Cobra attack helicopters drowned out a portion of the chaplain's prayers, and a swarm of ladybugs descended on the crowd as the Marines stood watching in the hot afternoon sun.

"I'm a father now, I just want to make it back to them so I can watch them grow and pass on the word of Christ to them," said one Marine.

"I sort of strayed when I got in the Marines, like a lotta guys do. I realized it was the wrong path," said another, a non-commissioned officer from 3rd Battalion's weapons platoon. "That's why I'm here today: to promise my fellow Marines that I will walk the right path."

"I figured there would be no better place to be baptized than before my fellow Marines," said another.

Their comrades cheered on each one as they sunk their hardened, tattooed torsos beneath the sandbags to dip into the baptismal water.

Sunday's ceremony may have been an emotional release for both participants and spectators.

Commanders reluctantly acknowledge that troops are getting tired, bored and frustrated as they wait for President George Bush to give them the order to invade Iraq, and emotions are riding close to the surface for many of the men.

The longer they wait, the more reasons they seem to have to worry. Some of the worries are close; others are far away.

Several Marines in the same camp were injured when their truck rolled over. At least one Marine committed suicide in a nearby battalion. And another Marine lost both her legs when she was pinched between two of the amphibious assault vehicles being loaded off a ship to be delivered to "three-one," as the battalion is nicknamed.

Many of them married their girlfriends when they returned from a six-month deployment in December, only to be called up again days or weeks later. With no access to a phone, they can't call to see how their new wives are faring without them.

Others have had children born while they've been in Kuwait ---- or had wives leave them.

"We had some new professions of faith by the second week we were here," said Navy Chaplain Travis Moger, the spiritual leader for 2nd Battalion, 23rd Reserve Regiment.

"For some, the stress of being here is part of it," he said. "For others, they decided somewhere along the line that this is what they wanted for their faith, and this was just a good opportunity to turn things around and get back on the path to their Lord.

"It's almost like men I've seen in prisons," Moger said. "They're vulnerable and very transparent with their emotions. There is no reason to keep anything from their fellow Marines."


NCTimes.net from 03/17/03: Many Marines were baptized in Jesus Name in Kuwait by Chaplain Webber, who is an Apostolic chaplain.
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