SMOKEY POINT — It’s a ministry of presence. That is how Lt. Cmdr. Carl Stamper describes his role as a U.S. Navy chaplain.
He has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, where noncombatant Navy chaplains have accompanied U.S. Marines into war zones.
Stamper, 49, is now Naval Station Everett’s command chaplain. He arrived in November, and in December took over the base chaplaincy from Lt. Cmdr. John Carter.
On Friday morning, Stamper was far from a war zone. Still, he provided that ministry of presence at a retirement ceremony for a master chief petty officer leaving the Navy after 30 years.
In Naval Station Everett’s Smokey Point Chapel, part of the base support complex, Stamper delivered an invocation fitting for a long career of service.
His opening prayer ended with an expression of gratitude to the retiring master chief’s family. “Thirty years of success in the service is not easily accomplished,” Stamper said.
Presiding over the ceremony was Cmdr. Jeffrey Bessler, of the Navy’s Afloat Training Group Pacific Northwest. In the chapel’s front row sat the master chief’s family, including his parents, who had traveled from Kansas.
Delivering an invocation or benediction, as Stamper did Friday, are small but important parts of his big job with the Navy. “For a retirement or change of command, a lot of these events traditionally have prayers. It’s part of our sea service tradition,” Stamper said.
Although other chaplains serve aboard ships — the USS Nimitz has Chaplain Emile Moured — Stamper is busy as an officer on base, and as a pastor of sorts for the Navy’s Smokey Point chapel. The chapel holds Sunday worship services, and on Saturdays a Roman Catholic Mass. The Navy contracts with a Catholic priest, the Rev. Rafael Britanico, who presides over Masses for the base.
Before becoming a Navy chaplain, Stamper was in the U.S. Coast Guard and later became a civilian pastor. His own faith tradition is Baptist.
“All of us have our commission from the Navy and an endorsement from a faith group,” he said. As a Navy chaplain, he is as inclusive as possible, but can’t perform religious duties counter to his Baptist faith.
The youngest of five children, Stamper said his father served 27 years in the Navy. When his father retired, they settled in western Virginia. “I always admired what my dad did,” said Stamper, who at 21 joined the Coast Guard. It was during his four years in the Coast Guard that Stamper said he “became a believer.”
He attended Piedmont Bible College in North Carolina, was married and had three children. Out of the military, he moved his family to Kodiak, Alaska. He had been there in the Coast Guard, but his hopes of finding a ministry in Alaska were unfulfilled.
Back in North Carolina, he became pastor at a small church and attended graduate school. Still seeking his life’s work, he looked into Navy chaplaincy. He got his first commission in 2001 as a Navy chaplain candidate. “Once I got a sample of it, I just loved it,” said Stamper, who has been an active duty Navy chaplain for 11 years.
From August 2011 to March 2012, he served in Afghanistan with the 1st Marine Division. “I was in there with them at Helmand Province. It was a tough time,” he said. And from August 2006 to March 2007, he served in Iraq, also accompanying the Marine Corps.
“In Iraq I was the casualty evacuation chaplain. I mostly cared for Marines and sailors doing med-evac,” Stamper said.
“To be a chaplain in a war zone, to get to be with those young men and women, what a privilege,” he said. “I’m quite a bit older — the average age in the Navy is about 25, and in the Marine Corps it’s 21 or 22. I’m an officer, but I’m a chaplain. We have true confidentiality. We address difficult things, things they wouldn’t want to talk to anyone about.
“What we offer is a ministry of presence. Everyone wasn’t having a crisis. People can benefit just talking to the chaplain about what’s going on back home, something scary that happened, or religious issues,” he said.
Here, too, he helps people confronting issues of life in the military. He is involved in a Navy program called CREDO, Chaplain Religious Enrichment Development Operations, that addresses morale, family relationships, substance abuse and suicide prevention. “It’s hard to measure what doesn’t happen,” he said of the prevention work.
There are challenging times, but joyful ones too. With all the young people in the Navy, Stamper is a go-to man to perform wedding ceremonies.
“I try not to be the wedding planner, but I end up being the wedding planner,” he said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.