Former Rifle Company Commander is Now Deploying to Iraq as a Chaplain
By Cpl. Joseph Digirolamo
| Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton | January 31, 2006
MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
A former infantry commander now leads his Marines on a different path – a path of faith.
When Eugene Wozniak was a Marine infantry officer, he never thought that duty would call upon him to lead Marines in a special way.
He is now a 42-year-old lieutenant in the U.S. Navy and the chaplain for 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, Camp Lejeune, N.C., which is deploying with about 20,000 other Marines and Sailors to Iraq this year.
Wozniak, from Newton, N.J., graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1985 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. After going through The Basic School and the Infantry Officers Course he made his way to California to serve as a platoon commander for 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. He even maneuvered through the difficult Range 400 at MCAGC, an experience that has allowed him to quickly connect to the Marines as they go through the same training themselves.
“I loved being in the infantry,” Wozniak said. “I really couldn’t see myself doing anything else until one day I was called to do ministry for the Lord.”
While serving in California, an Orthodox chaplain approached the young officer with a unique question about what God was calling him to do.
“He asked me if I ever thought about the priesthood. At first it sounded like a crazy question to me,” said Wozniak. “But he caused me to deeply consider the path to becoming a priest.”
After more than seven years of active duty, Wozniak decided to resign from his commission to follow a new way of life.
He enrolled in St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York. After graduating, he went home to work as a minister at his local church in Pennsylvania.
“I wasn’t sure where God was leading me, or where I was called to do ministry. I knew that if I was patient, more would be disclosed to me.”
Wozniak was soon called back to St. Vladimir’s seminary to work on its staff, and his ministry began to become clearer. He was married and subsequently ordained to the deaconate and the priesthood.
During that time, a friend recommended that he go back into the Navy as a chaplain.
“Again I thought, that’s a crazy idea,” Wozniak said. “It seemed like I was finally finding my way. But we can never know what God has in store for us. We can only be open to His will.”
A convincing call from a recruiter led Wozniak to take the journey to the chaplain corps. He was accepted and became a lieutenant in the Navy.
Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune became his new home after Chaplain School. Prior to joining 3rd Bn., 8th Marines he initially worked for the Marine Corps Combat Service Support School and then the Infantry Training Battalion at the School of Infantry. During his tour at Camp Lejeune, he served as the priest for the Orthodox community aboard the base.
He deployed to Iraq as an individual augment during the Orthodox Easter season last year. After Easter services were held at Camp Lejeune, he packed his sea bags and headed to western Iraq for three weeks of ministry.
Armed only with his faith, the chaplain’s mission with his unit is clear. “I will be where the Marines are. That’s how I do ministry, everywhere they go, I’ll go,” he said.
“He loves his Marines and is very smart. He knows a lot about the military and its history,” said Seaman Chi San Yeung, the religious program specialist for 3rd Bn., 8th Marines.
“He told me we’re going to travel a lot while we’re over in Iraq. We are going to see Marines every day,” said Yeung, a 19-year-old from Flushing, N.Y.
Yeung, like every RP in a combat zone, is the chaplain’s bodyguard during deployment.
Wozniak and his fellow Navy chaplains serving throughout the world have a common goal - to help units cope with everyday life. They have provided spiritual guidance and mentorship for Marines and Sailors for more than 230 years – a tradition Woznaik plans on continuing during his tour of duty in Iraq.
“Just talking with the Marines and being with them is a vital part of my ministry,” Wozniak said. “It’s called the Ministry of Presence.”