PACIFIC OCEAN (NNS) -- When Sailors join the service they raise their hand and swear to serve a higher purpose, but for three Sailors who got underway aboard USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) Nov. 3, it was to serve a higher calling.
Lt. Sarah Gomez-Lorraine, Lt. j.g. Jerry Roberts and Lt. j.g. Frank Tillotson are inactive reserve Sailors enrolled in chaplain candidate school.
The chaplain candidates, each with different religious backgrounds and prior enlisted service in the Marine Corps, Army and Navy, came together on the underway to gain on-the-job experience and use the skills they learned during the first part of their chaplain candidate schooling.
"My mission here is to use what we've been trained in and actually see it in action," said Gomez-Lorraine, a prior enlisted Sailor, from Kodiak Island, Alaska. "Now that I'm on a ship with over 3,000 Sailors, it's an incredible place to implement that. I believe everyone has a story and I want to hear them, and see how I could help them in whatever their journey is. This is just a great time for all of us to learn while we're here."
Each candidate has his or her own reason for becoming a chaplain. For Roberts, from Dyersburg, Tennessee, it seemed destined.
"I'm a military brat and a preacher's kid," said Roberts. "I've got two great passions in life; that's ministry and military. I served 13 years in the army and two were spent in Iraq. Being on a ship of this magnitude is a day and night difference, but I feel like I can help make a difference."
Tillotson was inspired to become a chaplain after seeing the struggles other service members have dealt with after coming home from combat.
"After six years as an active duty Marine and meeting Sailors and Soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan and dealing with issues, I saw how impactful chaplains could be," said Tillotson, from Columbus, Ohio. "As I was growing in my faith, I started understanding there was a need for healing above and beyond physical wounds. I met with a retired Navy chaplain at the VA [Veterans Affairs] and that's where the seed was really planted for me to be a chaplain."
After years of schooling and preparing, the candidates were enthusiastic to put their skills to work.
"On the job experiences like these are hard to come by and getting this opportunity was phenomenal," said Gomez-Lorraine. "We got to come out here and do what we have been trained to do and the hospitality that was shown made me really feel like I was part of the crew."
Lt. j.g. David Albano, a commissioned chaplain stationed aboard John C. Stennis who recently completed the same program, said he was excited to share the experience with the chaplain candidates. From showing them around the ship and meeting Sailors to leading services, Albano said this has been a great experience for everyone. He also added how grateful he was to the crew for welcoming the candidates and making them feel at home.
The road to becoming a Navy chaplain can be long and difficult. Requirements differ depending on the religion and denomination, but the common standard for entering the chaplain candidate program is having a master's degree in divinity, which can take anywhere from two to five years. After that most chaplains complete at least two years of postgraduate full-time ministerial experience, before being eligible to apply for active duty.
After the candidates finish the underway aboard John C. Stennis, they will return home where they will continue on the path toward becoming a Navy chaplain.