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Face of Defense: Chaplain Ministers to Many Faiths

By Marine Corps Cpl. Kenneth Jasik
1st Marine Logistics Group

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif., Aug. 25, 2011 – Navy Chaplain (Capt.) Michael A. Mikstay was just a small boy when he first heard the calling to become a priest.

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Navy Chaplain (Capt.) Michael A. Mikstay, 56, was a civilian Catholic priest in Ohio until he decided to join the Navy’s Chaplain Corps in 1992. U.S. Marine Corps photo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

“I began to be interested in priesthood in second grade,” said Mikstay, a Canton, Ohio, native who serves here as the head chaplain of the 1st Marine Logistics Group. “I went to Catholic school, and I saw the priests very involved in the lives of people.

“At that point, I thought that would be a wonderful thing to do,” he continued, “and I believe as I got older, that calling and attraction got stronger and was affirmed by numerous people.”

Mikstay, now 56, realized his dream, and served as a civilian priest for several years, until the first Gulf War.

“I had been a priest in the town of Poland, Ohio, and we had a number of parishioners whose family members were being activated in reserve and Guard units,” Mikstay said. “It became a very difficult time, so I felt a need to respond to the crisis that the nation and the world was experiencing.”

Mikstay, then 37, joined the Navy’s Chaplain Corps in 1992. He was too late for Operation Desert Storm, but he found himself in the middle of a different fight just a few months later.

“My first unit was with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit -- we went to Somalia,” he said. “Six months out of chaplain’s school, in downtown Mogadishu, I found myself praying, ‘Oh God, what did I do?’”

In Somalia, Mikstay traveled between his ship and forward operating bases in the region to provide services, along with religious and spiritual guidance and counseling.

“I had a whole lot of opportunity to get around,” Mikstay said. “I went around with all aspects of the MEU.” In addition to providing religious services, Mikstay said, he helped to distribute food and water to residents of Somalia.

After service with the 24th MEU and Somalia, Mikstay served with 5th Battalion, 10th Marines, at Camp Lejeune, N.C.; 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C.; and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. Serving in the military has helped his growth as a priest, Mikstay said.

“[My service in Somalia] set the stage for my life in the military,” he explained. “Being at the MEU level was a great experience, and it allowed me to be involved in many of the operations that the Marine Corps is involved in.

“Civilian ministry and military ministry are different in many ways,” he continued. “Civilian ministry is geared toward a denomination, church or parish. Military chaplains serve people of all faiths.”

Mikstay may be a Catholic priest, but as a Navy chaplain he facilitates religious services for troops of all beliefs.

“When you get down to it, the primary reason we have military chaplains in any of the services is because our nation is adamant about the fact that we provide for the free exercise of religion,” Mikstay said. “It’s one of our constitutional rights to be able to exercise our religion, and chaplains are here to guarantee that, regardless of what faith you believe in, or even if you have no faith whatsoever.”

Mikstay said becoming a Navy chaplain is a calling, much like the priesthood, noting he enjoys sharing his experiences.

“It’s a response to your faith,” he said. “At this point, I’ve been promoted to a position that is supervisory, so I now have an opportunity to pass on to younger chaplains and [religious program specialists] my experiences and knowledge.”


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