SAN JOSE, Calif.— The 2nd Marine Logistics Group-Forward, serving in central Iraq, recently received the 4,000th support and supply package from California-based Adopt-a-Chaplain, a non-profit ministry that has been supporting deployed chaplains since March 2005.
"Right now we concentrate our efforts in the Middle East, because that's where we see the greatest need," said Daniel Hoebeke, the co-founder and director of AAC. "As locales of engagement change, we will too."
Hoebeke said the program sends more than 50 packages a week from its San Jose location to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Qatar and Africa. The ministry receives support from groups and individuals in 36 states and the District of Columbia.
Present for the April 1 opening of the package was Lt. Cmdr. Patrick J. McLaughlin, the group chaplain of 2nd MLG-Fwd, along with chaplains and their assistants that work around the base. The group is based in Al Taqaddum, Iraq.
"I had never heard of the program until I heard it from another chaplain," McLaughlin admitted. "The next thing you know seven or eight days later you're getting a box in the mail."
The box included two copies of the book "90 Minutes in Heaven," by Don Piper, breakfast bars, hygiene items and other comfort items the chaplain can make available to the soldiers, Marines, and sailors in his charge.
"It was kind of cool, because it was done in correlation with the number of personnel we have," said McLaughlin, a Naples, Fla., native.
The idea for the program began with an e-mail from a personal friend of Hoebeke's. It is also Hoebeke's favorite story.
"He received an e-mail from a chaplain in Afghanistan who was going through some spiritual struggles," said the Muskegon, Mich., native. "Feeling ill-equipped to deal with it, he sent me a cryptic note that said: 'Dan, you're a religious guy. You write him.' So I sent him a pastoral letter. As pastoral as a lawyer can get, I suppose."
As time passed, Hoebeke said that three packages sent to the chaplain became six, one chaplain became three and it grew from there. Now they're at 4,000 packages, about 100 chaplains and still going strong.
Hoebeke also represented AAC in a meeting called by President George W. Bush.
The meeting was called to recognize troop support organizations that are a part of America Supports You, which according to the Adopt-a-Chaplain Web site, is an official Department of Defense program that coordinates the efforts of such groups across the nation.
The program's intent is to support the troops through the chaplains.
"Chaplains tell us that having some comfort foods and personal care items available gives the soldiers a non-threatening 'excuse' to drop in for a visit," Hoebeke said. "We're looking to supply the kinds of things that a soldier would pick up at the 7-Eleven.
"In addition to supplying those physical things, we also provide prayer and spiritual support for both the chaplains and their families back in the states," he added.
The AAC also has a "special operations" section to accommodate chaplains asking for something specific.
"They got one chaplain a bike and another a guitar," McLaughlin said.
They have also supplied a coffee maker, sports equipment and books, such as the one McLaughlin received.
"It's great—just the fact that someone is taking care of chaplains and (religious program specialists) who are usually busy taking care of others is fantastic," McLaughlin said.
After a series of sporadic but unusually lucky "coincidences," the program is something Hoebeke and other members have come to call a "God thing."
One story he tells about these "coincidences" involves another e-mail and a lot of toothbrushes.
"I got an e-mail from a lady who had a bunch of toothbrushes left over after the unit she was supporting redeployed home," Hoebeke said.
The woman offered them to Hoebeke, but he had no need for them at the moment. He told her to send them anyway.
"While they were in transit, I got a note from a chaplain that said, 'You won't believe what the Army just did. They sent two pallets of toothpaste and no toothbrushes.' Yeah, a God thing."
Although the war time needs of the military can be staggering, the Adopt-a-Chaplain is determined to maintain its focus on the clergy.
"Chaplains have a most difficult job, but who ministers to them?" Hoebeke asked. "We hope to give chaplains the assurance that there is one group who will always be there for them and to whom they can confidentially let out their concerns, frustrations and, in many cases, their private joys.
"We consider it an honor to support our troops through the chaplains who serve them," he said.
Griffith is assigned to the 2nd Marine Logistics Group.Published, May 2007