By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Joe J. Cardona Gonzalez
Fifty-eight Sailors and Marines embarked aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) were baptized in the Jordan River during a port visit to Haifa, Israel, March 17.
“The turnout we had for it was fantastic,” said Cmdr. Paul Tremblay, the chaplain aboard Iwo Jima. “I think everyone involved had an experience they’ll never forget.”
“It felt humbling and it felt quiet. I can definitely tell that it means something to the locals,” said Fire Controlman 1st Class Jason Pugh, who was baptized during the trip.
The Jordan River spans 156 miles, running roughly north to south of Israel and traversing the Galilee Sea and Dead Sea. The Bible states it is where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, and for many, is a site of religious pilgrimage.
Prior to being baptized, the participating Sailors and Marines had to complete a short course and speak with a chaplain.
“We wanted to ensure that the Sailors and Marines who were participating understood the sanctity of the event. So, we required a one-hour baptism class and each of the baptismal candidates had to meet with a chaplain on a one-on-one basis as well. This gave us the opportunity to educate them on the actual baptism, on how the event would go and hear their story as to why they wanted to be baptized and learn about their spirituality,” said Tremblay.
The tour allowed them to also visit the Sea of Galilee and the Chapel of St. Joseph.
“It wasn’t like a normal tour where you just sit back and passively observe a couple things. It was as if I were part of something greater than myself,” said Pugh.
Tremblay said it was fortunate that he and the Sailors and Marines could participate in such a unique opportunity.
“It was significant and a lot of fun. Every one of the Sailors and Marines that I interviewed were very transparent; they were very open and honest about their faith. It really was a privilege,” said Tremblay.
Iwo Jima, homeported in Mayport, Florida, is conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations as part of a regularly scheduled deployment.
The Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group embarks the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit and includes Iwo Jima, the amphibious transport dock ship USS New York (LPD 21), the amphibious dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51), Fleet Surgical Team (FST) 8 and FST-4, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 28, Tactical Air Control Squadron (TACRON) 22, components of Naval Beach Group (NGB) 2 and the embarked staff of commander, Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 4.