by Ryan Labadens, U.S. Navy Public Affairs
People from all walks of life come into the U.S. Navy to serve in various capacities, whether it’s as members of the active-duty component, as civilians, or on the Navy Reserve side as Citizen Sailors.
The Citizen Sailor role is the path that one Navy chaplain chose to follow, rendering service to people both in and out of uniform.
Lt. Cmdr. Adam Erwin, who is originally from Dewy Rose, Georgia, serves as a tactical chaplain with the Commander, Navy Region Southeast (CNRSE) Regional Operations Center (ROC). He recently completed some of his annual tour for the year here at the Naval Construction Battalion Center (NCBC) in Gulfport, Mississippi, Aug. 5-18, 2021.
The Chaplain Corps wasn’t even on his sonar when he first considered joining the Navy; Erwin originally wanted to be a submarine warfare officer.
During his first year in college though, he encountered so many people in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program who said he would make a good chaplain that he began considering it as a possibility. He then went to a church event during the summer between his freshman and sophomore year where he decided to make the switch to pursuing the chaplain role.
Erwin was looking at a booklet listing various classes he could take, and the first class he saw listed was the course for military chaplaincy.
By the end of the evening, he was convinced that Navy chaplain was the path for him.
“I was like, ‘Okay! Alright, I’ll do it!’ So that started me on the road to Navy chaplaincy,” said Erwin.
Erwin received his commission as an ensign in the U.S. Navy Reserve in 2007, serving as a chaplain candidate while he completed his internship and residency in clinical pastoral education over the course of five years at AnMed Health in Anderson, South Carolina.
He then came on duty in the Navy Reserve in 2012 and has served as a reservist ever since.
As a Navy Reserve chaplain, Erwin has had the opportunity to serve not only on the other side of the Atlantic as the Protestant chaplain for Commander Naval Forces Europe/Africa-Commander Sixth Fleet (DET 802), but also in the southern-most reaches of the world as the command chaplain aboard the Coast Guard icebreaker USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10) when he was deployed for two months in support of Operation DEEP FREEZE 2017 to Antarctica.
“It’s an Air Force-led mission, and I know it’s something the Seabees have actually gotten to participate in – performing cargo handling and other tasks. The ship I was on was actually tasked with breaking apart the ice so that resupply ships could get to McMurdo Station [the main U.S. station in Antarctica at the southern tip of Ross Island],” said Erwin. “[It was] 74 miles of ice they had to break.”
During his latest tour to a slightly warmer climate, Erwin got to perform various ministry tasks onboard the Seabee base here in Gulfport, Mississippi, such as deck plate ministry at the Naval Construction Training Center (NCTC) and at various departments on base.
“I love doing deck plate ministry, just walking around and meeting people, talking to them and spending time with them. I enjoy meeting with them face-to-face and having them tell me about what they do [in the Navy], connecting with them and talking about topics they may want to discuss – their lives, their hopes, and just being available to them to let them know someone is here to listen. ‘A ministry of presence’ is what we call it,” said Erwin, who noted that Reserve chaplains with CNRSE can be sent to any of the other bases within Navy Region Southeast to serve where needed.
While at NCBC, Erwin also preached a few sermons and did some counseling sessions, working along with the active-duty chaplain staff at the Seabee Memorial Chapel to pitch in wherever assistance was needed.
“It was great having [Chaplain Erwin] out here because he was able to go to NCTC and minister to those Soldiers, Airmen and Sailors [and fill in] while that commanded is gapped. He even provided some training for the local chaplains and RPs (religious program specialists) on pastoral education, which was very useful,” said Lt. Cmdr. Mark Torres, NCBC command chaplain, who went on to describe his experience working with Erwin and other Navy Reserve chaplains. “What I’ve noticed is the positivity of working with the Reserve chaplains, particularly in regard to the teamwork and the partnership involved. The opportunity to engage in collaborative ministry was very fruitful and positive. That really helped because as chaplains and RPs, we’re often ‘one-of-one’ – there’s not always a team of chaplains around – so working side by side with the reservists is really encouraging.”
As a reservist, Erwin strives to balance his commitments to ministering to the needs of his congregation on the civilian side of the coin as an ordained minister at LifePoint Ministries Conference of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church, while also serving the Sailors, Marines and other people he encounters world-wide while fulfilling his role as a chaplain on the Navy Reserve side of the coin.
“One of the challenges [of being a Reserve Chaplain is] trying to find time to do ministry work while keeping up to date with training requirements and paperwork on duty. And especially if you have a church of your own – being away from your congregation for however long, whether it’s a couple weeks or even being deployed for a year – it can be difficult,” said Erwin. “But for me, I enjoy what I do. I especially love the deck plate ministry, working with the chapel staff here and just getting out to meet with folks and hear their stories. It’s both a rewarding and fulfilling opportunity for me.”