U.S. Navy selects UCC minister to lead submarine chaplains
Written by Xander Gamble
April - May 2009
||Cmdr. Don Troast talks to a crewmember of the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Montpelier. Troast recently assumed duties as the first force chaplain of the submarine force in 15 years. U.S. Navy | Xander Gamble photo.|
Cmdr. Don Troast arrived at Commander, Submarine Force (SUBFOR) in early February to assume duties as the first force chaplain in 15 years.
"Because of my personal experience with the Submarine Force," said Troast, "I think I have a good handle on what religious support requirements for the Submarine Force are."
Troast previously served the Submarine Force as a squadron chaplain from 1994 to 1997. He also served as command chaplain for the USS Harry S. Truman Strike Group and various Marine Corps units deploying to the Far East and Afghanistan.
Troast attended Hope College in Holland, Mich., where he majored in biology and physical education with the intention of being a high school teacher and coach. He then received a call to ministry and went to the theological school at Drew University in Madison, N.J., graduating in 1978. Ordained by the United Church of Christ, he served churches in the Boston area for 13 years and joined the Navy Chaplain Corps in 1991.
"[Chaplains] exist because of the free exercise rights of religion granted by the First Amendment of the Constitution," said Troast, a native of Boston, Mass., "and I would be bold enough to say that if that phrase wasn't in there, we probably would not be in the military.
"Our primary function is to ensure the free exercise of religious rights for sailors, marines, airmen, the military in general, and in my case, the Submarine Force, is met. Our sailors, marines, and coast guardsman go to places where they can't just go to their respective place of worship, so we bring it to them."
Troast, like every Navy chaplain, is required to facilitate the needs of every member's religious needs, regardless of their faith.
"We aren't called to violate our own beliefs in any way," said Troast, "but by policy, training and professionalism, we make sure that all the faith groups present have their requirements met in some way, shape or form as possible, especially in an operational environment."
The Department of Defense does not endorse any specific religion, but it recognizes more than 900 faith-based non-profit organizations, represented by more than 200 different denominations of chaplains.
"One of my roles as the force chaplain is to do a needs assessment of the force," said Troast. "My own personal philosophy is that I don't want anyone left behind. I don't care if it's just one person or two people. If their religious life or spiritual life is important to them, it's a mission-readiness issue. I think every submariner deserves to be able to practice their faith the best way they can, and the best way we can meet their requirements, especially on deployment."
Although he is the first force chaplain in 15 years, he doesn't feel like he is starting anything new.
"The key thing is the lay leader program," said Troast. "To be honest, I think it is more important in the Submarine Force than anywhere else in the Navy because submarines never have chaplains on board."
Troast plans to standardize the program throughout the force so that sailors' religious needs are met the best way they can be. "If a chaplain or a religious programs specialist wants to exceed the identified minimum requirements by adding their own flavor or pizazz, that's great! Good on them," said Troast.
"You don't have to be religious to see the chaplain," said Troast. "If you just need some counseling or some coaching, that's for everybody. I always remind everybody from the commander down to the seaman that they have 'privileged communication,' which means that whatever is discussed privately stays private."
Troast is one of more than 60 UCC clergy serving the U.S. Armed Forces as active duty or reservist chaplains.