January 5, 2012
By Maj. Bradley Gordon, 2nd Marine Division
HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan — The division chaplain makes his way around Task Force Leatherneck, one FOB at a time.
“This is what it’s all about,” said Cmdr. Christopher Fronk, chaplain for 2nd Marine Division (Forward). “There’s nothing better than getting out to the Marines, to share their time and their devotion.”
So starts the day of the Monaca, Pa., native with his trusty sidekick, religious program specialist Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Hawthorne, or “the bodyguard” as he is known to some. The two head for their first of several destinations within Helmand province aboard their own dedicated Marine Corps, Bell UH-1Y Huey helicopter, nicknamed, appropriately enough, the “Holy Helo.”
In a day filled with flying, prepping, conducting Mass and waiting, Fronk and Massachusetts’ own Hawthorne make their way to the smallest patrol bases to lift the spiritual, religious, moral and personal well-being of the members of Task Force Leatherneck.
Even with numerous masses, flights, hand-shaking and fellowship with Marines, Fronk and Hawthorne often find themselves with plenty of time for self reflection.
In true Marine Corps tradition, Mass is conducted in every clime and place, from a small tent used as a makeshift chow hall to a dedicated hole-in-the-wall mud hut, the chaplain and RP make the best of every given situation. The RP pays attention to every detail as he makes sure both the chaplain and the Marines in attendance are able to experience Mass as close to how their home parish would do it as possible.
Fronk said he sees the faces of the Corps’ youth, remembering all of them and making a personal connection with each one. Even though he may only make it out to their position once a month because he is the only Catholic priest assigned to the Division, “Chaps” works hard to make every Marine feel like he just saw them the day before.
Before each Mass, Fronk sits and either tells a joke or story or he learns a new one from the Marines. After the Mass, Marines shake hands and not only enjoy fellowship with the chaplain; they also take time to learn more about each other, officer or enlisted.
As the day wears on and one flight blends into the next, there is always one place the division’s shield of the lord finds solace.
“Of course, we always look forward to (Forward Operating Base) Inkerman,” said Fronk. “That’s money.”
When the religious duo make their way from the landing zone to the makeshift chapel in the patrol base’s chow hall, the first thing they find after dropping their protective gear are the pre-packaged pastries known as Pop Tarts. “Blueberry,” chimes in a wide-smiled Hawthorne. “Always blueberry,” finished the native of Worcester, Mass.
So it goes, one day, half a dozen flights aboard the Holy Helo, four patrol bases, four Masses and numerous handshakes and smiles later, the religious team finds its way home to Camp Leatherneck. They have achieved success today. Fronk and Hawthorne take a moment to look over their schedule for tomorrow, one that will be similar to the day they just completed — just another day at the office, another day the flock will be led and fed by their shepherd.
Editor’s note: Second Marine Division (Forward) heads Task Force Leatherneck, the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest), and works in partnership with the Afghan National Securty Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.