Man of the Cloth and Uniform

Saturday, August 29, 2009

"He looks like Sting," a Marine says about the man in the tan cammies wandering around Khan Neshin castle without the usual M-16 hanging on his shoulder and an unusual growth of beard.

Lt. Ray F. Rivers, 45, of Sumter, S.C., a father of five, is on his second tour as chaplain with Task Force Mameluke, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. "They asked me to come back. That was an honor for me to be asked," he said.

"You know I try to meet military standards," Rivers tells the small congregation, which is seated on green sleeping cots that doubled as pews during a recent sweltering Sunday service. "My wife [Paula] never let me grow a beard, but I'm growing it for the benefit of meeting with the mullah and key leaders." The young Marines nod in agreement.

In the nearby courtyard, the drone of a metal detector can be heard at it sweeps for caches of buried ammunition, but it's never loud enough to drown out the service. Marine Cpl. Wes Dyer, 24, of Albuquerque, with the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion Route Clearing Company, wanders into the shade to give his black Lab, Lottie, a drink and a respite from the heat. Dyer lingers for a few words of prayer and song before heading back to continue sweeping the courtyard.

"We've got a lot of praises," Rivers continues. "Any prayer requests?"

"Pray for Lance Corporal Wright. His wife is going into labor." There is an echo of acknowledgement because Wright is one of two Marines who will not be home to see his child born this week.

A few days later, under a cloudless blue sky, Rivers stands with the men of 2nd LAR to pay respect to two fallen brothers in arms from Delta Company. He offers a message of restraint, not revenge, for the men.

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