CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait - Army Capt. David Harvey, a chaplain with the Rhode Island Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment, is connected to the "Devil Dogs" of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in more ways than one.
Currently deployed to Kuwait, Harvey recently volunteered to support Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261 (Reinforced), the aviation squadron for the 24th MEU when they came ashore to train for several weeks.
The relationship began when Harvey, whose office is located at the far north end of the airfield at Camp Buehring, began providing chaplain support to the 1204th Aviation Supply Battalion, located at the opposite end of the flight line.
"As I was making my rounds between the two, I began noticing these strange creatures in tan flight suits…along with strange aircraft – (AH-1) Cobras and (MV-22) Ospreys," said Harvey. "I said to myself, 'there's Marines here.'"
However, he wasn't pulled toward the Marines of the 24th MEU because of their tan flight suits or "strange" aircraft – his connection is much stronger than that.
Harvey began his military career in 1989 – as a Marine recruit at Parris Island, S.C.. His enlisted path took him through the ranks as an armorer to Quantico Marine Corps Base's Officer Candidate School where he was commissioned as a Marine artillery officer in 1994 and deployed as a forward observer. He deployed again in 1998 as a platoon commander, attached to Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.
Coincidentally, the reconnaissance platoon commander with BLT 3/1 in 1998 was a young Capt. Frank Donovan, now Col. Frank Donovan, commanding officer of the 24th MEU.
Sometime around 2004, Harvey said, he began entertaining the idea of becoming a chaplain. He had a history of involvement with teaching and mentoring throughout his life, including leading religious functions as a Marine aboard ship.
"Putting that all together, combined with the military, which I had been in since I was 17, the chaplaincy was a natural progression," he said.
Throughout this progression, several individuals helped him make the decision. Although most of these people were other chaplains in the Navy or Army, an unusual number of them were former Marines.
Harvey's decision to become a chaplain also required him to change services, though many expected him to go to the Navy since the Navy provides chaplain services to all Marines.
"You spent 18 years in the Marine Corps, why the sudden change?'" said Harvey.
He said this was something he wrestled with but decided he didn't want to let his affiliation with the Marine Corps be the deciding factor.
"Once you strip off the rank, the uniform and get to the heart of it, everyone's the same on the inside," he said. "As a chaplain, it doesn't matter to me whether someone is Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, whether they're a PFC, lance corporal, colonel… they're coming to see me as a wounded person, not as a battalion commander."
Harvey was always checking on the 24th MEU Marines – stopping by, lending an encouraging word or just to say hello, even sometimes in the middle of the night during a shift change on the flight line.
"A chaplain's priority of work is his own unit, then other military units," said Harvey. "I'm not assigned as a Marine chaplain by any stretch of the imagination, and I'm not trying to take over for the MEU chaplain. But, when the Marines find out you've got the club ring, got the tattoos, you can establish a rapport with them right away."
The 24th MEU is in the middle of a scheduled deployment, currently supporting the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility along with maritime security operations with the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.