CAPE MAY – When people of faith answer the call of duty, new vistas open. Beliefs either fortify or shake beneath rigorous physical and mental demands.
For Coast Guard Chaplain Commander Stephen Fisher, stationed at Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, his mission is two-fold: Prepare cadets for a military career and equip them with an eternal perspective.
“I personally was considered for this assignment, in part, due to my past experience at training commands,” Fisher said, in a June 2 email.
“I have been working in this, my first Coast Guard assignment as a Navy chaplain, for the last 30 months,” he said.
Born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Fisher, 47, has traveled the world, previously stationed in Japan, Spain and Germany. He and his family currently live in Lower Township.
Fisher serves as the Protestant non-denominational chaplain, while Lt. Imad Barakeh ministers to Catholic cadets. Fisher’s resume includes three training facilities, including the Marine Corps boot camp, at Parris Island, South Carolina. He also served at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, from 2006-2009, in Michigan.
All Coast Guard chaplains are assigned by the Navy.
Fisher is grateful to assist cadets, as they face their first difficult days.
“We view all our services to them both as opportunities to help them through the immediate rigors of the basic training experience, but it is also a valuable opportunity to teach them the core principles and practices of resiliency, confidence, prayer, trust, and courage that we hope will remain with them throughout their lives,” Fisher explained.
Love of country compelled Fisher to the military, while love for others leads him to minister. Instead of preaching from one location, Fisher moves from post to post, as commanded. Obedience is a key aspect of service.
“One of our greatest challenges in the wake of Covid was in providing religious opportunities to recruits of diverse religious backgrounds,” Fisher said.
“Our normal routine before Covid was simply to provide recruits transportation to local religious communities if their religious requirements could not be met on base,” he added.
However, when the coronavirus struck the nation, the military was not exempt. An unseen enemy threatened normal protocol and life on base.
“Out of an abundance of caution, and to prevent the spread of the Covid virus, I have directed the temporary rescheduling of receiving new recruits at Training Center Cape May. The health and safety of our personnel is our priority,” stated Rear Admiral Brian Penoyer, Force Readiness Command, in an April 3, 2020, press release (https://bit.ly/3pEPgbT).
According to Fisher, their greatest challenge transformed into “their greatest triumph.”
“We had to coordinate multiple opportunities, establish new services, and gather new resources and tools to ensure these opportunities could be available for recruits on base. This was accomplished by increasing our liaison with outside religious groups, and facilitating electronic participation in services or coordinating new services through uniformed volunteers,” Fisher said.
By adapting to adverse situations, Fisher continued counseling cadets and, today, in-person spiritual instruction resumes.
Flag and Cross
On Fisher’s uniform, he bears two emblems. On his hat, one sees the Eagle, representing the U.S. On his shoulders, one sees a cross. Fisher represents the nation he loves, while upholding Christianity.
Jesus Christ told his disciples that “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13, KJV)
“I am regularly struck by the deep correspondence between the boot camp experience and the purpose of this earthly life,” Fisher said.
Boot camp, with all its stresses, will end. Cadets will graduate, but the bravery, endurance and perseverance will go on.
“I find this experience strikingly analogous to the biblical promises for those who believe in Christ that ‘this light, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,’ and that ‘the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us,’” Fisher concluded.
Faith Matters is an ongoing series exploring the connection between individuals and their faith, impacting their families, community, and beyond. Those with a story of faith to share should contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.