Commander Arthur Wiggins
This month I spoke with Commander Arthur Wiggins, a Navy chaplain who’s currently serving on the USS George H W Bush.
Q What are the duties of a Navy chaplain?
A First and foremost, we all have the First Amendment right of freedom of religion, so we perform worship services. I am a baptist minister, and to be a chaplain you have to be some form of clergy. We do baptisms, counseling, human relations projects, advise the Commanding Officer (CO) on different points, and generally take care of the crew in every spiritual sense you can imagine. I get paid to love people—that’s my job.
Q So is there client privilege like with an attorney, where they can trust you not to blab what you talked about to someone else?
A Yes, it’s very similar to attorney-client privilege. We have great confidientiality—anything you say to a chaplain is clergy-parishioner protected. You can’t even be forced to repeat it in court. It’s 100% protected.
Q I can’t assume that everyone on the ship is Christian. What about Muslim and Jewish personnel—can you counsel them as well?
A I can counsel anyone on general spirituality issues. Unless we’re talking about specifics of your particular religion, I am capable of counseling anybody, including those who have no particular religion. There are those who are atheists and don’t believe in God, and they still come to me. The Navy chaplains are the chaplains for the Marine Corps, the Navy, and the Coast Guard. Generally you just have to care about people.
Q When you’re assigned to a Navy ship, how long are you away from your family?
A You’re assigned to a ship—sea duty—for 3 years, so in that 3 years, you’re with the ship for approximately 6 months a year … and then you’ll go on to another duty. Depending on when you arrive on the ship, that determines how long you’ll be on it. Ships have to be pulled in for maintenance and repair.
Q What’s a typical day like?
A Reveille goes at 0600 (that’s 6am). Everybody gets up and get moving. We always have some crew on duty 24 hours a day for security. But the general crew gets up at 0600 and start time is 0700 for our first inspections. We have breakfast and I have my first meeting with my executive officer at 0730; my first meeting with my staff is at 0800.
Then we have our cleaning duties—we have cleaning stations where everybody on the ship from a certain rank and below have to clean the ship. Cleaning duties have to be fulfilled every week, so you can pick which day to do them. We have 3,000 people on the ship, so there’s lots of trash.
There’s time for counseling, physical fitness, religious ministries, bible studies, worship, and there are a lot of meetings. But as far as a “typical day,” we don’t use that term around here!
Q What kinds of adjustments do you have to make to deal with being on a ship?
A You have to make both physical and mental adjustments. If you get seasick easily, that would be a big adjustment. The carrier is a big ship, so you can feel it move, but you don’t really feel much. It’s not like being on any other ship. We call this a floating city—this ship is three football fields long!
We have small living spaces, so if you’re used to a big house, king-size bed, and a big living room, you’re not going to have that here. But we do have a lot of creature comforts–—we have TVs, we have hot water, hot showers, great food, and internet.
Q What does it take to join the Navy, and then what does it take to become a Navy chaplain?
A You have to have a willing heart, be patriotic, and be physically and mentally fit. You can go down to your local Navy recruiter and they will give you a test. Then, after you pass the test, they do a background check, give you a physical exam, and then from there you’ll be in the process of going off to a boot camp and learning how to be a sailor. So if you’re an American citizen, at least 18 years of age (17 with parental consent), you can start that process.
Now to be a Navy chaplain, you have to be an officer. You first must have your 4-year degree to become an officer, and then to be a chaplain, you would have to get an advanced degree, a masters of divinity or equivalent in your particular faith. Then you have to do at least 2 years of training. I have to be able to do everything that a Christian minister can do in a church—baptisms, serving communion, funerals, weddings, as well as worship services.
Q What was it like going on deck of your Navy ship for the first time?
A Well, it was humbling. You’re on top of something that has a lot of technology. To be here and see planes land and launch, and to see how many people it takes for that to happen … is pretty awesome to see.
Q So, what foreign countries have you traveled to so far?
A In my career, I’ve been to Cuba, Thailand, the Philippines, South Korea, Japan, Brunei, and Australia.
Q What do you like best about being a Navy chaplain?
A The ministry. I have young people 18 to 25 who can actually effect change. These are people who have left home and are trying to find their way in life. They’re trying to get those life skills, relationships, finances, and all these things in order, and I get to pour into them something about God and show them just how amazing they are. So I don’t just see my congregation on Sunday … I see them in the gymnasium when we work out, in the chow lines when we’re eating, and I see them in counseling when they have problems. And I’m able to share that I’m one of them as I also make my way.