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Marine Corps Recruiting Command

Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.

3280 Russell Road, 2nd Floor Quantico, Va. 22134
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Pacesetters welcome chaplain

By Cpl. Stacey L. Bullock | | May 17, 2002

6TH MARINE CORPS DISTRICT, PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. -- Sixth Marine Corps District welcomed a first-ever addition to the Pacesetters' ranks in April.

Navy Lt. Andy Richards, checked in as the district's new chaplain -- part of a Marine Corps Recruiting Command effort to have one at every district.

Although having never gone through recruit training, the Missouri native has much experience on that side of the house.  He spent a total of two-and-a-half years at MCRD Parris Island's Recruit Training Regiment, one year at 2nd Battalion and a year and a half at 3rd Battalion.

"Parris Island had a dark cloud looming when I imagined it, but it was much different than I expected when I actually arrived here," he said.  "I like Beaufort.  It is a small town, much like where I grew up.  If it weren't for the bugs, it would be perfect," he said lightheartedly.

During his time at RTR, he saw a side of the Marine Corps drill instructor many will never see.

"A tremendous amount of time and commitment is put in by the drill instructors.  They really want the recruits to make it and they do care, they just don't let the recruits know that," the father of two said.

While at RTR, he earned a Meritorious Unit Commendation and a Navy Achievement Medal.  The regiment is also fighting to get him the Drill Instructor Ribbon, having served 30 months at RTR, he said.

"Wherever he goes, his motivation and inspiration follow," said Navy Petty Officer 2nd class Philip Burston, religious program specialist and chaplain's assistant for Richards at 3rd Battalion.  "I was very lucky to work for him."

After being stationed here for more than two years now, Richards said he feels he sort of belongs to the "special club," referring to the many men and women that have spent time on Parris Island since the beginning of its illustrious history.

Now, making the transition from recruit training to recruiting, his outlook is positive.

"Supporting the mission of the recruiters is very important because they have a stressful job, and it can also be hard on their families," he said. "Now my focus has shifted from drill instructors and recruits to recruiters, support Marines and their families."

Richards also mentioned he is looking forward to getting his hands dirty with the recruiters and the support Marines to see how a recruiting command operates.

"I'm getting a totally different perspective after having been at (RTR)," he said.  "It will be interesting to see this side of it."

"There is a need for a chaplain and his services," said Col. Thomas E. Gregory, commanding officer, 6th Marine Corps District.  "He will be bringing his services to the Marines in the field," referring to the recruiters.  "And, since he has seen the stresses of recruit training, he can help with the pool program to prepare future Marines for MCRD."

The idea with the pool program is to put a video, still in the works, in the hands of future Marines' families so they understand just because their children are joining the Marine Corps does not mean they give up their religious rights, said Craig Sproul, the district quality of life coordinator.

"Another positive aspect of having a chaplain is he will be able to provide help with marriage improvement programs, such as Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program," added Sproul.  This program is designed to help couples bridge some of the gaps common in relationships.

The shortage of chaplains in the Navy was a basis for districts never having one before, Gregory said.

"Once we have a more permanent chaplain, he will be going on the road more often to provide support to the recruiting stations around the district," said Sproul.  "He will also have the means to put a reserve chaplain in touch with someone who needs counseling if he is not close enough to do that."

Even though he will be leaving for Southern California in September, Richards said he is confident there will be a replacement.

"I'm here to sort of lay the ground work for future successors," he said.  "I'm also here to prove to MCRC the need to actually have a body here for the recruiters and their families."

Richards knows the inner workings of a military family since his father was a Navy air traffic controller.  From his childhood on, he knew he wanted to be in the military.  Then, in his teens, he decided he wanted to go into ministry. 

Soon, the pastorate seemed unchallenging to him. He wanted to do something exciting and cutting edge.  Richards decided he could satisfy both dreams by becoming a military chaplain.

"I wanted to give back to my country and felt my best contribution was to be a chaplain," said Richards.  "I think I might have watched too many M*A*S*H episodes, too.  I wanted to be the chaplain," he said, with a laugh.

After receiving his commission in 1994, he served as a reservist.  Then, in 1999, he decided to come onto active duty.  After a couple short stints in Hawaii and at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Richards would call MCRD Parris Island home.

"He brings a tremendous amount of experience, energy, and ideas," added Gregory.  "He is going to be a great asset to us."

For more information or to speak to the chaplain, please call (843) 228-2271.

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