The infantrymen of the 2nd battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment circled briskly just before sunset. Dropping their fully loaded packs to the ground, and laying down arms, many quickly reached for an inside pocket to draw out a Bible.

 

And standing in a mountain clearing overlooking the Pacific Ocean, these Marines, led by 35-year-old Navy Chaplain Lieutenant Commander Travis Moger, made sure to gather ammo for a looming war.

 

Ready for deployment to the Southwest Asia/Persian Gulf region any day, Moger told the Florida Baptist Witness the infantry battalion he ministers to is a front-line ground combat unit. After being called to active duty in February 2002, the unit deployed to Camp Pendleton, near San Diego, to provide homeland defense for the West Coast.

 

Those orders changed recently when the group was reassigned to the 1st Marine Division to be part of a larger Marine Corps Expeditionary Force.

 

"I will be as close to the fighting as a chaplain can get, if and when we are in combat," said Moger, an Ocala, Fla. native.

 

Moger left the pastorate of First Baptist Church in Citra, Fla., for active duty after being commissioned as a Navy chaplain in 1995. He had been pastor there for a year after earning a degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. He received his undergraduate degree in religion from Dallas Baptist University in 1988.

 

After leaving active duty in 1999, Moger joined up with a Navy reserve unit after moving to California to work on an advanced degree in history and serve a small church near Santa Barbara, Calif. The stint lasted two years before the Marine Corps found him again. The Marine Corps uses Navy personnel to fill non-combatant roles. A reserve chaplain with prior Marine Corps experience, living in Southern California, Moger "fit the bill."

 

He never did get to drill. Instead, the unit was called to active duty right before Christmas in 2001 for training and West Coast homeland defense.

 

Meanwhile, Moger went from preaching in the comfortable pulpit of First Baptist Church in Solvang, Calif., where there are a steady 40-50 people each Sunday morning, to sometimes reading Scripture aloud in the dark while one of the Marines shined a flashlight over his shoulder. Moger has continued to serve as the church's senior pastor but urged them to take on an associate pastor this past year who fills in about 60 percent of the time.

 

Training in the rugged terrain near San Diego, the infantry Marines sleep outside on the ground. A mobile unit, they carry everything they need on their backs. Moger said it gets "pretty primitive" at times.

 

Moger isn't a chaplain who posts service times on a marquee outside a building. He doesn't know in advance whether there will be Catholics or Pentecostals -- or even Mormons -- in a twilight gathering. He just shows up prepared to be used by God.