Devotion to faith, dedication to service

Story by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nate Littlejohn

141216-G-ZV557-094- Lt. Cmdr. Bass RetirementLt. Cmdr. Edward Bass, chaplain for the Coast Guard 5th District in Portsmouth, Virginia, retired Tuesday after 24 years of military service. Bass’ unique career included 12 years in the Coast Guard and 12 in the Navy Chaplain Corps.  141216-G-ZV557-063- Lt. Cmdr. Bass Retirement

Reflecting upon his service, Bass gave some interesting insight into his role as a military chaplain.

Growing up near Seattle in Sumner, Washington, Bass found faith in Christianity in his late teenage years, but had yet to consider the military as a college or career option.

“I never really had a plan to join the military,” he said. “I stumbled into it. I was a good student and a good athlete, but I didn’t have a clue what I really wanted to do. I received a letter, out of the blue, from the football coach at the Coast Guard Academy expressing interest in me.”

Bass considered the invitation, applied and was accepted to the Coast Guard Academy where he played football as a wide receiver for four years. After graduation, he was stationed aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Evergreen, a 180-foot medium endurance cutter out of New London, Connecticut. His next tour sent him to the west coast to the Marine Safety Office in San Diego where he first noticed his potential as a minister.

“My wife and I joined a really good church and we became very involved,” said Bass. “I began to realize I had some gifts toward ministry, but I still had a five-year obligation to the Coast Guard.”

141216-G-ZV557-068- Lt. Cmdr. Bass RetirementAt his next position as platoon officer responsible for indoctrinating new officer candidates in Yorktown, Virginia, Bass began confiding in Navy chaplain David Gibson who was serving in the Coast Guard. “He was a great role model and mentor. I went to him looking for direction in my career and he encouraged me to stay in and to pursue ministry if that’s what I felt called to do. I began to lean toward becoming a minister, though I wasn’t quite sure how that would happen yet.”

During his next tour in Savannah, Georgia, Bass was passed over for promotion. “That was a painful experience, but it was also a door opening for me to go into full-time ministry, he said. “I remained in the reserves and went to seminary school for three years.”

Completing seminary school was Bass’s next step in fulfilling his ministry goals, but his career as an active duty military man wasn’t over yet. Bass was still determined to serve his country through his passion for Christianity.

“After the seminary, I called the chaplain core recruiter, knowing that I wanted to work in a sea service.”

Bass worked for a year as a hospital chaplain, then entered the Navy where he served as a chaplain for the next ten years, completing four major deployments all over the world.

Bass recalls some of the most challenging aspects of his job throughout the years. 141216-G-ZV557-076- Lt. Cmdr. Bass Retirement

“You have to stand alone a lot as a chaplain,” he said. “Often times, you’re the only chaplain in a large geographic area.”

One aspect of a chaplain’s job is often to provide support during times of great sadness or loss.

“When a member has a serious medical diagnosis or a family member passes away, it’s often up to the chaplain to break the news,” said Bass. “I remember the day before going on a six- month deployment, the captain called me to his cabin and told me about a sailor in the deck department who had tested positive for HIV, but the sailor did not yet know the test results. It was my job to tell the member that he was HIV positive and that he would be staying behind for the deployment. Those are hard days. It’s unfortunate that chaplains have to do their best work during tragedies, but that’s how it happens.”

As with any job, there are also times of great joy.

“If somebody has a baby, I get to deliver that news,” said Bass. “Those are the moments I most enjoy most.”

Sometimes misunderstood, the role of a chaplain in the military is not limited to ministry or religious leadership. The chaplain’s job is primarily a role of listening. A member needn’t be affiliated with a religion or have faith in a higher power to speak with a chaplain.

141216-G-ZV557-086- Lt. Cmdr. Bass Retirement“As a chaplain, I’m not here to convert members or force religion upon them. People should think of us as a confidential resource. The member doesn’t need to talk to us about religion. We’re here to listen to whatever they’d like to share.”

Most typically, a chaplain helps members through the stressors of daily life in the military.

“It’s common for a sailor who’s having a hard time adjusting to the service and trying decide if the service is right for them to come and talk to me,” said Bass. As chaplains, we help them sort that out. We’re the comforting friend who’s by their side.”

Bass returned to the Coast Guard last year for his final military tour in Hampton Roads, Virginia.

“One of the most enjoyable things about coming back to serve in the Coast Guard is running into people I mentored in Officer Candidate School as a staff instructor back in 1993 and 1994. Now they’re commanders, and they outrank me. Some have approached me, surprised to see I’m a chaplain. It’s funny because I was making them do push-ups in 1993, and now I salute them!”

After 24 years of service, including his time in the Navy, Bass’ career has come full circle with his return to the Coast Guard.

“There’s nothing I can think of that I’d rather have done,” he said.

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