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Interview with Breck Bregel, May 3, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Breck Bregel, May 3, 2007
May 3, 2007
Lieutenant Commander Breck Bregel discusses the path that led him to the chaplaincy, including his educational background, his twenty years of experience serving as chaplain in the Navy and Marine corps, and the impact his calling has had on his personal life.
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Interviewee:  Bregel, Breck Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  5/3/2007 Series:  Military Chaplains Length  90 minutes


Zarbock: Good morning, my name is Paul Zarbock, I'm a staff person with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington's Randall Library. We're at Camp Lejeune this morning, and it's third of May in the year 2007. This videotape is part of the military chaplain's project. And this morning we're interviewing Lieutenant Commander Breck Breg-- You pronounce it.

Breck Bregel: Bregel.

Zarbock: Bregel.

Breck Bregel: Yes.

Zarbock: Well, good morning, Chaplain, how are you?

Breck Bregel: Good morning. Doing very well, thank you.

Zarbock: Chaplain, what individual, series or individuals, or event or series of events, led you into the ministry as your occupational choice?

Breck Bregel: Well, Paul, there's actually quite a few series of events that led me to this. First and foremost was my father, my dad, very patriotic. He was the kind of individual that always flew the flag on, on Veteran's Day, Memorial Day, and even non-holidays, just because he loved to see the flag flying out in front of our house. So my dad's patriotism directed me in that direction. So from childhood, early youth, just wanted to, to serve in the military. But also my mom had a very strong direction in my life, as far as taking me to church and pointing me in the direction towards God. And so when I was in high school, a ninth grader.

Zarbock: Now where were you living at the time?

Breck Bregel: Okay, at the-- that, I was born in Houston, my mom and dad divorced when I was ten, and then my mom and moved, and my brother, moved to Fort Worth. And then when she married my step-dad, we moved to Burleson, so I was in Burl-- in Burleson in ninth grade, this is Burleson, Texas, and I really felt strongly about pursuing a career in the military. So I called the Marine recruiter, had them come out to the small Christian school that I was going to, attending, and had them try to convince my friends that they ought to think about the Marine Corps, like I was thinking about the Marine Corps. But at the same time, while I was pursuing that, I felt God tugging in my heart that I have, you know, I need a few good men, too. And I need men for the ministry, and so it was a Tuesday night during a revival when an evangelist named Johnny Pope was preaching at the church I attended in Burleson. And-and I just was holding on to the pew as tight as I could, because I felt God calling me to answer his call, and at the same time, I knew if I answered his call to go into the ministry, I could never go into the military. I had no idea at that time that there were chaplains in the military. I did not know. And so I struggled and struggled, but finally, you know, this is a Baptist where they sing 500 verses of the "The Invitation," so finally probably on about the hundredth verse, I let go and went down and surrendered to the ministry, and said, "Okay, God, I will be one of your few good men to serve you."

Zarbock: How old were you at that time, sir?

Breck Bregel: At that time, I was 14.

Zarbock: Okay.

Breck Bregel: And, but from age 14 to 16, I still really struggled, because I really wanted to be in the military, but anyway, I went over to bible college, it was a small bible college, at a very, very fundamental bible college, where in my, well in my junior year, I found out, I discovered the chaplaincy. So I started talking to people at the, at the college, and --

Zarbock: What was the name of the college?

Breck Bregel: Howells Anderson College.

Zarbock: Charles Anderson-- ?

Breck Bregel: Howells Anderson Bible College. And I started talking to some of the administration there, and they said, "Well, you don't want to pursue the chaplaincy, because if you pursue the chaplaincy, you can't be a faithful representative of the Lord." We can't share the gospel with-- with other individuals, because they felt that your hands were tied. And then, but after hearing that, I still called the Chief of Chaplain's office, and I spoke with the Chaplain, have no idea who his name was, but I told him I was attending a non-accredited bible college, and I was going into, it was summer of, just finished my junior year, about to go into my senior year, and the chaplain on the other end of the phone said, "Well, you have to go to an accredited college, and so therefore you would need to start all over." Well, I'm thinking, I really would love to serve the Lord as a chaplain, in the military, because that would be the totality of my dream come true. I'm serving God as a minister, I'm serving in the, in the military. I get both, the best of both worlds, and -- but after that phone call, I was kind of discouraged, quite discouraged (laughs).

Zarbock: What a position of conflict you're in.

Breck Bregel: Oh, yes, very much so.

Zarbock: Really.

Breck Bregel: And so I finished out my senior year, went off to the, my first church as an associate pastor, youth minister, in Parker, Colorado. And the pastor that hired me decided he wanted to go back to Texas, and a new pastor came in, and he wanted to hire his own staff, so I ended up in Wyoming, at a small church in Wyoming. And then that pastor decided he wanted to go back into evangelism, 'cause that was his first time to ever pastor a church, and we wanted to go back to evangelism. So a new pastor came in and he wanted to hire his own staff, and now I'm learning, okay, it's tradition, when someone, when the pastor leaves, you just put in your letter of resignation. So I put in my letter of resignation, and a small church in Western Wyoming asked me to come be their pastor. And I thought, "Well, if I'm the one pastoring, then I'll probably not have anyone leave any -- and asking me to leave." (laughs) Well, they never asked me to leave, but they said, you know, in a very nice way, "We'd like to hire our own." And --

Zarbock: By the way, were you married at this time?

Breck Bregel: Yes, I was.

Zarbock: Did you have any children?

Breck Bregel: No, no children. But I was married at that time. I -- matter of fact, the pastor I was working with, in Parker, Colorado, he said, 'cause my, I was scheduled to graduate. I graduated in Decemb-- well, I finished in December, went to Parker, and was working in the ministry, and knew I was going to have to go back to my college graduation the end of May. And then I wanted to get married the first week in June. So, the-- the, my pastor said, "Well, you can either look at it one or two ways: You can go back for your college graduation, have a week for that, then have a week to get married and have the honey-- your honeymoon and be back in work in two weeks; or, just take two weeks to get married, and have, and have a longer honeymoon." I said, "I can, I think I'll go with the two weeks for the long, to get married and have a longer honeymoon." And so I didn't even go to my own college graduation.

Zarbock: How did you met this young lady, who became your wife?

Breck Bregel: I was a junior and she was a freshman at the college.

Zarbock: Okay.

Breck Bregel: So we met at college.

Zarbock: Sure.

Breck Bregel: And so she had just finished two years when we got married, and so we -- we got married, she moved to Colorado with me, and-- and, so yeah, she was, you know, most, especially young wives, but every wife wants security, and she certainly didn't have it with this pastor resigning and then going up to another pastor resigning. And so it was tough, it was a strain on our marriage and-- and we struggled through that, the strain, and the stresses of marriage, and just a struggle of getting to know someone.

Zarbock: And I'm sure that the, the salary was magnificent.

Breck Bregel: Oh, yeah. (laughs) $125 a week. (laughs) And -- but I was serving the Lord and I enjoyed that. And God took care of us. He really did. He worked in awesome ways in providing for us from when we had no groceries whatsoever, and then we just open our door and find someone had left groceries, without even telling anyone we didn't have any money. And, I mean, God did that in so many different ways, in taking care of us, and meeting our needs. And when I think of where I am today, with teenagers and a daughter in college and paying for three cars, and insurance for three cars, and having to live in a bigger house, we had it better when we had nothing. We had more money when we had nothing, than I do now when I have more money. So, it was (laughs) the phenomena of that. But anyway, while I was pasturing the small church in Evanston, Wyoming, there's only like seven families. We grew to about 91 within a year. This was in 1985. And matter of fact we had about, of that 91, we had about 23 teenagers. And so we would have youth activities for them, but I had no way of getting them, or transporting them. So I went into Morgan, Utah, and was going to look at leasing a van, so that I could, you know, just out of my money, and be able to transport the teenagers and get into church and -- and so while I was there at this car dealership, I just so happened in the sovereignty of God to meet Burge Hugasian [ph?]. And don't ask me how to spell Hugasian, but he had just retired from the Air Force Chaplaincy, after 30 years, retired as an Air Force Colonel, and I just met him, it wasn't by chance, God designed it, and we started talking, and I shared with him how in college I wanted to pursue the chaplaincy, and I told him what, well my-my peers and-and professors at college said; then I told him what the chaplain up at the Chief of Chaplains Office said, and about the not being accreditedness, and he said, "oh, it's a bunch of baloney. All you need to do is make sure you go to an accredited seminary, that accepts your college transcripts, and you'll be good to go". And so he ignited a fire, like in a fireplace. When it looks like the fire's out, and all you see is the ash, well the embers were still underneath all the ash, and after talking with him, the fire had started. And matter of fact, he said, "Let me put you in touch with the active duty Chaplain in Ogden, Utah, named Chris Sletles [ph?].

Zarbock: I'm sorry, Chris --

Breck Bregel: Chris Sletles, who happened to be an Associated Gospel Church chaplain, because Burge Hugasian told me "You will need to get endorsed. You need to make sure you get endorsed." And I said, "Wow, I don't know anything about endorsing agency," and he said, "Well, just let me, he said, just look into what your faith denomination has." And being at that time independent Baptist, there wasn't much. But he put me in touch with his Air Force active duty chaplain, who was in Ogden Utah, and I went and met with Chris. And I told him what had been told to me, and it was awesome. He-he looked me straight in the eye, and he pointed his finger right in my face, and said, "Breck, if it's God's will for you to be a chaplain, it will take place; if it's not His will, it won't. But don't let people discourage you from what you believe is God's will for your life." And so I said, "Sounds good."

Zarbock: How old were you at that time?

Breck Bregel: I was 25. I was 25, 'cause in '85 I was 25.

Zarbock: 25, married, do you have any children?

Breck Bregel: Not at that time.

Zarbock: Okay.

Breck Bregel: Our, well our-our son was about, was soon to be born, our first son.

Zarbock: Okay.

Breck Bregel: And --

Zarbock: But you're now tinkering around emotionally and intellectually with abandoning everything that you were doing and starting a new career.

Breck Bregel: Starting a new career, yes. And so I went home and told my wife, who just looked at me like, "Okay." And I said, "Well, it's not a coincidence, I mean, to be in Morgan, Utah, at the car dealership, and to meet Burge Hugasian, that wasn't a coincidence." And then just how I felt inside, I told her, "I can't explain, but when you know you know." And she, being the awesome loving wife that she's always been, I've been more the hardheaded one (laughs) she said, "Okay, if you feel that's what God wants, we'll do that," and -- and so, we were living in a mobile home in Evanston, Wyoming, and we, and I said, "Okay, I need to find an endorser." And Burge told me about AGC, so I called them, and --

Zarbock: I'm sorry, told you about -- ?

Breck Bregel: Associated Gospel Churches. So, I called Associated Gospel Churches, and they said, "Sounds good." This was in '85, and they said, "Okay, our conference is going to be in, in -- " I believe it was July of '86.

Zarbock: At this point, let me ask you, as we did off camera --

Breck Bregel: Okay.

Zarbock: Go back in history and tell me about the Associated --

Breck Bregel: Gospel Churches.

Zarbock: Gospel Churches.

Breck Bregel: Associated Gospel Churches has a really rich history, because, and I just learned this myself, that two years ago, after being endorsed with them since 1986, they endorsed me before I even started seminary. (laughs) And, but WOH Garman [ph?] and two or three other pastors, saw that in 1939, could see that even though we were not in a war with Germany, that a war with Germany was probably coming. Now, I doubt they saw about Japan, but they certainly were looking to the future, and at that time, the only way to be endorsed into the chaplaincy was either through, there's three endorsers: the Jewish endorser, the Catholic Military Archdiocese, and I believe it's the Federal Counsel of Churches. And there's only those three. And-- and so therefore, these, one was a Presbyterian, and three were Methodist chaplains, I mean pastors. But they had four associated gospel churches 'cause they felt there was a need for an evangelical conservative group, that the whole emphasis was on God has transformed your life, now share that news. And -- and they went to the Department of Defense, approached them, to make a long story short, they were able to break through that barrier, and Associated Gospel Churches became the fourth endorser. Now there was an endorser that could endorse evangelicals, who were more conservative, and not leaning so much to the left theologically. And -- and they opened the door, and then after they opened the door, the Southern Baptists and several others, said, "Hey, we never thought about asking could we have an endorsing agency because they just were doing it the way it'd always been done. Therefore, today we have about, I can't remember, it's about 220 different endorsers for those who are considered protestant. Back in 1939, protestant could only go through the Federal Council of Churches. So, it is exciting to be with an endorser who really has conviction and has an understanding of where they are. So it is very historical endorsing agency, and the vision that WOH Garman, that he had -- So, so HEC, so I found that endorser, but then I had to find an -- the bible college I went to, called Seminary Cemeteries, 'cause they felt that after you came out of Seminary, you were so theological astute, but relationally with the people you were dead, and so they, so I -- hadn't even really though about seminary. And so there was a pastor named Jim Lilly who was in Douglas, Wyoming, who became a very dear --

Zarbock: I'm sorry, Jim -- ?

Breck Bregel: Jim Lilly, who became a very dear friend of mine, because in bible college, he went to Tennessee Temple, and he felt God pursuing him to the chaplaincy. Matter of fact, he went through AGC, and he also told me about Associated Gospel Churches, but he said he-he -- other people also told him that would not be the best way to spend his life. And so he went into the civilian pastoring. And he said, "You know, Breck, for all these years, I have felt inside my heart that I did not fol-- I did not follow what God wanted me to do, and don't be like me. If God's calling you to the chaplaincy, go in the chaplaincy." And he told me about Grace Theological Seminary, and so I called them and approached them and filled out the paperwork, and they accepted me, and they accepted my transcripts from Hollows Anderson, and -- and I went to Grace Seminary in 1986.

Zarbock: And where is that located?

Breck Bregel: In Wynona Lake, Indiana, in a small little town, right next to Warsaw, right off of highway 30. And so I went to Grace Theolo-- entered Grace Theological Seminary in '86, got endorsed by Associated Gospel Churches in '86, filled out the paperwork to try to be accepted into what the Navy calls the chaplain, I mean the Chaplain Candidate Program. And so, the paperwork went in in September, and by December of '86, I found out I was accepted into the program, I was commissioned in March of '87, and went to Chaplain School in June of '87.

Zarbock: So the Navy really was your financial support from now on.

Breck Bregel: Well, I was just, no, because I was in seminary, and so I was still going to seminary, 'cause I didn't graduate from semin-- the Chaplain Candidate program is for theo-- seminarians to get accepted into the program and you go to Chaplain School in the summer, go to, go back to your seminary, in the fall and spring semester, and then do 30 days of on-the-job training in the summertime. And keep repeating that until you graduate.

Zarbock: But how were you able to buy your bread and butter while you're in seminary?

Breck Bregel: Oh, my wife worked very hard. (laughs) She worked -- she worked at several small jobs, but then God was so good, because she, she didn't, she only had two years of college, but in Milford, Indiana, there was a small library who needed a children's librarian. And my wife went in and interviewed, was interviewed by Mary Juris [ph?], and Mary said, "You know, technically you're supposed to have a degree and a masters of library science, too, but I like you, and I'm going to hire you to be the children's librarian." And so for the last two years, 'cause I was only in seminary for three years, and I graduated on time. And -- and so therefore, the last two years she was the children's librarian, and she loved it, and there in Milford. So my wife worked very hard while I went to seminary, but the chaplain candidacy, I was able to drill 30 days in the summer, and at that time, they allowed me to drill 30 days in between the fall and spring semester at Christmastime, so I was able to drill 60 days out of the year, get paid and get some salary, plus per diem and all that other stuff, so yes, all that money went back into the seminary and paying for that. And so when I graduated from seminary, I had no debt whatsoever.

Zarbock: Did you -- what was the size of your family at the time you left seminary?

Breck Bregel: Our -- our daughter, who's 19 now, was born while I was in seminary, but just shortly after I felt God calling me to the chap-- well, in the string of events that were happening in Wyoming, my wife gave birth to our son, and, in 1985, but unfortunately he died of crib death, and two, exactly two months to the day that he was born. And it was very tough on my wife, and but, it's really unusual how we both went different ways, because after we came back from the emergency room that morning, I went into the bathroom and just was crying out to God, and crying, and I thought, "God, is -- I just lost my son, and I would never have given him up. And even though he's only been here for two months, I loved that little guy so much." And then I started thinking, "But you willingly gave up your son for me," and I can't explain it, but that day, the love of God so overwhelmed me, and empowered me, and came upon me, that my life has never been the same since that day. And so I was drawn towards God's love; my wife, though, was drawn (laughs) she was pretty angry with God. And, and for about a year-and-a-half, she didn't want anything, really, she was upset, she had a husband that was in the ministry. She kind of wanted to run from God, and what sa-- what really brought her salvation to her, as far as helping her through that, was someone who told her about Compassionate Friends. She got involved with Compassionate Friends. And it was life saving for her. Those small groups of different, mostly ladies, showing up to talk about their pain and the loss of losing a child. And so that's what, how come we have our combined federal campaign. For many years, I would give some money to Compassionate Friends, because it had such an impact on my wife.

But so -- now we're in, in seminary, finishing up seminary on the chaplain candidate. So I -- so for all of seminary, I was a chaplain candidate, and they groom you as a chaplain candidate for the chaplaincy. That's where you're supposed to go. So the minute I graduated, I filled out the paperwork to supersede to the, to the chaplain board, to active duty. And so the paperwork went up, and then I got this letter back from the Chief of Chaplains Office saying "We regret to inform you that you have been denied and superseding accession and a letter will follow in the mail telling you how to resign your commission," 'cause I was commissioned. And- and I was just heartbroken, because while I was going through seminary, all my friends, and even peers, and even people who I really didn't know that well, would come up to me and say, "We are really envious of you." I would say, "Why?" "Because all through seminary, you've known exactly what God wants you to do, and pursuing that like an arrow to the mark, and we have no idea what God wants us to do, where he wants us to go." And I'm thinking, "Wow, now the very thing that I thought I knew where God wanted me to go, and be, is now telling me, 'No.'" So, I called up to the Chief of Chaplains Office, and there was a chaplain there, a catholic priest, Marshal Lariviera [ph?], and I said, "Sir, you've been the person I've been working with as a chaplain candidate, and you got me my assignments, and you've been following me, and you've known what's been said about me, and you know I've done a good job." I said, "What happened?" And he went and got my paperwork, and he said, "Well, you requested to supersede to active duty, but at this time we don't need any accessions to active duty. What you should've requested was, if unavailable, would request the reserves, the inactive reserves, drilling one weekend a month." He said, "I'll tell you what, I'll redo your paperwork, submit it again for you." So he redid the paperwork, submitted again. Now I get a letter saying, "You have been accepted into the inactive reserves." So I -- so I started drilling in Indianapolis, but I'd just finished seminary, so now I'm looking, because the chaplaincy also wants you to have two years of ministry after seminary, so I'm looking for a place to go.

But I was, so I interviewed, I went to about four churches, one in Indiana, two in Connecticut, and -- no three in Connecticut. And, 'cause I had a uncle up there who was pastoring a church, and he spoke to, knew some churches looking for pastors. But I, when I went to him, though I was honest at all of them, I said, "I rea-- I would love to come here and be your pastor, but my heart and my passion, I know God's calling me towards the chaplaincy, and I really hope to be able to someday go on active duty." And all of them said, "Well, that's great, we like you, but we really want a pastor coming who we know is going to be here for a while." So then, I found, found out about a pastor that just had cancer surgery in Texas, who needed someone to help him, who couldn't pay, again back to pay, literally nothing, to come help. Well, a little bit, but- but not a lot. (laughs) And so, I went to Texas to- to work for University Heights Baptist Church to be associate pastor while the pastor was recovering. But unfortunately, the pastor Bill Maxin, he also happened to be my uncle, but -- who was a Korean war veteran. He died, he did not survive, and the cancer got the best of him. So I went from helping him, just being at the church to help, 'cause he, they only wanted me to come to help him 'til he got on his feet. So now I'm helping the church through this difficult time, find a pastor, they-- and help them find a pastor, and as soon as they found a pastor, and it was good to go where everything was looking great, the chaplains board calls me and says, "You still want to come active duty?" 'Cause I put in paperwork, 'cause this was, I went there in '90, so I put in paperwork trying to go active duty during Desert Shield/Desert Storm, as I was in the inactive reserves. And they still had that paperwork, and you know, the war then was so short, basically one month, February, that you know, they really didn't need that many, 'cause a lot of chaplains requested to go on active, supersede to active duty at that time.

But anyway, I got a call like in Jul-- I think it was June of '91, "Do you still want to go on active duty?" And I said, I said, "Do I? Let me put the phone down and I [break in audio] So, the Chaplain Corps calls me and asks me if I was still, and if I'm still interested in going active duty. Matter of fact, I don't know who was on the other, I think it was Mrs. Burko [ph?] who was on the other end of the phone, but I asked, "Could I, could you hold just for a second?" And I literally went out, and I was in Odessa, Texas, and she called when I was at home in the afternoon. And I went out on the, it was an apartment, so went out, upstairs, second floor, so went out on the balcony and just yelled, "Praise the Lord, thank you!" (laughs) Walked back in, tears coming down my eyes, and said, "Oh, where do I go, when do I show up?" And so when, when I share that with my wife, of course we both cried together, and it was because this was a dream coming true because I knew that God had been leading me towards this to go active duty as a chaplain, and, and so our first duty station -- and this is the interesting thing, because when I was in Wyoming, and I was meeting Burge Hugasian, and then that Chris Sletles, and everything was falling into place, I still was part of Pastor's Fellowship, and I met with three pastors telling them why I felt God was leading me, and they said, "Well, okay, I guess if you can't, if you can't preach, can't pastor, and can't be a missionary, then I guess, okay, go be a chaplain." And it was like a second rate thing to them. And I couldn't understand it. I just said, "This is God calling me to this. This is what God wants me to do." And -- and so all the time I was in seminary, and even though I was very sure that this was what God wanted me to do, follow my heart, and follow his leading, I still was wondering, "God, is this where you want me, because of, because, you know, it's not by accident that I had the background I had, and -- and he led me to the college that I went to, but yet they were so against the chaplaincy. And I said, "I need like a sign." (laughs) And this is the most unusual thing, the beautiful thing about God's handiwork. My first duty station that he was, that I was going to go to, I was going to go to Long Beach, California, and be assigned to the USS Ogden LPD5, named after Ogden, Utah, where in 1985, Chaplain Sletles pointed his finger in my face in Ogden, Utah, and said "If it's God's will for you to be a chaplain, you will be a chaplain." I thought "God you are just so awesomely amazing." (laughs) And so I said, "That confirms it, I know I'm exactly where you want me to be, and I'm never going to let anything discourage me from that."

And sea ministry was tough on my family, but it wasn't tough on me, because I knew I was where God wanted me to be, to minister to those sailors about that ship, and I loved every moment of ministry aboard that ship. We were gone a lot, and underway a lot, and deployed, and -- and it was tough on my wife, and I -- you know, I had to ask "God, help me be sensitive there, and -- and not to let my enthusiasm for the calling to, to over-- to overshadow being compassionate towards my wife, because she's certainly, because their security, again, comes from having the husband there, and you know, you think of marriage having a husband there with you, not being gone all the time, and -- and by that time, we had two children, 'cause when I was in Odessa, our son was born. So we had Amanda and Aaron. And -- but she got involved, she- she ran a home daycare out of the home, and got very involved in our church that we were a part of. And she became the, matter of fact, the children's director of the elementary Sunday schools at the church. And so, she was very involved, but the one thing that really threw a kink kind of into it was one, no not one week, it was about 20 days before we were deployed, we had just come back from our last underway, before we were going to have what the Navy calls a two-week stand-down before you leave for deployment. You come in on a Friday night, we'd been gone out that whole week, and so my wife said, "Okay, why don't you put the kids to bed," and this was about 10:30 at night, 'cause the ship came in late. "You put the kids to bed, 'cause they haven't seen you for the week, and I'll take the babysitter home." And so she took the babysitter home, and I had told her, "Oh, I was busy and didn't have a chance to eat dinner," and being the wonderful, awesome, loving wife that she has always been, she thought "Oh, I'll stop and get him something," so she stopped at, I don't know, some chicken place and got me some chicken, and -- and came home and we, we didn't have electric garage doors, so she had to get out of the van, open the garage door, pull the van in.

Well, what she didn't know, someone, two people had been following her, followed her and parked in the shadows, and0. when she drove the van into our house, one of the guys ran into the garage real fast, pointed a .357 in her face, and said, "Don't you say a single word, or I'll blow your head off." So she didn't scream, she was more in shock to even scream, in a lot of ways. And the guys said, "Give me your purse." And he grabbed her purse, and grabbed even the diaper bag, and ran off. And my wife was, then she screamed, and our neighbors were out in their yard, and they heard, and I was in the house and I heard, and then we all run into the garage, and she said, "I just got robbed." We called the police, literally they were then within two minutes. And they told us that there's been a string of robberies going on where gangs will look for a woman by herself in the car, follow her home and rob her, when she's getting out of the car. But the irony of it is, my wife was left-handed, so while she was getting out of the car, she had the -- I don't know if it's Kentucky Fried Chicken, but she had the chicken box in her left hand, getting out of the car, with her purse and the diaper bag in her right hand, as she was getting out. The guy comes up and robs her, and takes the purse and diaper bag, but her billfold with her money and credit cards and everything, was underneath the chicken box in her left hand. So they didn't get anything of value, expect the diaper bag with a dirty diaper, and a purse with, she had a little bit of change in, 'cause we were going to have a garage sale the next day, and that was the irony for them, for my wife, psychologically and emotionally, it was devastating, and right before I was to leave. Matter of fact, no, we weren't, that was on Friday, the next Monday we're getting underway for one more time, and I'm underway on the, out on the-- the bridge, wing, talking to the CO, the ship is, we're down, we've gotten underway out of Long Beach, but now we're down off the coast of, down by San Diego, getting ready to pick up Marines, and-- and I was telling the CO what had happened, he looked at me like, "Why are you underway with us then?" "Just 'cause I thought when the ship gets underway, no matter what, you get underway." He said, "You're absolutely crazy. Your wife needs you." So he called flight porters, had them rig the helicopter, fly me off the ship, to Camp Pendleton, had a van waiting for me to drive me up to my home. He said, "You go be with your wife." (laughs) "She needs you, we don't need you here, she needs you more than we do." But I just thought, you know, that the ship's getting underway and that's where I'm supposed to be, and I'm supposed to just do my duty, and not, I thought they might look at it as I'm whining. (laughs) And so I really appreciate the ship's captain, Captain Van Winkle, for- for having that compassionate spirit to- to allow me to go back home and be with wife.

And, and so, I got to put up motion detector lights and do some things to the house to give her some, a sense of safety, since we're about to get underway. But then we talked to two of our neighbors who were both World War II veterans, one was with the Army, and almost every major landing in the South Pacific he was on; and then another one, he was with the Navy, and they both promised me that "We will come over every day you're gone, check on your wife, and when she goes to church on Sunday night or Wednesday night, one of us will always be there to, waiting in the driveway. She can call us before she leaves church, we will be there waiting for her," for the whole six months I was gone, every time they were there for her. They were like, I'd call them my angels in disguise, they were God's angels to my family. It was pretty awesome. And, while I was on that deployment, the ship pulled into a dock at Hawaii for just only a day, we were not even there a day, and -- but, I went and met with the head chaplain in Hawaii, who had said, when he was in California, "If ever there, come see me." And he eventually became the chief of chaplains, but he told me, when you finish your Navy career, he -- talking about every chaplain when they're young talks about their career path, and he said, so he said, "You definitely need to pursue, you want to go spend, you want to go from the Navy to the Marines, and it would be better if you ask for overseas, 'cause then you're getting an overseas assignment, you're getting a Marine assignment, you're fulfilling several of the things that they would be looking at for you that would be very important to follow. So, I said, "Sounds good," so I requested Okinawa, requested the Marines, and not many people request that, so the moment I requested it, the detailer said, "You're there." (laughs) I didn't have to negotiate or anything, and they were like, I guess it was kind of like a shock, "You're asking to go overseas? You're asking to go with the Marines." So, so I went, my wife and I, and my family, at that time, Aaron and Amanda and my wife, we, so we left the ship in May of 2- 1994, and in June of 1994, we moved to Okinawa, to the First Marine Aircraft Wing. And my first assignment was with Marine Wing Headquarter Squadron. I was there for two years, and I was at Marine Wing Support Group 17 as the group chaplain for about a year-and-a-half. And then spent the last couple months of my tour there up at the wing staff, 'cause the Navy Chaplain Corps took the, here I was a lieutenant, but they took the, the deputy wing chaplain and the senior wing chaplain all out at the same time, so for one month, I was the acting wing chaplain. And when the wing chaplain came in, I was the acting deputy wing chaplain for two more months. And finishing up my time there in Okinawa. And but I had a wonderful tour there with the Marines, and loved every minute of it. And then, to me, it was like, "Wow, I can't believe this," 'cause when I was a child growing up, it was the Marine Corps I'd wanted to go into. And so when I felt God calling me to the chaplain-- to the military, into the chaplaincy when I found out about it, I just knew there's only one place to go, and that's to the Navy. So, I didn't even consider the Air Force or the Army, because God had always put the Marine Corps in my heart. So, that was a really special assignment, 'cause that was my first time now to work --

Zarbock: Tell me about, tell me about the tremendous change that took place. You're leaving the Navy, wearing the Navy blues, and all of the sudden you're with the Marines, and now you're wearing camouflage?

Breck Bregel: Yes, the cammies, new __________

Zarbock: Okay, and it's a whole different environment.

Breck Bregel: Oh, a totally different environment.

Zarbock: What was that like?

Breck Bregel: Total different culture. Well --

Zarbock: Tell me about differences in culture.

Breck Bregel: Well, in the Navy culture, of course, the priority in the Navy is, is that ships, that's the priority. (laughs) And -- and we've got to have ships, and they've got to get underway. And so everything evolves around getting that ship underway. In the Marine Corps, the priority is the, is the grunt Marine. And everything evolves around the grunt Marine. So, one, on the Navy side, the focus is towards a metal ship, which is inhuman, it's not human. And on the Marine Corps side, it all focuses around how do we take care of the infantryman? The grunt Marine. And so total different culture, because on the Navy side, it seemed like -- I love my calling, but on the Navy side it seems like they're more interested in what collateral duties can they give to the chaplain, rather than focusing on the fact that they're there to be the spiritual/moral guidance of the command. And you come to the Marine Crops side and they want you there only for that. They're, they say, "Get out with my Marines and be there to be a chaplain for them. You represent God, be God to them. They want that." Well, that's why you come into the chaplaincy. So, working on the Marine Corps side is very exciting in that aspect, although I mean I've loved my time with the Navy, I mean, on the ship side, but that was a difference, because one, it's an inanimate object, it's a ship that's the priority; and the Marine Corps side, it's, it's an individual, it's the grunt Marine. And so that's going to definitely cause the cultural, difference in the cultures and mindset and philosophy.

Zarbock: Other chaplains have strongly suggested that their experience with the Marines was summarized by, "If you did what the other, if you did what the Marines were doing, you were accepted."

Breck Bregel: Yes.

Zarbock: "If you couldn't or didn't do what the Marines are doing, you were just cooled out."

Breck Bregel: They accept you when you get out there with them, but that's one of the things that I've enjoyed the most about the military, 'cause when you're a civilian pastor, you have a congregation, but that civilian pastor's not going to each individual person's work with them, so they don't understand the trials and the stresses of that work, and what they're going through. I mean, you're, they're there to cry with them, and they're there with them when they, when they go the hospital and visit 'em. But still they're not working with them, and they're not in the field with them, and they're not eating with them, and they're not sleeping in the GP, in a General Purpose tent with them, or sleeping out in the field in a small little two-man tent. Or they're not getting underway on a ship, and they're not experiencing the same hardships. There's not that identity of experiencing the exact same hardships, while in the Marine Corps side, and the Navy side, the chaplain is going through right with them. And yes, that's why the Marine Corps really looks and wants a chaplain that is motivated and has a good, healthy, not so much positive image, but they, they know that that chaplain brings a positive presence. And if he's encouraged and motivated in his faith or her faith, in leading the way, then the Marines are going to, to see that, and it's going to be an encouragement to them, and a motivator to them. But if the chaplain is saying, "Oh, I think we're all going to die," I mean, you get a chaplain over in wartime scenario, that is panicking, they'll get rid of him in a heartbeat, because they can't let the troops see someone panicking in a, in a wartime environment. They've got to see the chaplain as the most, almost solid, grounded, stalwart type of an individual, 'cause they do, they-they, in a lot of ways, are tremendous encouragements and set the pace for the mindset of the military.

Zarbock: Have you ever served in a combat area?

Breck Bregel: Well, in '99 I was on the Arctic, and it was during the Kosovo campaign, and but I was on ship, so I wasn't in combat, and since the war, and since our war here started, though, our war on terrorism, I came to Camp Lejeune in 2-- September 2001, but both assignments have been a base assignment, so I have yet not deployed over to Iraq or Afghanistan. I'm fixing to leave now to go to 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing at the end of this month. I detach from CREDO and I go, and now I'll be going back to operational, so there'll be a very good chance I'll find myself in Iraq now. But I, but I haven't been over in the combat environment as far as with the, the Marines. And a lot of sailors, individual __________ sailors in, over in Iraq and Afghanistan, also.

Zarbock: Again, I'm going to cue you back into -- you used an acronym, CREDO. What does that stand for? How-- first of all, what was it, how did it start? What does it mean?

Breck Bregel: Okay, well --

Zarbock: Describe and define, please.

Breck Bregel: Okay. Well, just in case for those that might be wondering, when I left Okinawa, I went to Western Hemisphere Group, in Mayport, Florida, and then I went to Desron [ph?] 14, in Mayport, Florida, too. So, one had 18 ships, the other one had 10 ships, so I was constantly riding ships. And that's when I went to Kosovo on emergency deployment on the USS Arctic, which is an AOE8. And so I was underway, though, from '98, January of '98, when I arrived in Mayport, to August of 2001, I was just constantly underway. Matter of fact, the commodore had to say, "Chaplain, you're the first, I never thought I'd have to say this to anybody, but you get underway too much. You stay, you need to stay home with your family." (laughs) And -- but anyway, from there I came to here, to Camp Lejeune in 2001 of September, I was assigned a base, and then from my base assignment, I came to CREDO for my second assignment, here in Camp Lejeune. And CREDO stands for the Chaplains Religious Enrichment Development Operation. It was started in 1971, but then the acronym meant Chaplains Response to the Emerging Drug Order, because there was such a problem with our marines and soldiers coming out of Vietnam, hooked on drugs, that a chaplain, Don Harris, came up with the idea of having a retreat that they could take them on, and it's been a very effective retreat in helping them work through those issues. And-and help them become productive, functional marines again, for, since it's the Navy chaplain, marines and sailors, becoming functional again within their command, and helping them work those, those issues. Today there's a zero tolerance, so if you get positive for drugs, you're out, but back then I think they wanted to, I guess rehabilitate 'em, or at least rehabilitate 'em before they put 'em out to civilian world, as much, as many as they could. But eventually, the problem with drugs phased out, and so they changed the acronym for CREDO --

Zarbock: I'm sorry, phased out because it was --

Breck Bregel: Because the drug, the drug problem, because the military virtually --

Zarbock: No tolerance.

Breck Bregel: -- with no tolerance, virtually became pretty much, not 100 percent, but pretty much drug free, where in 1971, I mean, just big __________, many, many marines and soldiers were addicted to drugs. And so there's a huge need for the ch-- for CREDO to function on that. Now, CREDO's function, from 1971, then it phased in more to retreat setting or marriage retreats, spiritual growth retreats, and personal growth retreats. And personal growth retreats is what really started CREDO, but with, the pendulum swings every which way, and now the focus, and on the Navy side, it's not even CREDO, it's Spiritual Fitness Division now, they don't -- the Marine Corps kept CREDO and the Navy uses Spiritual Fitness Division, which is part of the Operational Ministry Center, and then they call 'em the CREDO programs. But here we still use the name CREDO as the title of, of the organization.

Zarbock: And you would, you did, or do, conduct these retreats, and --

Breck Bregel: We conduct the retreats, but we've -- but we've phas-- due to the war, just as much as, 'cause we're, the marriage retreats we have every month because they are in great demand because of helping the warrior and his or her spouse connect before they go to war, or reconnect after coming back from war. So our marriage retreats are every month, and a very vital aspect --

Zarbock: How long are they?

Breck Bregel: They're 48 hours from Friday evening through Sunday at noon. And we got up to a retreat center, just about 45 minutes from here, in Emerald Isle. On Emerald Isle, beautiful setting, I mean it's so tranquil. I could literally do a horrible job, and they would still leave encouraged in their marriage and strengthened just by having time alone in such a serene setting that God created. But I do do a good job, too, so (laughs) So they get, they get education, marital enrichment, but they also have had time to just reflect, to spend time with one another, just take walks together. Several spouses said, "You know, I haven't looked at, my husband hasn't looked in my eyes, or me into his eyes, in years like we have in just the -- thank you for that wonderful gift." Because when couples are dating, they can't stop looking in each other's eyes. Then you get married and you stop looking in your spouse's eyes, and making that contact and, so they hold hands, they look in each other's eyes, they recommit their, and through affirmations, their love for one another. And it's just a wonderful time. So because of the war, war or terrorism, that certainly has maintained a very important role, but one of the things that we shifted into that we're doing a lot of, also is a lot of briefs for the spouses before the war returns, talking to the wives, well let me say, talking to the spouses, 'cause sometimes there's a husband. Majority of the time, it's been wives, but the spouses, talking to the spouses, about combat stress, and helping them differentiate between combat stress reactions, normal combat stress reactions. This is normal.

Zarbock: For example.

Breck Bregel: Coming back and experiencing irritability, maybe they were a very calm person before they came back, but after being in a wartime zone, when your adrenalin is going 24 hours a day for the entire length, whether it's six months, seven months or 12 months or 14 months, you-- it's not turned off, the adrenaline is going, and you just, just 'cause you get a plane, come home, doesn't mean that it turns off right away. So, they come back, the jumpiness, the edginess, irritability. And most of the marines have said they definitely have experienced irritability. The desire to, to have at least about 48 hours after they get back, of kind of alone time, which makes it tough, 'cause you have aunts and uncles and grandparents and moms and dads that want to come welcome their child or their niece or nephew back from war, or the grandson back. But you -- and the wife and the kids, and these guys, even though they've been gone, they need some decompression time. And a lot of people don't understand that, so a lot of people get offended over that. And so we help them understand that they might need some decompression time, where a few marines have said, "Oh, when I got back, I didn't want to leave the presence of my family," but I've had far more say "I definitely need that decompression time. And I only needed like 24 hours, or 48 hours, but if I got it, was ready to go." But a lot of, almost all of 'em, have talked about the jumpiness, hearing a loud no-- lot of loud noises here at Camp Lejeune, lot of artillery always going off. So, the jumpiness, had one young marine said, he had just, just came out of the seven day store, had a hot cup of, these marines love the Ramen noodles and the hot noodles in the little cup, had just bought that, walking out of the store, one of the big booms goes off, he fl-- jumps, that soup goes right over his shoulder, and he said, "Good thing, Chaplain, nobody was behind me, 'cause that hot soup would've gone right on him." And, but -- a lot of that, going into the store and the guy saying, "Well, we find ourselves kind of walking with our back to the aisle, and where we can see the perimeter of everything." Driving down the road, if they see a bag, thinking, "Oh, could that be an IED?" So a lot of them said when they come back, and driving, they tend to drive, they catch themselves driving more in the center of the road, because they're wanting to avoid anything that might be -- you know, just trying to, that transition, that mental transition. But what's made it really tough, too, is most of these marines when they get back, are told right when they get back, when they're going to leave again. And-and so you, you're back, and then seven months later, you're going back again. And that, the strain and stress, not only on the marine, but the family, has been significant. And that's where CREDO's big push now. In 1971, it's more helping the military through the drug issue. Now, CREDO's really trying to help these spouses, because now, now their husband, or wife, is going off for maybe the third time to Iraq, and they can't help that they say, "Well, how many times can we defy the odds?" And so they have a defeatist attitude. The more deployment, that doesn't get easier, it only gets harder and harder. And so we have a real ministry. And CREDO's part of Marine Corps Family Team Building, which is part of-- which, yes, we're a separate entity in a way, but we're not, because we're part of the Marine Corps Family Team Building. The military pays my salary, but our program financing comes through Marine Corps Community Services, which finances Marine Corps Family Team Building. So we work very integrally with Marine Corps Family Team Building, which is all about the families and strengthening the families. So, that has become a huge focus for the Marine CREDOs, during this war. Really focusing on the spouse back here, and we've also , so we do a lot of combat stress and anxiety briefs. Briefs about handling stress, how to manage your stress, instead of letting stress manage you. And then combat stress. And so we do a lot of briefs with that.

Zarbock: Chaplain, I'm going to, I'm going to put a pitchfork right into a big philosophical haystack here.

Breck Bregel: Okay.

Zarbock: We're at Camp Lejeune, this is the year 2007, conflict is, conflict has been going on for over four years, close to five.

Breck Bregel: Yes.

Zarbock: You just mentioned that men and women get redeployed. Now, here comes the pitchfork: what is your role as the chaplain? To tell the men, "Buck up, suck it up, get ready and go back"? Or what? "God has a plan for you?"

Breck Bregel: My first response is just let 'em vent and listen to 'em. Just let 'em vent, let 'em -- I listen, and let them vent, 'cause it's, I'm not there to judge them. And shoot, I mean, they've been through a lot. And I'm there to encourage them. Yes, I want to bring spiritual encouragement, and-- and help bring the, them to an understanding of the sovereignty of God, and that God has, loves them dearly, and He's not abandoning them, and He's there with them. But basically to listen to them, and to let them vent; they're not angry at me, so I'll let 'em vent. And -- and that right there helps 'em. Just knowing that someone is listening to 'em, they feel a lot better and they say, "You know, okay, I'm ready to go on." I'm not going to tell anyone to suck it up. I'll let the staff and CO or the sergeant major do that, that's not my job. (laughs) My job is to be, my role is to be the chaplain. And I'll stay in that lane. (laughs)

Zarbock: If I came to you as a, I'm going to be sent back to Afghanistan or Iraq for the third time, and I tell you, "I can't do it. I just can't do it. Would you help me, chaplain? I can't return." Has this ever happened? And if so, what do you do? And if not happen, what would you do?

Breck Bregel: Well, it -- I haven't had, CREDO is not within a battalion or a regiment or company or a squadron. We're our own separate entity, but there are plenty of chaplains here who are with the, the marines in the division or group, or the wing, who have had come to them, and -- and if the chaplain, again, most chaplains will say, "Okay, tell me about it," they'll listen to them. You're listening for key identi-- indicators, to see where they are emotionally, you know, just like when someone comes into talking about, they just don't know if they can live in this world anymore. Are they just talking, or are they really maybe suicidal. So you're listening to try to identify and listen to indicators, and see the signs, where is this marine at? And if they truly, really can't, well that chaplain will go with them to the sergeant major, go with them to the command and CO, go with them to medical, if they need to, and help them get the attention they need. And some will be left behind and some will still be sent over. But they know that when they go over, "Okay, let's keep an eye on them."

Zarbock: I'm going to, I'm going to have to change tapes, but you have discussed with, described for me normal stressful responses upon returning, to Camp Lej-- or returning to the United States.

Breck Bregel: Yes, sir.

Zarbock: When we get to the next step, would you tell me, please, or catalog, abnormal responses to stress, and what does the chaplain do?

Breck Bregel: Yes.

(tape change)

Zarbock: This is the 3rd of May in the year 2007. We're at Camp Lejeune. This is tape number two. It's part of the University of North Carolina Wilmington's Chaplain interview project. Well, we're now on tape number two, check.

Breck Bregel: Okay.

Zarbock: And my question was: People who return from, uh, conflict and began to manifest "abnormal" or, let me change that-- a greater degree of stress-related activities, what are they, and how do you know that they are at a point of concern?

Breck Bregel: Okay. When our Marines come back, there's one thing that we've done at CREDO that we started, and now most of the unit Chaplains are do it, but we started it here at Camp Lejeune. When they come back, about somewhere between their 60th and 90th day we have a warrior reintegration-- we have warrior integration briefs designed for about platoon level anywhere from 25 to 35 Marines. We don't want it too large 'cause we want them to really be able to interact and talk and discuss, and we don't want them to get lost in a crowd. Because in country, they're all getting warrior transition, and a lot of them will even get warrior transition briefs the first week they're back. But warrior transition explains combat stress reactions to them, explains that their normal reactions to an abnormal situation, but it's all talking in theory. This is what we could experience now. After about 60 to 90 days of being back, now you're not talking theory. They've had 60 to 90 days to have some kind of reactions. So, the Marines are coming back, and some of them, not all of them--depending again on the severity of the incident and what they've seen--some, most have said irritability. So many have marked irritability and jumpiness as, I mean, just, no matter where they are in Iraq, behind the line or in front of the line, but some have said that when they came back they've had flashbacks and reoccurring nightmares, but they were decreasing and not increasing but decreasing.

Zarbock: They'd fill out a form?

Breck Bregel: Well, they do. Before they come back-- before they leave country they fill out a form and when they get back, medical has them fill out a form. Medical does a lot, and they're doing a lot, and they're even doing more. They're constantly reevaluating the process. So on the medical side, the psychological side, medical, the psychologists, psychiatrists there, they're working night and day. There's a lot more chaplains than there are psychologists, and so, they have their hands full. And unfortunately, we see a lot of Marines because their hands are so full. They go to mental health, but they say, "Yeah, we can see you four weeks from now." But they can go to their chaplain that day and see their chaplain because there's more of us. But when they come to us, okay, they're talking and we're listening, and so we're looking for things. Okay, you have a recurring nightmare. You had a flashback; okay, how often? Well, are they decreasing? But when they say, "Well, no, they're not decreasing, they're increasing. The severity of it's intensifying." Excuse me, or they say-- you know, almost every marine, I mean, you can identify a Marine not just by their haircut. There's a walk that a marine has. There's an air in their walk. There's pride and integrity in what they do. And when this Marine says, "You know, I don't care if I'm late. I don't care if my uniform is not squared away or not. I just..." and you can sense that there's a disruption in their functionality that there is distorting or hampering or hindering their ability to function in a normal way through the normal day to where they're getting in trouble. They're going to office hours. They're getting DUIs, speeding tickets. They're self medicating on alcohol when they've never really-- yeah, face it, Marines like to drink. But, yeah, and they drink to relieve pressure, but when they're drinking to self medicate constantly to get rid of the stress or try to offset the combat stress reactions, that's an indicator because now it's hampering their ability to perform in the day-to-day activity. When the spouse comes to us and says, "You know, I think my husband, you know, I think my husband-- at first I wasn't concerned, but now he's been back for five or six months, and the irritability and the anger is increasing. It's not decreasing. The flashbacks are staying there. The reoccurring nightmares are still there." The hyperawareness in activity, I mean, when a lot of Marines come back, yeah, they're hyper. Yeah, they're looking to the right, to the left. Sometimes-- one spouse said, "My husband, the first week he's back, went outside every night between 10 and 11," and walked the perimeter of their house making sure that it was safe. Does he do that now? "No, that was only in the first week." Now, if someone was still doing that six months after they're back, that's an indicator. You're looking for those things because that's not healthy. Now you move into that more, well, that is not healthy. That's when they need-- that's when you start to say that marine or that sailor needs help. And that's what you're looking for. Is it just a common stress reaction that's decreasing, that's not disrupting their way of life, or is their way of life totally being disrupted? And a lot of times we don't catch it. You'll have good Marines who love their spouse and come back and do crazy things and just divorce them or go off and start sleeping around with other women, and then that ends in a divorce. And sometimes the commands will just say, "Well, that's just-- oh, well, that happens." Well, that might be someone really struggling with maybe some PTSD.

Zarbock: What does that stand for?

Breck Bregel: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. So, it could be. I'm not saying it is, but it could be because it has disrupted everything. If they go from being a loving father and a loving husband and in a good relationship prior to going to war, and then they come back and now they can't function within that relationship and it just, everything, as they say, is just going to hell, there needs to be, okay, it might be not just-- now maybe it's moving into a disorder, not so much. And so that's where medical comes in to define those. But we've had a lot of-- a lot of chaplains had Marines come to us and say these and they're listening for indicators. And that chaplain will say, "You know, we need to go to medical right now, and I'll go with you. Because we really believe you need some help."

Zarbock: You know, you've alerted me to something. I suddenly see a pattern. Many, many of the chaplains whom I've interviewed used that phrase, "And I went with him," or "I will go with you."

Breck Bregel: Yes.

Zarbock: But you become an emotional and a physical escort.

Breck Bregel: Yes.

Zarbock: And that seems to be really very common.

Breck Bregel: Yes.

Zarbock: And is that by choice or is that by command?

Breck Bregel: I think it's by the heart of the chaplain, by the nature of what we do. Because we're, on the active duty side, it's not so much about nurturing. And even though we're males--you know, males aren't the best nurturers, but if we hear someone and we see they're hurting, we'll go with them, because, one, we know that if we go with them...

Zarbock: They're going to get there.

Breck Bregel: He's going to get there, and it's going to be seen that this is important. Because, unfortunately, a lot of times when that E-3 or E-4 goes to medical and says, "I think I'm having a hard time," they'll say, "Take a number and we'll see you in five weeks." But if you really believe that person really, really needs that help and you go with them, they're going to more than likely see help that day. And so, by the chaplain's presence, it's indicating we believe or feel this is serious, serious enough that we aren't going to just send them on, we're going to go with them and be their advocate.

Zarbock: You ought to write an article entitled, "The Chaplain is a Red Flag."

Breck Bregel: Yes, exactly.

Zarbock: When you show up, it's a red flag.

Breck Bregel: It's a red flag.

Zarbock: This is not a go see so-and-so. Again, off camera, and now on camera, I'm going to ask you, would you give me three, please-- I've asked other chaplains this-- give me three situations: One, a mirthful, warmhearted, rejoiceful time that you will remember; two, one of sorrow; and three, one of a situation that amazed you as to its foolishness or its error or its nonproductivity, so that the bookends and the stuff in the middle.

Breck Bregel: Well, after 16 years in the active duty Chaplain side of the house, been commissioned for, March of '87, uh, 2007 I mean, uh, will be 20 years, but active duty side for 16 years, since '91, I've seen a lot of joyful things that I've-- I guess one of the things-- well, when I left my first ship, it was really difficult. During the Desert Shield Desert Storm War, the Marine Corps became aware and the Navy became aware of how important amphibious ships are again. And the Ogden, before the war, was scheduled to be decommissioned. So, why sink a lot of money into a ship that's going to be decommissioned? Well, during the Gulf War, it spent ten months out in the Gulf War. And when they got back, they realized, now we're going to have to fix this up. We need our amphibs. Well, we were on that ship-- it's still going today-- commissioned in 1965 and it's still going today. But it, I tell you what, it needed some major overhaul. And we saw three chief engineers get fired off that ship. These were good men who worked literally 22-- they worked literally about 22 hours a day. They were all good at what they did, but somebody had to take the blame when this ship that was falling apart wasn't up to "the standard" that needed to be to pass the inspections. I mean, these guys were working so hard. I've never seen people work so hard. And so, one of my greatest-- and the engineering-- for over nine months the engineering department was port and starboard, meaning they worked all week and half of them worked on Saturday and half of them worked on Sunday. They didn't get holidays off. So the rest of the ship would get the holidays off. Leave the ship at 1630 in the afternoon while they're working until 1800, until 6:30 p.m. or 7:00 p.m., coming in at 6 a.m. in the morning, where we others didn't have to be there until 7:30 in the morning or 7 o'clock, 7 o'clock get ready for formation. It was just-- there was a lot of stress. And one of the things I saw, my ministry, I needed to just go ahead and have the ministry of smiling. So I'd go around just night and day just being there and trying to smile and trying to be upbeat. I mean, yes, they would tell me their woes, their sorrows, their angers, but I would still, not demeaning them, but still just smile and try to be an encouraging presence. And the day I left the ship, several men came up and with tears in their eyes said, "Chaplain, you will not know how much you meant to me and how much your smile, ministry of just smiling meant. And thank you for being that encouragement." And that was a day I'll never, ever, ever, ever forget just because I made a difference in their life. And it wasn't anything theological, even though I made a difference theologically through preaching and Bible studies, but this had a greater impact in a lot of ways. And then one other time...

Zarbock: There was something about a still, calm voice in the storm.

Breck Bregel: Yes. And God was that still, calming voice to me, and I was trying to be a still, calming voice. 'Cause unfortunately, most of those men on board that ship were not spiritually minded and not certainly to the degree that I would have loved for them to be. And a lot of them still did not see the importance of God, really. But by God being a still, calming voice to me, I was able to be a still, calming voice to them. Because again, I wouldn't have had that ministry if I hadn't been there right along with them going through the same thing with them. Now, I didn't miss all the holidays like they did, but there were some I went in on the holiday just because I knew they were there. But there were some I took because my family needed me there. But their families needed them, too, and that's one of the things, you talk about, okay, irony. I'll jump from the good to the irony. Several times I approached the CO, and he was a good man, good man. But I said, "Sir, you're not letting the engineering department have any time off. They're port to starboard. I go down there and I watch them. And since you're not giving them any time off, I'll observe through their day. They'll take a hundred smoke breaks. And all of them smoked way more than they needed to because it was a stress relief. They took plenty of soda breaks. And I said, "Sir, if you would just tell them, 'We're going to let you go at 1630 every day if we feel that you're giving-- if you can get-- this is what we want done. Accomplish this today and you can leave whenever it's done. If it's done at 12, you can leave at 12, go at 12.' But no, we're giving them no hope and no end. They're seeing a tunnel of darkness with no light and no hope of light. And so therefore, in their own way of rebelling, they're smoking a hundred times a day out on the port or starboard side of the ship. They're taking lots of soda breaks. But if you gave them hope and let them know that, okay, you're going to go home at 1630 today, but we really need this done, they wouldn't be taking the smoke breaks. They wouldn't be taking the soda breaks. They would be getting it done so they could get out." And I never, to this day, could not convince him. I couldn't understand the logic in it. And I loved this ship's CO. He's a good man, but he just, I don't know, I just couldn't understand why he couldn't see that, and give them, and even just say, "Okay, I am going to give you guys a day off." Other areas within the ship would get days off, but they didn't. Give them a day off, I guarantee they'll come back the next day and do twice as much. So that was definitely an irony. So the joy of those men saying the ministry of smiling was so important to them, just being there to encourage them, to the irony of also in the same scenario not seeing the importance of giving them some hope and some light at the other end of the tunnel. Another time was, as a matter of fact, it was a Marine, I mean, a sailor from that ship, but it was like, oh, this was, I left the ship in May of '94. And this was, I was going to, this was in the summer of 2001. I was attending, in Little Creek, Virginia, an intermediate leadership training course. Now, I'm in this building, and this sailor comes up, just runs up and says, "Chaplain," runs down the hall, he's a first class petty officer, and gives me a huge hug. I didn't know who this was, but he sure knew who I was. And he said, "Sir, you don't remember me, do you?" And I said, "Well, I've seen a lot of sailors and Marines. I'm sorry, I don't." He said, "Well, I'm a first class petty officer now, but I was a seaman when you saw me." And I will never forget, he said, "I will never forget how you ministered to my wife and I went my wife gave birth to a stillborn baby and you were there at the grave site with us and you were there when we buried our child, and the way you ministered to us." And he said, "I have never forgotten that. Thank you." That was definitely the high moment in my life. And to see this guy yell "Chaplain" and then run down the hallway and give me a big hug. These guys aren't the, most of them aren't the hugging giving mode. And so that was awesome.

Zarbock: Another question I've asked all of the chaplains. At any time during your military career, were you ever ordered, or was it hinted or even a wink and a nod and a nudge, that you do something that violated your personal, ethic and sense of morality? Were you ever put in the cross hairs of a dilemma?

Breck Bregel: When I think of that, my first reaction to say is no because I can't think of ever being put into a moral dilemma of an integrity issue where I felt I was being untrue to God, to my creator, untrue to my calling. When I first came in sometimes-- I mean, in chaplain school, they let us know that, if you're at an event that sailors or Marines are forced to be at and they're not there by choice, then when we need to be sensitive to all the faith groups that are there. And when I first came in, I did struggle with ending a prayer "In the name of my heavenly Father, amen," or "in the name of God I pray, amen." And yeah, and every now and then I would say, "I end this prayer in my faith tradition, and I invite you to end it in yours, too." And I would say, "In Jesus' name, amen." But I'm not praying "We say Jesus' name" and I'm inviting them to end in their faith tradition. So I've done that a lot of times. But that, at first I struggled with that, but then I stopped saying, you know, God was all aware of this long before I came in. He was aware that this is an institution, not a church. And since he was aware of that, knowing how it would be, then if it didn't bother him to call me to this ministry, I'm not going to let it bother me. And that's the only really, you know, I struggled with that at the beginning, but then I didn't because it is an institution. It's not a church. And I've always had total freedom to preach according to my faith denomination, convictions in a church setting or in the field, in a chapel setting, because those who are there are coming because they want to be there. And I'll mention Jesus' name all day. But because they're coming because they want to be there. If I'm at a retirement ceremony, the person retiring has said, "Chaplain, I am a very devout believer, and I would be honored if you would pray in Jesus' name." Okay. I'll end it in Jesus' name because it's his retirement ceremony and he's invited me to. But I'll still invite the others to end it in their faith tradition, too. But at first that bothered me. But then I realized I'm where God wants me to be, and he understood that this is the institution. And it is, it's an institution. That's why people think of the military as cold and heartless. The mission will always come first, and the mission is to fight and win wars. And the Navy will always have their ships as the first priority because the Navy's got to go to sea. And so therefore the human element will seem like the institution's against them because of that. And that's where we come in to help them understand that. See, no, they're not against you, but we do have to win war. We don't want to lose.

Zarbock: Other chaplains, and I guess what I'm doing is cueing you in here with some very poor interview technique, but reporting to you, other chaplains have indicated to me that during their period of military service, when they were rubbing shoulders with men and women from other denominations and other belief systems, that most of them felt enriched as a result of that. What's your comment about rubbing shoulders over the 20 years now of military service in which you've been cheek to jaw with other individuals of other denominations.

Breck Bregel: Without hesitation, I agree wholeheartedly with what they say, and wherever I go, I am today a better person because I've learned how to. When I came in I was more narrow minded and my focus was more that the body of Christ is pretty much-- you know, I kind of had a very narrow focus. The body of Christ is the Baptist church. And since coming in, I've met Methodists and Presbyterians and assembly of God and every kind of denomination you'd think of, protestant denomination, who love God as much as I do, serve him, wanting to serve him as much as I do. I've met Sailors and Marines who are Catholic who I know love God as much as I love God. So, yeah, it's had a profound influence. I mean, Jesus only prayed one prayer for the future church. And his only prayer was, from John chapter 17, praying to the Father, "You and I are one, perfect absolute harmony." And his prayer was, "Father, I pray that the future church will become one with one another as you and I are one, and it's through that oneness the world will see who we are and the world will come to believe." Well, I believe that it's been Satan's strategy ever since, when he found out that's the only desire, that that's the main priority for Christ and the church to be one so that the world can see that oneness, and if they saw the body of Christ truly as one, the impact it would have on the world, then his strategy's been ever since then, let's keep the body of Christ totally fractured, you know, adverse with one other, fragmented, you know, segregated in many aspects theologically. And as long as he can keep the body of Christ apart from one another, the prayer that Jesus prayed is not going to be answered. And so that's been very eye opening to me to be out in the field with different chaplains of different denominational beliefs who love the Lord Jesus Christ as much as I do but that are from a different denomination, and working hand and hand with them. And then, there are some who I cannot agree with their theology, but we have worked hand and hand together. Because the ministry that the Sailor, the Soldier, the Marine is the priority, and so you put aside those differences to work together. I'm not in any way lowering my convictions. I'm just working with a fellow peer in ministry together.

Zarbock: Chaplain, you're really a dichotomous person. You've got role and status as a pastor. You have role and status when it comes to being a military officer.

Breck Bregel: Yes.

Zarbock: You have role and status as being a human being. So, with any of these three roles, I wonder if you would comment, what is your thinking about the authorization to bury deceased military men with a wiccan sign on their tombstone, or the authorization now that people who believe in witchcraft have the authority to assemble and practice whatever they practice? Would you care to comment on that?

Breck Bregel: Well, the first comment is the only reason why I can be in the Armed Forces today as a chaplain is because we are in line with the constitution providing for the free exercise of religion for all. And the moment we become biased towards anyone, we're in violation of the Constitution. And if we're in violation of the Constitution, then it gives fodder for those out there that would love to see the chaplaincy out. There are plenty in our country who would love to see the chaplaincy out of the military. And so we chaplains of all people are certainly hopefully in tune to that awareness that we are here to provide for the free exercise of religion for all and to be biased toward none. And so because of that, when I heard that, like the debate over putting the wiccan symbol, if we put the cross and the Jewish symbol on a tombstone, and the Department of Defense has recognized wicca as a distinct faith group. They have recognized that. The moment they recognized them, then they have the same right as everyone else. Do I agree with their theology and their way? No. But they're Americans, and we all, every one of us, whether enlisted or officers, we don't swear or affirm to the president. We swear or affirm to the Constitution of the United States of America. And therein lies the authority.

Zarbock: Well said. Would you do it again, Chaplain? Would you live your life the way it's been lived?

Breck Bregel: Oh, absolutely. And I'm getting goose bumps just because you asked that. Oh, absolutely. I've loved every moment of being a chaplain. I mean, there's been tough moments. From graduating from seminary with so much enthusiasm to go right into the chaplaincy and being told no. And thank God for Marshall LaRiviera that resubmitted the paperwork. And then I went into the inactive reserves. But when I filled out and tried to come down to the active duty side during the Gulf War, and they said no, but shortly after the Gulf War, they said, yes, come on active duty. And then I'm on active duty. And then the officer side, you come up for-- when you come up for promotion, it's voted on by-- there's a board. And you're only in zone one time in your life for each rank level. When I came in zone for lieutenant commander, I'd only been active duty for barely four and a half years. Because of being a chaplain candidate and having the two years of ministry in the inactive reserves after seminary, I guess that put me into the O-4 board faster because I came in as a lieutenant not as a lieutenant J G. So after four and a half years I'm coming up for lieutenant commander, which, and that year it was the worst year of percentage for selection. The selection rate was very low that year. This was for fiscal year '98. And so I was passed over. And you're only in the zone once, and then you're in zone twice, and then you're+ above zone. And then I was passed over a second time. And when you're passed over twice, you've got to leave. So I had orders to leave. In February of 1999, I had orders to detach from the chaplaincy by 1 March '99. But that emergency deployment that I mentioned earlier came up, and the operational ministry chaplain up in Norfolk for some reason really liked me, and he came down to May Port [ph?] and he said, "Breck, would you consider making an emergency deployment?" I said, "Certainly, you know I have orders to get out." "Well, that means I'd have to extend you. The needs of the Navy are priority. The Navy needs you." "Oh," I said, "man, send me on the deployment." I told my wife, and she said, "Oh, well, if that's what God wants, then that's..." because she loves being a chaplain's wife. And she's been very supportive. And so, I got extended. But while I was extended, they only extended me for the length of deployment. So, the admiral I worked for sent a letter saying, "I will pull him off the deployment if you don't extend him for at least two years." Because I still worked for him. He was lending me to the ship. So they extended me for two years. And then I got another extension. And even though everywhere I've gone I've done well, it just-- once you're above zone, it's just very hard to ever get selected. And rightfully so, you should be picking the majority of people to be promoted from in zone. So even though I'd been extended for six extra years, good chaplains who looked at my record said, "Your record's extremely good, but probably, just know you'll probably be involuntarily separated." And on my seventh look--I guess seven's the number of perfection--on my seventh look, I got promoted, I got picked up for lieutenant commander. I was in shock for two days. I didn't even know how to respond to that. I was in shock. Then I went into the rejoicing mode. And that was psychologic harder. The second time I heard I was passed over, knowing I would have to get out--and I love what I do--I mean, I threw up for like-- that was a critical incident for me. And I experienced some post traumatic, not disorder, but post traumatic stress from that critical incident for about two weeks. I just threw up all the time because I love what I do. And I said, "God, I know you called me to this." But anyway, to make a long story short, you know, I'm still here 16 years later.

Zarbock: And a lieutenant commander.

Breck Bregel: And the good thing about being passed over so many times, now by the time I go up for commander, even if I don't make it, I will have reached that safety mark of 18 years at least, and when you reach 18 years, you're pretty--nothing's guaranteed anymore--but you're pretty much guaranteed retirement. But that's not what I focus on. I focus on the ministry. And I know God designed me for this from the time I was a little boy in everything that, all the little, just the different things, he was preparing me in my life. And the challenges, it was all to prepare me to be, you know, to be a chaplain. And my wife and I even working through the death of our son when I was pastoring. And now when people say, "Well, how can we work through this," you know, I say, "You can." And "Well, what have you ever had to work through?" And I'll tell them some things. They say, "Oh, I guess we can." I guess, you know, I haven't given up, and they don't have to give up either. But my faith and strength did come from the Lord, and I can point them towards that.

Zarbock: For the sake of historical accuracy, would you please spell the name of the Catholic chaplain who was instrumental in re-filing your papers?

Breck Bregel: Marshall LaRiviera. And I don't know how to spell LaRiviera.

Zarbock: But we'll do the best we can.

Breck Bregel: He retired as an O-6 Navy captain, chaplain. And thank God for him because he knew I worked very hard as a chaplain candidate program officer, CCPO, and he said, "Breck, this is crazy. You should be going in the inactive reserves." And as a matter of fact, every single person in that Chaplain Candidate Program received a letter from me saying, "We have just learned the hard way, when you submit your paperwork to super C, always put 'If active duty is not available at the time, I would more than willing accept inactive duty the reserve side.'" And so, they learned from my lessons learned.

Zarbock: You led the way. Chaplain, your educational experience, your military experience, your life experiences, what did it teach you? How would you summarize your philosophy of life or your theology?

Breck Bregel: Well, the first thing that came to my mind, and I just go with the first thing, that God is faithful. And one thing I've learned is faithful is he who will perform what he is called to do. And if you believe you are where you need to be, no matter what, don't ever give up on your dream.

Zarbock: Well, and I told you what else I am going to do, and final thing, and that is one of the aspects of this videotaped interview is that as long as the planet earth is capable of making electricity, this tape will be on file in an archive situation at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, always available for retrieval. So, we've captured you, the fly in the amber right now. You will never look any different on tape than you do right now. You will never age. Your vocabulary and use of language will continue. So, I am going to ask you to look into the future and address the camera privately and tell your grandchildren whatever message you'd like your grandchildren to hear.

Breck Bregel: Well, the message that I'd like to give to you, my grandchildren, no matter how hard life seems to be, it's never too hard for God to see you through, and I pray that the tremendous love that I had for your grandmother, your great grandmother, my wife, and your love that I had for my children, which have become your moms, dads or grand parents, was enough to see them through their hard times so that that love that I have for you even though you're not born yet can be passed down, for I love you very much.

Zarbock: It's a privilege to have met you, sir.

Breck Bregel: Thank you. Likewise.

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