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Title:
Interview with Marc A. McDowell, August 12, 2003
Date:
August 12, 2003
Description:
In this interview, Marc McDowell discusses his time spent as a chaplain in the Navy Reserves. A member of the International Pentecostal Holiness church, Mr. McDowell is a graduate of bible college in Charlotte, N.C. and Erskine Theological Seminary in Due West, S.C. He joined the Navy Reserves on March 30th, 1992, and spent three years stationed in Okinawa, Japan, taking charge of the chaplain program and performing hospital ministry. He came to Camp Lejeune in May of 2000, and was deployed to Afghanistan with the 2nd FSSG on September 18th, 2001, where he served as chaplain for 2 1/2 years.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  McDowell, Marc Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  8/12/2003 Series:  Military Chaplains Length  58 minutes

 

Zarbock: Good afternoon. My name is Paul Zarbock, a staff member with the University of North Carolina Wilmington's University Library. Today is the 14th of July, sorry, the 12th of August in the year of our Lord 2003, and we're at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Going to be interviewing today Mr. Marc McDowell, a Navy chaplain assigned to the Marine Corps here. Good afternoon Chaplain, how are you?

McDowell: Good afternoon, Paul. I'm fine.

Zarbock: Could we start off by telling me what events or series of events or what individual or series of individuals led you into the ministry?

McDowell: Well, I'm a preacher's kid. I- I should say to start with uhm.. I'm a member of the Pentecostal Holiness Church, which uh.. officially is the International Pentecostal Holiness Church, headquartered for the last several years in Bethany, Oklahoma, which is west of Oklahoma City. My father was a Pentecostal Holiness preacher for, I think 41 years. R- retired uh.. my first year on active duty. So I was raised in parsonages, and in small churches, some- some medium sized churches, and so I was- I've always been around church. Uh.. I'm what you might call a classical Pentecostal, 'cause these days uh.. Pentecostals have come of age. Used to they were called holy rollers, but uh.. it's- it's almost popular now to be Pentecostals. But uh.. I come from mostly the older brand, even though I ______ with all the others.

Zarbock: I think this would be important for a scholar or student to hear your impressions. What is the difference between the older branch and the contemporary?

McDowell: Okay, doctrinally, the older- the- the classical Pentecostals are uh.. well the, I should say, the doctrine itself is the uh.. experience of what we call being baptized in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues. That is, uhm.. by the utterance- the unction of the Holy Spirit, not the individual, but it's uh.. what some people might call an ecstatic experience where uhm.. a person may be considered to be in a trance but they're not unconscious when God uh.. s- is speaking through them.

Zarbock: Mm-hmm.

McDowell: Uhm.. they are not conscious of what language, to that person it doesn't matter. It- it's basically what others may call an ecstatic experience. Uhm.. classically those people are- would- would be considered in society as very conservative. Uh..

Zarbock: Socially conservative, economically conservative.

McDowell: Socially and economically. Typically, those are the uh.. types of people who were uh.. blue cl- blue collar workers uhm.. coming from what's called the Pentecostal movement in the early 1900s in this country. The Azusa Street Revival out of California in the early 1900s. Uhm.. if you back the history up in church history, there was uh.. what we call the holiness movement in the late 1800s, and my denomination came out of uh.. the Methodist Church. My denomination, the Pentecostal Holiness Church uh.. is one of I don't know maybe a half dozen uh.. roughly that were come-outers, so to speak, in historical terms from the Methodist Church. Uhm.. the division point was over the doctrine of sanctification and uh.. it was one of those things that- where uh.. not necessarily r- a reform religious leader, but people who were believing uh.. in an older way and weren't changing.

So anyway, they basically got the boot, and uh.. started separate denominations, which is the- the cycle of history when it comes to churches, at least in the Christian church, okay, uh.. Martin Luther, etc. etc. so these were people, typically North Carolina and Tennessee uh.. the particular individuals were northwest of here in a small town called Falcon, North Carolina. Uh.. it's near Dunn. It- it's still there but uh.. so several years later, one of these individuals heard of a great revival going on in California (clears throat) at a- at a mission uh.. in a former storefront. It's called uh.. the Azusa Street Revival or Mission, and uh.. he went out there and received this experience that was called uh.. the Pentecostal Baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in other tongues, based on Acts Chapter 2, the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came and the b- the 120 believers there spoke in tongues. So- so that's- that's where the name Pentecostal comes from. Uhm.. let's see, so there's the truncated history of my denomination. Uhm.. not that we go all the way back to the Day of Pentecost but just to explain the name Pentecost.

Now, your question is the difference between classical and uh.. what typically is called charismatics. Now that in itself is an old term. We're in 2003. That term came about several years ago. Uhm.. charismatics are not as uh.. conservative so to speak, uh.. they don't adhere as strictly as classical Pentecostals do to the uh.. what's called the initial evidence, speaking in tongues. The- now y- you gotta remember you're- you're listening to a classical Pentecostal, okay, so I'm biased. Uhm.. there's a lot more emphasis on uh.. the fantastical elements of this experience. Uh.. trends tend to uh.. dominate more than uh.. seeking an experience with God. I should explain myself there. Uh.. couple of examples. Uf- just a few years ago when we got back to this- back in country from my first tour overseas, there was a trend among uh.. charismatics of seeing gold dust appear. Uh.. there's a- a popular religious broadcaster who- I didn't see the program but widely reported from people that I know who- they were- they were on the set and the camera's rolling and what do you know, there's gold dust on the table. The Holy Spirit's putting gold dust here. Well frankly I just don't believe it. Uhm.. that's what I mean by the fantastical in trends. Uh.. I have relatives who have visited uh.. visited a church where someone said at the beginning of the service, you know, "Turn and look at your neighbor, have your neighbor open his or her mouth and look at the fillings in their teeth because by the end of the service some of those fillings may turn to gold." (laughs) Uhm.. no I don't believe it. Can God do it? Yes, God can do it. Uh.. God can do anything God so desires, but God limits what God does.

Zarbock: But you really shouldn't- I don't expect God to be an entertainer.

McDowell: No, no. I have one chaplain friend who says uh.. that type of practice is the Glory of gaud, g-a-u-d. (laughs) But in- it's- in terms of the teeth, I mean, God- why would God turn something- a filling into gold instead of restoring the tooth, 'cause I think any dentist would say a perfect tooth is a tooth the way it first developed instead of having any type of filling whether it's gold, platinum, diamond, whatever. It's trends, it- it's the fantastical. Uhm.. Pentecostalism has come of age and lost its true cutting edge to a large degree. And I say that and it becomes a critique of uh.. a big portion of uh.. the leadership of uh.. most of our denominations, because to a large degree, in my opinion, my humble, overstated opinion, uhm.. folks are into trends and growth at any cost.

Zarbock: Say that again.

McDowell: Uh.. focusing on trends and growth at any cost. Yeah. And when I say something like that uh.. the others would say "Well, you don't know- don't you want churches to grow?" Well, of course I do, but I want it to be real individual growth of, you know, between individuals and God and not uh.. warm bodies on the pew for us to put numbers on lines in a report and say, you know, look what's happening. And some of that is just uh.. the kinds of things that we as clergy get into regardless of denomination, ways to uh.. justify our own existence, ways to keep our institutions going, which means, well, meddling a lot.

Getting back to myself, (clears throat) I was raised in uh.. parsonages, had no desire to uh.. be a pastor uh.. and my family did not push me in that direction at all. My father did not, my mother uh.. was not overjoyed about it when I finally said you know "Hey, you know, I've been called to preach," and my denomination does not require a four-year degree to hold a license and pastor, but I decided "Well, God wants me to do this, I need to- I need to have something going, I- I need to have some education, I need some training," so I went to school.

Zarbock: Where did you go, sir?

McDowell: I went to a Pentecostal bible college in Charlotte, North Carolina, East Coast Bible College. Uhm.. it belonged then to the Church of God, headquartered in Cleveland, Tennessee. There's different Churches of God, so it's the Church of God in Cleveland, Tennessee. It was an excellent school. They stood it up and had accreditation from two different associations in under 10 years, but since then I think in the last five years they closed it down, shifted operations to their larger school in- in Tennessee at their headquarters. Uhm..

Zarbock: In Cleveland, Tennessee?

McDowell: That's right. So that's where I went to college, and then I decided I needed to go to seminary, so I went to seminary. And uh.. I remember at seminary I still was not fully satisfied with- with pastoring and preaching and I'm only th- and this is a Presbyterian seminary, Erskine Theological Seminary in Due West, South Carolina. It belongs to the Associate Reformed Presbyterians, lovely people. I enjoyed my time with them. I got to hear a pipe organ in chapel and I like that. But uhm.. the Dean of the seminary, Dr. Randall T. Ruble uhm.. hard-nosed but for good reason. I went into him one day, i- I said "Dr. Ruble, is there some way that I can substitute teaching for preaching in the preaching requirements?" which were in your middler [ph?] year, you preached, you developed a sermon in conjunction with a faculty member and you preached it to a class and you got critiqued. Your senior year, you preached in the chapel. You planned the whole half-hour service and you planned it uh.. for months ahead of time with the faculty adviser and you delivered that sermon. At the end of the sermon if you had any family members there- at the end of the service if you had any family members, uhm.. the Dean would ask them politely to leave, 'cause they didn't always understand the critique process.

Zarbock: Yeah, right, right.

McDowell: And then that faculty advisor would stand up and do a public critique of your sermon. Well that can be nerve wrenching, uh.. so I wasn't particularly looking forward to that. So I go into the Dean and I say "Dr. Ruble, is there any way I could?" Uh.. I was teaching at the time at a small bible college. I said "I- is there any way I could uh.. substitute teaching practicum for the preaching?" and he says "No, you gotta preach if you're gonna get outta here." That's exactly the way he said it, and went back to his- his paperwork.

Zarbock: This is a person who does not equivocate.

McDowell: No, sir. I said, "Yes sir" and I left and I did my preaching. He was right, and it's one of those times uh.. somebody's hard-nosed and they're right and, you know, you- you come around later to realize it and uh.. roger up to it, as we say in the military. Uhm.. so anyway I fini- a- and okay, during my time in seminary to ask- to answer another of your questions. Yeah, here I was.. a Pentecostal who uh.. wasn't required to go to a four-year college to get a license, ordination to pastor and I'm in seminary. And I think it was my middler year, which is the second year of the three-year uh.. program, one of the board of trustees members was an Air Force chaplain. He had- he had come to town for a- a meeting there and they- s- uh.. so they uh.. worked him into a- speaking in a chapel for us, and it occurred to me that this degree that I'm working on that no one's requiring me to do, which the Presbyterians they're required to get that degree part, uhm.. but I was there just 'cause I wanted to learn. It occurred to me that I- it- it could be marketable. Well, what do you know? You know, I enjoy doing this, paying for it myself, you know, working my way through it, but uh.. marketable is a crass term. Uh.. it opens doors that I hadn't thought of, so that's where I've got the first notion of uh.. being a military chaplain.

Zarbock: Let me take you back just a minute again for the record. You've got an awful lot of time in classrooms. You've got four years in college and now seminary. How did you earn your bread and butter?

McDowell: I worked my way through.

Zarbock: Doing what sort of jobs?

McDowell: Well, let me back up a little more. Uhm.. when I was in college I- basically what I did in college was drafting. I don't know if they call it that anymore. Uh.. we started to hear of c- computer aided drafting after that, CAD. Went onto my sophomore year Drafting I, my junior year Drafting II, my senior year Drafting III, so most of my time was spent in the drafting class and so I didn't have to do some of the other courses, which were harder, okay, a confession. Uhm.. it was easy enough. So I spent most of my time in drafting in- in uh.. high school and had what they called a BEOG in those days, Basic Eligibility Opportunity Grant. Since then it's changed names a few times, but uh.. had a grant to go to uh.. community college, Sandhills Community College uh.. near Aberdeen, because I lived in Siler City at the time, Siler City of Andy Griffith fame, but then the Lord called me to preach and uh.. I gave that up and went to the bible college in Charlotte, and I worked my way through. Uhm.. during- during the school year, I was a short order cook at a drive-in grill. Now, there's lots of stories there but it- that would be chasing rabbits. Uhm.. the name of the grill was It.

Zarbock: Was what?

McDowell: It.

Zarbock: I-T?

McDowell: I-T.

Zarbock: Mm-hmm.

McDowell: Big neon sign on- on the roof. This is It, so in _____.

Zarbock: There's a certain modesty there, isn't there? (laughs)

McDowell: Or lack thereof.

Zarbock: (laughs) Yes.

McDowell: Someone answered the phone "This is it", or "It's grill" and most of their business came from uh.. the curb, wh- which uh.. basically like Sonic, but not near as organized as Sonic. You had the building and then y- you know, people could pull in the back and uh.. the ladies walked in and out and hung the tray on the window. And I- I was the cook. So that's uh.. the work I did during the semester. Uhm.. in between semester, the semester break in the summer, I went back home and worked in a furniture factory, anywhere from A to Z in the factory. Because I worked there a year before I went to college and uh.. the assistant plant manager was a retired HMC as we say in the Navy, Hospital Master Chief, and uh.. he attended my father's church, my father pastored there, and so I graduated high school near the job so he brought me in and I ended up working all over the factory. So that when I came back uh.. from school breaks, I could walk into whatever job and do it, and he uh.. as he would say, "I know you won't slobber over this job like the union boys will." Sorry, you know, any union folks out there but I mean th- that's the way it was.

So I would, you know, I'd go do the jobs, always had a job when I went back. So that's how I worked my way through college. In seminary, uhm.. I worked in a photo lab for awhile while I was teaching and going to a night class in seminary. Uhm.. then I worked in print shops running uh.. small presses, larger presses. When I got married, I was commuting 40 miles 'cause I- I uh.. settled down in the town where my wife was living where she was going to the University of Georgia, and uh.. which was in Athens. So I was working in a print shop and I was a residence director in a dormitory at a small college uh.. and was going to school full-time at seminary. So, to keep it short, uhm.. mostly I was in print shops when I was in seminary. Uh.. and did that as well when I finished seminary. I pastored for almost two and a half years in a small church in North Carolina in a little town called Lowell outside of Gastonia, and I worked in print shops while I was there to uh.. supplement our income.

Zarbock: Did you like the parish ministry?

McDowell: I did. Uhm.. two- two things were difficult for me. One was uh.. something I've always had a problem with and that's being the clergy person, the uh.. persona of being the man of God. Now yes, I'm supposed to be the man of God. Not that I wanna go out of here and dabble in sin, but I'm- uh.. I guess this is something that comes from being raised in the church, and you see people who put on a persona. (laughs) I've even known some guys that uh.. I was in school with who- who had the preacher voice, that, you know, talking between you and I he'll talk one way but when he gets behind that, he's got a different voice. I understand that, you know, it helps- helps the voice projection or whatever, but uh.. it's one of those clergy problems where, you know, what is our identity and uhm.. sometimes a person becomes other than who he really is to be that holy man. It's not as bad as the uh.. Robert Duvall movie from several years ago, The Apostle. I think that's a little extreme, but it does touch on the uh.. the dynamics of it.

So anyway, that was- that was one issue that I dealt with, being the real person somewhere in between your own identity and your experience with God and what people expect from you. And one elder- one elderly uh.. church member, a lady who was uh.. one of the mainstays in this small church who wasn't quite pleased with my preaching, it wasn't uhm.. as fiery as was desirable, and she- I remember her describing a radio preacher on one occasion uh.. that she really liked, and okay, you know, I know what you're tellin' me, that uh.. that's the way you would like your preacher to be. Uh.. anyway, that- that whole persona issue, which probably is more of an issue for me than it is uh.. most of the others. And it's a matter of uh.. being a- a real person within the experience of God, and uhm.. balancing out the expectations that people have of ya.

The other- the other difficulty was that the church itself had had a very difficult history. Uh.. small church in a- in a mill town as we say in North Carolina, in the textile areas of North Carolina, and- and that was uh.. at that time and not as much so now. A lot of the textile jobs have gone other places. That was the- the uh.. the main industry in that area. But that particular church had uh.. a quick succession of pastors for many years. Some of 'em had significant problems. The one pastor who was larger than life in its history uh.. died while he was pastoring with a heart attack, which- which was tragic. Uhm.. so there- there were some- some problems there, but uhm.. the majority of the people were- were lovely people, uh.. people who were struggling with life and still serving God, which is uh.. which is the staple of- of any church. But it was a good experience for me. Uhm.. from there I went to teach again at a bible college in South Carolina, spent five years there and then uh.. went active duty, as we say, in early '97.

Zarbock: Had you been in the reserves or?

McDowell: I got into the reserves while I was pastoring at the end of March 1992, 30th of March actually. Raised my hand, brought me in, took the oath uh.. as a reserve officer chaplain, but uh.. less than a month later on 27 April 1992, I was in surgery and turned out to be uh.. cancer surgery. They removed a tumor and the whole summer I was in chemotherapy for 12 weeks, and uh.. what's interesting about the timing not only that, but uh.. in January that year, our twin boys were born, February my daughter turned two years old, so end of March I take the reserve oath, become an officer, end of April I've got cancer. Uhm.. about mid-May I start chemotherapy for 12 weeks. Uhm.. so I- I need to try to shorten this part of the history.

Uhm.. the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery basically uh.. activate- got all the records in hand, gave me three choices, retire, resign or appeal, appeal to what's called the Physical Evaluation Board uhm.. because they- obviously uh.. you know, I'd had cancer, wasn't fit for duty. So uhm.. in my mind I just had to give it up, but I looked at those choices and I thought "Well, obviously I can't retire." I only had one month, didn't know how to wear the uniform yet. (laughs) I wasn't gonna resign, just- just give up, so I appealed. I sent the paperwork in and not knowing anything about the system, I apparently sent it to the wrong place, because I waited for months and heard nothing, and after awhile I thought in my civilian way, "I probably ought to do that again."

So I got the records together again and in God's providence, over the course of time, because whe- when you have cancer and you- you have your anniversary date, which is whenever they say "Yes, you've got cancer and this is what type" etc., etc., you start the chemotherapy. You see the oncologist every month after you're uh.. pro- chemotherapy protocol is done, and then after so many months, they'll see you every three months. Then after awhile every six months and so on until the five-year point. All I had to say that uh.. after several months I had a lotta good records, 'cause I'd see the doctor every month or whatever and take a blood test and do the x-ray and CAT scan here and there, and all those were coming back positive, or I should say negative in medical terms, uh.. a clean bill of health each time. So, it was good, the passage of time. In that way I had more good records to send, so it's- when I sent in that second appeal, had all the good records and in God's providence I was seeing an oncologist who had been a Naval officer, done a tour uh.. I guess a paid back tour uh.. for education, and he had finished it and was uh.. in private practice, and that's who I was seeing, asked him to write a letter and he wrote me a good letter. So uh.. it's one of those things that uh.. you give it up and then you got a freedom from it either way, can- comes back, then great, and that's what happened.

Uh.. and you know, with cancer you get that five-year mark where they say "Okay, we think you're going to live now, you can buy life insurance," the life insurance company won't touch you. You do it, but uh.. providentially, I think it was my second Sunday on Okinawa, that was our first tour, active duty, and uh.. I didn't know it when I went, but when I got there realized that I was in charge of the chaplain program. So we got there on a Tuesday and the Sunday following I was in the pulpit and was in the pulpit for three years. But anyway, the second Sunday we were there was uh.. the 27th of April was uh.. on a Sunday, and it was my five-year mark, so obviously I preached about that, preached about Hezekiah's prayer, the good King Hezekiah, King of Judah, who uh.. was going to die and he prayed and God answered his prayer. And that's essentially what I had done in '92 uh.. before my surgery, and so my sermon was essentially uh.. God's alive and God intervenes in human history. Otherwise, I wouldn't be here in front of ya, especially not in uniform, 'cause within a month after I took the uh.. the oath, I was diagnosed with cancer, but five years later I'm in the pulpit on active duty, uh.. island on the other side of the world. Uh.. and then let's see.

Zarbock: Was that good duty?

McDowell: It was. Okinawa itself, I'd love to go back.

Zarbock: Now at that time, you had a wife and three children?

McDowell: My wife, three children went with us.

Zarbock: Now, you're a Navy chaplain in Okinawa.

McDowell: Mm-hmm.

Zarbock: Were you assigned to a fleet or were you Marine?

McDowell: I was at the Navy hospital (clears throat) on Okinawa, Camp Lester. And uh.. I loved being on Okinawa. Now interestingly, it was the first time my wife and children had flown. We flew out of Atlanta to Los Angeles and flew from there to uh.. Yokota Air Base on mainland Japan and then from there to Okinawa.

Zarbock: Was this a commercial flight, by the way, or military?

McDowell: It was commercial to Los Angeles and from there we got on what's called Air Mobility Command, which it's a contracted flight. Tower Air was doing it at the time, so it looks just like the commercial but it- it's a contracted thing. Uhm..

Zarbock: Well, I've gotta ask. What did they think of the flight?

McDowell: Uh.. my boys loved it, my boys and- and- they're twins. They were five years old then and since then we've come back on leave and so on, and they just loved it. Uhm.. my wife put together- took file folders and put their names on it and- and let them uh.. develop their travel log. And obviously this is all before 9/11, and uh.. most of the time we'd tell the stewardess, you know, could- could you get the pilot to sign their little travel log for 'em. And they'd say yeah, well, bring one up front, and they'd go up into the cockpit and, you know, there's the pilot and copilot and they're signing it for 'em. One of our leave trips uh.. we flew a Japanese airline up to the mainland, and they're just super to ride on. They're so polite. Uh.. it's just unbelievable, but the uh.. Japanese pilot and uh.. yeah, he signed it for him in, you know, English and Japanese and gave 'em little trinkets and pins and so on so they just loved it. My daughter uh.. it gives her ear problems, so she hated it. My boys loved it.

Uhm.. but Okinawa's a safe place, beautiful place, uh.. subtropical, good weather year round. I don't mind hot weather. I'm a local to North Carolina, so uh.. I didn't mind the hot weather. Uh.. but three years hospital ministry there, and then came to Camp Lejeune in May of 2000, late May, uhm.. did a tour with uh.. 2nd Force Service Support Group, 2nd FSSG we call it. Did two and a half years there. What they do is uh.. six, now seven battalions, each one has a specific purpose, there's a Supply Battalion. Obviously, they supply stuff. Uh.. Medical Battalion, Dental Battalion. Usually they travel together. Uh.. Transportation Support Battalion, Headquarters and Service Battalion, uh.. Maintenance Battalion. They all have very specific purposes, and uh.. the MEUs, Marine Expeditionary Units, three of 'em that- that uh.. go out from Camp Lejeune, they would pull detachments from each of those battalions, like a small piece of all the capabilities of that battalion, and send it with the Marine Expeditionary Units, and it's one of three elements with the Marine Expeditionary Unit, and it's called uh.. MEU Service Support Group, MSSG. It's like a microcosm of four service support groups. You pull some of all the capabilities of four service support group and send it out with the Marine Expeditionary Unit. I deployed with one of those. (telephone ringing, then a banging noise) uh.. MSSG-26, which was the MEU Service Support Group with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, now.

Zarbock: What was your designation, I mean destination?

McDowell: The typical destination for the MEUs from Camp Lejeune is the Mediterranean. I say typical because it all changed right before we deployed. We ploy- we deployed uh.. I think it was 18 September 2001. Tuesday of the week before was September 11, 2001. So it was like eight or nine days later we deployed. We got a lot of media coverage, because it looked like this is the Marine Corps' answer to 9/11. No, it was a routine deployment, (laughs) which had been planned for over a year for that particular group. It's a normal rotation cycle. Nonetheless, it changed a lot of things for us. The typical Marine Expeditionary Unit uh.. crosses the Atlantic, goes to Rota, Spain to the Naval base there, checks in, so on and so on, and heads south through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean and they'll do exercises that have been planned way ahead uh.. in different countries with the host country military uhm.. doing exercise, then after that they'll pull out, clean up, take a port call somewhere. There's three ships, three Navy ships from Norfolk come down and pick us up and take us out to do this. Uhm.. normally they stay in the Mediterranean Sea, and they are the uh.. landing force for the Navy's 6th Fleet, which is uh.. ported in Italy, the Navy 6th Fleet, and the Marines on uh.. three ships that go over with the MEU landing force. In other words, a big fight comes up or humanitarian operation or whatever, that's what they're there for. They're under the orders of uh.. the 6th Fleet at that point. Well in our case, we got orders to go to what's called the central area of command, uh.. the Navy 5th Fleet, which is the Arabian Sea, which meant we went through the Suez Canal. Uhm.. it's not totally unheard of but uhm.. we went in November 2001 to the Suez Canal through the Red Sea and over to the Arabian Sea, and from there went into Afghanistan. We had people total time two or three months inland and then pulled out. Uh.. the 101st Airborne was our relief.

Zarbock: Were you on the ground in Afghanistan?

McDowell: Mm-hmm.

Zarbock: What's your recall? What are your memories like of the country and the people and the military experience?

McDowell: Let me tell you briefly how it worked for us. We crossed the beach in Pakistan, 'cause w- we're on amphibious Naval vessels, and so there's two ways to get to shore. Uh.. one is by air and the other by surface, by air being the helicopters. These three ships all have uh.. landing- flight decks, and then they have uh.. surface craft, which can load into- personnel and equipment uh.. and they come out of the back of the ship. It's called a well deck, uh.. on uh.. on Navy amphibious vessels. And load us up on these vessels, the smaller ones, and go to the beach. We get off at the beach and then we were doing eight mile convoys inland to uh.. Posne [ph?] Air Force Base, Pakistani Air Force, which was an airstrip and three or four concrete hangars.

So the Marines set up shop there, so to speak, and uh.. the Marine KC-130s would fly in from elsewhere in that area, places like Bahrain and other air bases, and fly supplies from there to Afghanistan. To start with, it was a place called FOB Rhino [ph?] Forward Operations Base, FOB, and they named it Rhino uhm.. just a spot in the dirt. And after that, we moved into Kandahar uhm.. so all our personnel, all our equipment, anything and anyone that got to Kandahar, Afghanistan went by air, and it was all at night for security reasons, because the Taliban didn't have night vision goggles. And in Pakistan it was done at night because uh.. President uh.. Musharraf uh.. was cooperating with us but wanted to keep it as low key as possible because he didn't have the total support of the rest of the country. So our beach landing, our- our ship to shore movements took place at dusk and y- every night there was a convoy go- going out to the beach and bringing back supplies and people through that eight miles of desert wasteland at about 15 to 20 miles per hour with security, you know, around you and so on. Uhm.. pretty amazing thing to see the first time for me. Uhm.. then you get there and there's aircraft coming and going all night. So you go in the hangar and unfold a cot and get used to sleeping with KC-130s outside, but the mosquitos were worse than that. So, I got there, spent about a week there waiting for the CO to send orders. Y- you had to wait for the CO, the Commanding Officer, to send for you, because they're sending uh.. water, food, supplies of all types on these aircraft, and they- they fit in personnel when they can.

Zarbock: But the ammo, the food and the water go first?

McDowell: Uhm.. it depends. For example, they sent our whole medical detachment up on one flight, because they needed the docs.

Zarbock: Mm-hmm.

McDowell: Uh.. there were a couple other chaplains up there already so they could wait about sending me, reasonably. I understood that. Uhm.. the flight that I went up on was packed with stuff, and uh.. myself and my RP, which is Chaplain's Assistant. RP is one of those Navy ratings, well they're just Program Specialist, and uh.. he and I and I think two or three others who- who were uh.. Marines and we walk up the ramp into the KC-130 and they said "Find a place to sit" you know. The thing was full, so they- then they pulled the ramp up and they had a uh.. one of these uh.. military field forklifts sitting right at the back that they had chopped down with chains, and they had to put the forks up to get the ramp up and then lay the forks back down. That- that's how full the thing was. And so there was no place to sit and be comfortable. So I sat on the side of the forklift for awhile, I sat over here for awhile. It was miserable. But anyway.

Zarbock: How long was the flight?

McDowell: It was like uh.. a little over two hours, 'cause we landed somewhere, and I have no idea where it was.

Zarbock: And this is night flying?

McDowell: Night, yeah. Most of it the uh.. pilots are y- flying with night vision goggles. Uhm.. and they're landing on- on crude airstrips. Uhm.. so we got into Kandahar at night and you step of and it was cold, 'cause that was mid-December and in flight we were roasting, because uh.. they alternatively turn on and off heat, which is heat from the engines, uh.. to- to heat up the interior, and it was- it was overdone. Uh.. 'cause you've got on your flight jacket and your helmet for safety concerns, 'cause anytime w- you were with the Marines, then you- you're riding on a tactical vehicle, a truck or whatever, you've gotta have it on, so we're wearing that, and I thought I was gonna roast.

But anyway, we step out of that into the cold night air in Kandahar and uh.. we slept a couple of hours 'til dawn, then started, you know, finding the rest of our people and so on. The only lights that were on when we stepped out of the aircraft were uh.. the lights that were generator powered for uh.. the detainee camp that was set up by that time. Uhm.. it was an interesting time. We did not get out of the compound area of the Kandahar Airport itself. There was a perimeter there. Our infantry Marines had fighting holes all around the perimeter, and once in awhile you'd hear of uh.. you know, the Taliban uh.. intelligence says they may try to breach the perimeter tonight. I don't think it ever happened. Uh.. the Special Forces folks would go out at night and come back with uh.. Taliban prisoners. Uh.. most nights the KC-130s would fly in uh.. Al Qaida and Taliban detainees, which are the ones that are in Guantanamo Bay now.

Zarbock: What were your duty assignments?

McDowell: For me?

Zarbock: Yeah.

McDowell: My typical day would be uh.. I would rotate my time with the troops, because uh.. my Marines were engineers, truck drivers, uh.. corpsmen, supply Marines, communications Marines, uhm.. they were all doing their jobs and uhm.. I knew 'em all on a first name basis and then, you know, go around and talk to 'em and see what they'd do. Uhm.. a lot of informal time. I might even play cards with 'em, stand around the burning barrel and chat with 'em. Uhm.. when you're living the way they are, it means a lot. For example, in the morning, get up, get dressed, put the boots on, take the canteen cup and my- my razor and shaving cream and go out and uh.. we didn't have any- any heat, but I was liv- I was in a building anyway. Most of our Marines were in two-man tents outside. But uh.. they made me a place in the building where- where our headquarters were for the Service Support Group. So I'd go out and we had this big ammo can we'd put water in and put it up on top of a burn barrel and start us a fire in there with scrap wood and cardboard, heat up the water, you know, and scoop some out and shave with my little field mirror, and I felt better after that, you know, get some warm water on your face. Uhm.. d- for breakfast I would eat the fruit portion of an MRE, a Meal Ready to Eat. Some people could eat the main pouch out of it for breakfast, I never could do that. It was like eating beef stew or uhm.. ravioli or chicken this, chicken that, you know, for breakfast. No thanks.

Zarbock: Did you lose a little weight?

McDowell: I lost some weight, but that's because I kept getting sick. Uhm.. gastroenteritis. Uh.. the night I got there I was getting sick. Got better, put me on IVs in the little field hospital, which was interesting, had diarrhea with it, got better from that and two weeks later got the same thing again with respiratory problems. Uhm.. and finally the commanding officer of our group said "Chaplain, I'm sending you back to the ship" and I couldn't argue, because I wasn't able to do much. And it was time they were starting to send people back who were just waiting for the 101st to get there to take over after Christmas. Uh.. so mid-January they sent me back. So I lost some weight due to that but you can gain weight eating the Meals Ready to Eat. They're- they're high calorie and- but they're designed for people who are fighting all the time, not for people with the kind of job that I had. So all I could eat was one a day, and I'd eat one part of it for breakfast, another part for lunch and another part for dinner perhaps.

Zarbock: Were there ever any problems with alcohol or drugs?

McDowell: Well, there was no problem with alcohol out there. The problems with alcohol come when you have a port call, (laughs) 'cause that seems to be the main activity, to see how drunk you can get. Uhm.. and it's a maddening thing for me to see people, you know, okay, we're gonna go out and we're gonna get drunk and then command is- is warning and warning and warning people, you know, don't- don't get stupid or, you know, lose liberty, your- your next port call and so on. Uh.. but I think overall our guys- our guys did well with that. Drug problems? There were small number of Marines who bought some drugs from the locals in Kandahar, and there's a story to that.

The uh.. the military was bringing in local Afghan men to work, because the Marines were doin' a whole lot of clean up. The airport building itself had been uh.. looked like uh.. a homeless shelter with graffiti all over the walls, trash and junk everywhere. When the Marines go in, they cleaned it up, dragging junk out and putting it in piles outside. Uh.. so they hired locals to come in and put it on one of their trucks and haul it off and paid them to do it, treated them very well, and even hired a local restauranteur out of Kandahar to come out and- and uh.. cook lunch for the workers, uh.. which was a good deal for them. But anyway, our Marines would uh.. talk to them through translators and want to buy local items of interest, and they were buying uh.. hats, Afghan type hats that you see in the news for a few years, uhm.. prayer rugs- Muslim prayer rugs and- and what not. Well, what do you know, it turned out that uh.. a few of them bought what they thought was hashish, and uh.. the funny- the story turns out funny is why I'm smiling.

One of these Marines came to me because after he got back to the ship, he was e-mailing some of the- a couple of the others and bragging about "Hey, you know, some good hash we smoked, huh" well it was a really no- a no-brainer, because when you're doing e-mail on- on ship, and especially at a time like that when there's operations going on, there's uh.. people reading your e-mails and your told up front, because they wanna make sure you're not giving out any sensitive information. Well guess what? The- the screeners also notice when there's something about drugs, you know, they're military and they know it's against the rules, so they report it and so this Marine gets a wake-up call at like 02 in the morning from a Marine Captain and a couple of Marine gunnys and so on, and he's uh.. in the limelight, so he did the right thing, he- he told all, and I counseled him later about it. And then when the other Marines get back to the ship, they're approached and they- they denied everything, so they gave 'em all a urinalysis, and it comes back negative, no signs that they did any drugs. So I tell that story in its short form to uh.. some of the Marines know and I say "Yup, they got away with it, but who knows what they smoked and who knows what effect it'll have on 'em." You know, one of 'em might grow a second head one of these days. I doubt it, but that gets the point across.

Zarbock: Chaplain, before we went on camera, I said one of the questions I was gonna ask towards the end of the tape would be reflecting on your experiences and the stresses that you've had and the joyful times. And looking at the camera and talk to your grandchildren and your great grandchildren and tell them what have you learned from all of this.

McDowell: Okay. Uhm.. there's one experience I had, I think it was the second night was in Kandahar that- that could summarize that when I had uh.. gastroenteritis and they had me on IVs and I was in the field tent and there was- this is not pretty, but anyway, I had to- uh.. you know, when- when you got a virus, you have to go to the toilet a lot, right? Even at night. It's painful at home, but the uh.. what the Army calls the latrine, the equivalent was uh.. the open area behind the hospital tent that had this uh.. plastic box with buckets underneath it and there were two lids and two holes, and that was it, no- no trees, nothing around it, it was just nothing hardly there, cold wind. So I was goin' out there about every hour or hour and a half using that, and then I woke up one time in the middle of the night and realized that I didn't wake up soon enough. And I'm laying there nauseated, not knowing where my other clothes were to change into, 'cause everything I had was in a pack in a sea bag, and uh.. the lights from the detainee camp were- you- you could see some of the light coming in between the uh.. sections of the tent and- and I remember thinking, you know, "Is this- why am I here?" and I was praying, you know, "God, I hope there's some purpose for me being here, some reason for me being here to- to be putting up with this." And there was.

One incident that happened was uh.. one of the detainees wanted a bible. The MPs come up to me, "Chaplain we need a bible. One of our detainees wants one." I say "Well, can I take it to him?" "I think we can make that happen, chaplain." So I did and he was number 15, don't know the names, they gave 'em numbers, made it simple, so I took him the bible, took him the New Testament, gave it to him, couldn't hardly understand him. He spoke English but his accent was so heavy. I gave it to him and uh.. he received it in good faith. I don't think it was a ploy for sympathy, 'cause I found out later from a friend who was in Cuba that he saw one of these detainees reading the New Testament to another one. It must've been 15. (loud noise) Okay, that, if for no other reason, is why I was there, why I needed to put up with the sickness.

Zarbock: It's a privilege to know you, Chaplain.

McDowell: Thank you, Paul.

Zarbock: May the Lord be with you.

McDowell: Thank you.

#### End of Tape 4 Marc McDowell ####

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