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Interview with Brian J. Stamm, August 13, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Brian J. Stamm, August 13, 2007
August 13, 2007
Interview with Navy Chaplain, Brian J. Stamm.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Stamm, Brian J. Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  8/13/2007 Series:  Military Chaplains Length  60 minutes


[Crew talk]

Zarbock: Good afternoon; I'm Paul Zarbock, a staff person with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington's Randall Library. Today's the 13th of August in the year 2007. And I'm at the Navy Chaplain School in Newport, Rhode Island. Our interviewee today is Lieutenant Commander Brian J. Stamm. Good afternoon, sir. How are you?

Stamm: I'm fine. How are you?

Zarbock: I'm well. Tell me what, to start off with, what individual or series of individuals, or event or series of events, led you into the selection of the ministry as your professional category?

Stamm: When I was in college, or I'd rather say, high school, I developed a real interest in going into the Naval Academy, but as an interesting twist of irony, God gave me wonderful gifts with English and History, but in balance of that, did not give me the gifts for mathematics, which of course, the Naval Academy is essentially an engineering school. So as determined as I was, I was gonna overcome this personal deficiency, took as much advanced mathematics and science that I could possibly take, so I would go from being the smartest kid in class in history and literature and English to the, probably the bottom of the heap in trigonometry, where I just didn't get it.

Zarbock: Now where was this in Pennsylvania?

Stamm: This was in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania-- Riverside High School, Beaver County. So I would continue to take these very difficult-- my teachers couldn't understand it. "Why do you keep taking these?" And I explained that I was driven to go to the Naval Academy; I thought it was what God was calling me to do. It was my entire goal in life. So, whenever it became quite obvious that, through the whole process of the nomination, that I was not going to go to the Naval Academy, they did offer me the Naval Academy Preparatory School, or I could go to college for a year and reapply. So I chose that option. Went to college, didn't know where to go, because I intended to go to the Naval Academy. So I applied at the local Lutheran college. It was about an hour and a half from my home--

Zarbock: The name?

Stamm: Thiel College in Greenville, Pennsylvania. I entered there, decided to take Political Science, since I knew I had a strength in history and social sciences and those things, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Became involved in campus ministry as well, and became so interested in the politics of humanity, that I decided I was gonna go to law school.

Zarbock: Now the year is what, Chaplain?

Stamm: This is-- say I graduated from high school in 1983, so this would be '84, approximately, '83, '84, '85. So I was going to be the best lawyer that you could possibly be, just soaked up every aspect of law, of debate, just honed my skills at becoming the best debater that you could possibly be, to the displeasure of some of my fraternity brothers. And in the process of this, also, I was very involved in chapel. I became involved in a college fraternity, Phi Theta Phi, a local fraternity. It had a-- a major emphasis of the year was a walk-a-thon for Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh-- and we'd raise $40,000 a year, for Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh. The college pastor for this Lutheran school, his son had been saved by some very talented physicians at Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh, and so he became our fraternity advisor. I became the fraternity president. So, obviously, I had to work to keep my fraternity brothers out of trouble, and keep the fraternity out of trouble, so we could continue to do good works. I had to work closely with the college pastor. It helped me be elected that I was involved in campus ministry, I think, that may have helped my campaign to be elected president of the fraternity. So it was through the mentorship of this college pastor who I would meet with often, who gave me an impression of ministry beyond the parish pastor. Someone who identified a segment of society and said, "How do I reach out to those particular people, college students?" He was, is, a very gifted man, he's now retired, Ph.D. in Psychology, and it is through working with him that I began to consider going into seminary. Where that actually came down to where the rubber meets the road on that; one of my fraternity brothers also was going to seminary, and he said, "You know, I'm going in to talk to the bishop on Friday afternoon. Do you want to go?" And so I went with him. If I had not gotten into the car with Joel Benson, I may not be here today.

Zarbock: How old were you at that time?

Stamm: Oh, I was maybe twenty-four. It's a guess. Had a wonderful interview down there at the bishop's office and just slowly pursued, considered this possibility of ministry, and decided: Well, you know, very few people on their deathbed, if they were asked the question, "Are you sorry that you spent a year going to seminary?" would say, "Yeah, I should have been doing something else." You know, during that one year when you considered seminary. So, so I figured I would try seminary for a year, trying to discern a call to the ministry. And again, keeping in touch with this college pastor, Dr. J. Paul Balas. So I went to the Lutheran Seminary at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for a year, became even more in love with ministry, serving God, serving God's people. Considered chaplaincy a little bit just because of this somewhat desire or discernment I had towards missionary ministry of some kind. But in the Lutheran tradition, everyone must start as a parish pastor; that is the root of our ministry, is the parish. So in spite that interest, my focus was to be a good parish pastor. I finished seminary, was assigned to the North Carolina Synod; that's how the Lutheran Church does it today, in the ELCA. You list three places you'd like to go, and then the bishops decide where you end up. So I was assigned to North Carolina, ordained to serve Calvary Lutheran Church in Spencer, North Carolina.

Zarbock: The year, now, is?

Stamm: I graduated from seminary and was ordained both in 1990. So I finished college in '97-- or '87-- and then finished seminary in 1990.

Zarbock: Did you like being a parish minister?

Stamm: I did. I found it exciting, comprehensive. I mean, I-- my first year, I was signing a contract, I was just out of seminary; I think I was probably twenty-eight years old, maybe, maybe a little bit older, but I was signing contracts to have the roof repaired when I had no resources. I had no income; I had no property, you know, I had an apartment, and I was eating-- I had no furniture, I was eating-- I was sitting on the floor, eating meals off of a paper plate, and yet I was signing a contract for $100,000 to have the roof replaced at Calvary Lutheran Church. So I wanted to be a solo pastor, not to be an associate, and that baptism-by-fire experience was both good and consuming at the same time. So I enjoyed it, and-- but there were aspects of it-- what I really liked working the most with, are the youth of that congregation. There were a number of-- [inaudible] board, mostly some older folks, but I really enjoyed working with the young people.

Zarbock: How long did you remain at, you said, Calvary?

Stamm: At Calvary, yes. I was there three years, from '91 till '94.

Zarbock: I've gotta ask, did you ever end up with furniture?

Stamm: [laughs] Yes, I did. I ended up with a, an ugly Sears and Roebuck loveseat and sofa that my brother had in his basement, that he loaded in the back of his Jeep and brought over to me so I had somewhere to sit. Yes.

Zarbock: Did you have a bed in the place?

Stamm: Yes, I had a bed. My parents had one they had left over, so I did, I did have a bed. Eventually. At first, though, I had to-- I slept on the floor.

Zarbock: Calvary really got a frugal pastor, didn't they?

Stamm: They did. They got a frugal pastor. Of course, I was single; I wasn't married, so they-- of course, there are some expectations that come with that; they think that you're, that you can dedicate much more time to being a parish pastor, being a single minister.

Zarbock: "He's not doing anything, anyway-- "

Stamm: What else do you have to do, right? What else would a single young pastor possibly do? Of course, maybe they figured, if they kept you busy you wouldn't get into trouble, either. So.

Zarbock: Well, what led you into the Navy, into the military chaplaincy?

Stamm: Wonderful question. Occasionally, of course, in North Carolina-- the bishop's office is in Salisbury, and just, and Spencer is an adjoining town, a small town that adjoins Salisbury. So I had the opportunity to meet with my bishop quite often, so I was meeting with Bishop Mark Menees of the North Carolina Synod, and he said, "So, Brian, what is it that you most enjoy about ministry at Calvary?" And, of course, I said, "I really enjoy working with the young, the young people, the youth of the church." And he asked me a few more questions about that. So then, he asked, "What would you see, if I were to open up any possibility for ministry, what is it that really kind of excites and scares you at the same time?" And my answer was, "Well, I've always had this kind, this interest in missionary work. How could I possibly be a missionary and actually go out and spread God's word in a variety of situations? But," I said, "I don't see myself in Papua, New Guinea, with a bare light bulb and a generator." And so Bishop Menees thought about that for a second, and he said, "Have you ever considered military chaplaincy?" And I said, "Well, I had some, just because I know I liked working with young people back when I was in seminary, but it was a brief passing thought." And he said, "Well, I think you should think about that some more, and pray on it." And so I did, and I came back to him a few months later, and I said, "Bishop Menees, I was thinking about military chaplaincy, and I think I'd like to be a reservist." And he said, "Well, I won't let you be." And I thought I had maybe done something wrong, you know, or something that, some new development had happened, or he had changed his perspective. And he said, "Why do you want to be a reservist?" And I said, "Well, I'm interested in military chaplaincy, but I don't know if I want to jump into it completely." And he said, "Well, I'm not gonna let you put your hand to the plow and move back." He said, "If, if you feel called to be a military chaplain, you do it all the way, be an active duty military chaplain. Otherwise, I don't support you." So that started the whole process of, you know, going to MPS, you know, the Military Processing Station, and going through the physical and all that. There was also an individual at Calvary Lutheran Church who, I would say, influenced me more than she realized, and this is Mrs. Ivy Crone. She was a Navy nurse in World War II, and had gone, educated there at the [crew talk] small hospital in Rowan County, North Carolina. Somehow, I forget the connection, but ended up at the Mayo Clinic, and when the war started, she felt like she should be an Army nurse, and-- she loves telling stories, wonderful storyteller. I don't mean to take up all your time with this, but Ivy applied and the Red Cross rejected her because she went to Rowan Hospital for her training, even though she was working at the Mayo Clinic. The Director of Nursing wrote a recommendation for her on Mayo Clinic stationery, and she was immediately accepted to be an Army nurse. And then she realized that the reason that she didn't want to be a Navy nurse, because-- over an Army nurse-- was because she didn't know how to swim, and she felt that if God had called her to be a nurse and God had called her to be a military nurse, then God would see to it that she either didn't end up drowning or figured out how to swim. So she said, "If God is behind me, I will be a Navy nurse and confront the very thing that I fear, and that is drowning in water." And so she became a Navy nurse, and had a wonderful time and career as a Navy nurse.

Zarbock: Please don't let me hang there. Did she learn how to swim?

Stamm: [laughs] You know, she never really told me that, so I can't answer the question. I suppose that she did. She went to Camp Lejeune, and she married a Marine. They moved back to Rowan County, North Carolina, or Sal-- Rowan County, North Carolina-- and her husband eventually-- he is now, he is deceased, and I believe Ivy is now deceased. So, how this comes full-circle, is when I had finished my entire, you know, entrance process. I had said to my bishop, "Now," I said, "Mark, if I believe God has called me to be, be a military chaplain-- " which, by the way, he had pointed out that, you know, the military is its own culture. You know, it is-- he said, "You know, if you went to Papua, New Guinea, it would be a people with their own language, their own customs, their own clothing, their own-- all that you will have in the military. You will have a people with their own way of life, some semi-nomadic people that have their own unique way of doing things, and you will get to go with them and tell them about Christ, tell them about Jesus, and be there for them, and comfort them in the name of God." So, when it came down to my actual commissioning, I asked Bishop Mark Menees if he would first commission me a missionary before I received a commission as a Naval officer. And so, at the chapel there at the bishop's office, Bishop Mark Menees commissioned me as a missionary, Ivy Crone, this Navy nurse, read the lessons, and then we went outside the chapel to the courtyard where I was commissioned a Naval officer. So that is what led me--

Zarbock: So you really are a twofer.

Stamm: I believe that I am; I am a missionary to God's people who serve in uniform; yes, I believe that. And I think anyone, if I might say, who enters or considers entering chaplaincy, doesn't consider that aspect of it, they're missing the fullness of this ministry.

Zarbock: I'm sorry; what was the name of the bishop?

Stamm: His-- he's no longer a bishop now. Bishop Mark M-E-N-E-E-S, I believe.

Zarbock: Well, the business of culture, and to track the parallel that you produced, New Guinea, vis-a-vis the military, what surprised and what pleasured you in entering military culture? Had you had any experience in the military?

Stamm: I had no experience. My grandfather was a World War I veteran; my father is a World War II veteran. Both were-- my grandfather was very involved, as well as my father, in the American Legion, so I guess my only experience was through the veterans of those, of previous conflicts and, and wars of our country.

Zarbock: So you clamped on the uniform and a pair of shoes and all the other appointments, and you now are a Navy officer.

Stamm: Yes.

Zarbock: So, what was difficult about learning how to be a Navy officer, and a chaplain, to boot?

Stamm: Let's see. It's interesting how, at least how it worked at that time, is you were commissioned a Naval officer. [inaudible] I was commissioned a Naval officer before I even owned a uniform, you know, right there at the bishop's office. And so you show up here in Newport, Rhode Island; I'm already a Lieutenant JG, even though I don't own a uniform [laughs]. And you know, we're appointed at the school, here, and it was a while before we could get uniforms. For some reason. I remember in the basic course, so we went out here on the "grinder," they called it, and the staff sergeant, Marine staff sergeant here, taught us military bearing, so we were all out there in suits and clerical collars, learning how to march. It must have looked like businessmen on parade or something [laughs]. But your question is-- what? Could you repeat it again?

Zarbock: Yeah. So, so you entered this cultured milieu. What-- it's kind of like entering the cavern, you know? You stumble around and it's somehow illuminated, and there are dangers.

Stamm: There are.

Zarbock: So what did you find dangerous, what did you find funny? Did anything happen to you as you were learning the culture?

Stamm: One that immediately comes to mind is, you know, we were out there learning to march, and the staff sergeant kept-- my classmates can corroborate this-- he kept on saying, "Now, chaplains, you're not gonna have to do this. Chaplains, you're in the Navy and the Navy doesn't march; the Navy doesn't have parades." He said, "You just have to learn to do this because I have to teach it to you." So we all learned how to march, and every time, he would say, "Now, you don't have to know how to do this." So I finished Chaplain School and was assigned to the USS Anzio, a cruiser. And that cruiser was, by the time I finished Chaplain School, one month into a six-month deployment. So I left Chaplain School two months in-- two months on active duty, here, under instruction, and went to the USS Anzio in the Persian Gulf. At that time, technically, the first Gulf War had not ended, by a technicality, so there was a little, you know, uncertainty there, about the ship. So I had gone out and I had met the ship [laughs], and my predecessor was so-- he wasn't well-liked, he could not seem to-- One of the things as a chaplain you have to learn, the cultural milieu of the military, and you have to very quickly learn, how to provide ministry in that situation. And you sometimes can't be taught that; sometimes it has to be your particular focus and approach to ministry that allows you to gravitate to that, to internalize that, and while you don't become fully part of that, there is a part of me that's a little bit separated as a non-combatant. That's good. So you are part of it; you are in it, but not of it. And some chaplains still have a little problem being in it, or some chaplains have too much problem being of it, and not knowing the difference. So, but, at any rate, I perch on this ship, and they had so much disliked my predecessor that they had let him go, so I had no turnover. So [laughs] Lieutenant JG Stamm, with two months in the Navy, lands on a Navy ship, a cruiser, not another Navy ship within hundreds of miles, not another Navy chaplain, no phone connection; MRSET phone calls cost seven dollars, eight dollars, maybe twelve dollars a minute, so I couldn't call somebody to ask them, "Hey, am I doing this right? I'm Lieutenant JG Stamm, two months in the Navy, and I don't know what I'm doing."

Zarbock: Plus you're following the reputation of somebody whose reputation you didn't want to follow.

Stamm: That's exactly right. I went up, my first day on the ship, I went up to talk to the Captain, and he was Captain [inaudible], and he turns around in his chair, and his first words to me is, "Chaplain Stamm, your predecessor was a nonentity on this ship." A wonderful man, Captain [inaudible] from Oklahoma, and I realized immediately, that there is either a problem with the ship and the leadership of the ship, or there was a problem with the chaplain. And so, I was going to reserve judgment and figure out how best to revive the ministry there. And you know there's a little bit to the Navy where it is secrecy, where it is baptism by fire, where you learn what to do and how to do it kind of on the fly. You tap-dance with your backside on fire. You go-- the worst thing, I think, for a chaplain, is to sit back and figure he doesn't know what to do. The best thing for a chaplain, is to engage it, and if you're doing it wrong, somebody will tell you. And so that was, that was my first introduction to the Navy. So my first six months in the Navy, well, first eight months, six months of that was at sea.

Zarbock: You're the only chaplain on the ship?

Stamm: Oh yes, the only chaplain on a cruiser, that's correct.

Zarbock: Did the command-- did the captain or any of the commanding, anyone at the command level tell you, "Do this, don't do that"?

Stamm: Well, no, not at first. I came aboard; they sort of, they saw I was a chaplain and they just expect, expect that you know how to do your job. Like, we had-- the chaplain was the Navy Marine Corps Relief Officer, so I would have to determine if a sailor needed assistance. I had a stack of checks, and I had to figure out if they needed, if they indeed qualified for assistance. We had a sailor that needed help, it was, like, my second or third day on the ship, and I was told, "He needs Navy relief assistance," so I listened to what he had, sounded okay to me, and wrote out a check and helped him pay his, his phone bill back in the States, and later found out that Navy relief doesn't help with phone bills. So. But I had no training in Navy relief, I just-- because I was a chaplain, I was expected to know how to do it. So, you know, you apologize, explain to the CO, "Sorry, sir, I didn't have any training in this." You know, it helped being a Lieutenant JG; they understand a little bit. You're allowed a little more grace than if you're a more senior officer [laughs], so you just learn not to do it next time. They understand if-- my experience, and this was in surface warfare, and a Navy surface warfare is kind of, in many ways, is the hardest community. They are hard on each other; they are demanding of each other, and so they, they make fun of each other, they joke with each other, and you are gonna be part of that. So.

Zarbock: When you say "hard on each other," are you talking about accuracy of activities, or-- ?

Stamm: I think the demands of running a ship, particularly a small ship, requires that they learn fast, that they have very long, hard hours, and if they see that you are working long and hard hours like they are, there is much more grace for you, and there is much more of an understanding that you are a part of their team. And that opens doors for ministry. The other thing is my predecessor tried to, every collateral duty-- collateral duties, of course, are all those things which do not fall directly in line with what it takes to run a ship, but have to be done-- and my predecessor wanted to be the chaplain; he didn't want collateral duties. I came aboard and I said to the XO, "Sir, I'd like to have some collateral duties, and these are the ones I would like to have." And I chose all of the ones in which I knew there was some access to ministry. So I became the Command Financial Specialist, because I knew, if a sailor came to me talking about his financial problems, that usually, there were problems at home, as well. So I used those collateral duties as doors and bridges to ministry, and at the same time, earned the respect of the wardroom and the chief's mess, because I was taking up some of those collateral duties.

Zarbock: What other collateral duties, do you remember?

Stamm: Oh, let's see; all kinds. Some of them, I didn't even know what I was supposed to do. I was, let's see, the ship's historian, I was the morale officer, I was the PAO, public affairs officer, I was Navy Marine Corps relief officer, I was the M-Cross officer, M-Cross and American Red Cross, so when a message would come to the ship, some kind of news from home-- of course, this was the day before we had phones and Internet capability. I feel like I'm an old salt now. But on a cruiser, you had no way-- we got mail, occasionally, and that was the only way to call home. We also had MRSET phone calls, but they were expensive. So most crew members, most officers, couldn't afford to make MRSET and satellite phone calls at that time. So, radio message is how you received Red Cross messages. Those would come to me, and I would deliver those messages. A radio man would come and wake me up, usually in the middle of the night; I would read the message and a little bit of discernment on how soon that needed to be delivered. Usually right away. And I would go find that sailor. I would first determine if-- that was indeed, we were talking about the right sailor, because we did have one opportunity where the M-Cross message to the ship to a sailor of the same name with a different social security number, who was actually a sailor on another ship.

And I would break, often bad news to the sailor. It was interesting, that whenever a birth happened, the captain wanted to deliver that news. So after several of these, you know, I went to the, went to the CO, and I said, "Sir, I got a bit of an issue, and that is, sir, you have made me the angel of death." He was taken aback by that, and he said, "Why do you figure that?" And I said, "Sir, if there's bad news that comes, I deliver that news, but if there's good news about the birth of a son or a daughter, you deliver that news, and so I have no good news to deliver."

Zarbock: But you know the phrase, RHIP? "Rank has its privileges"?

Stamm: "Rank has its privileges." Well, you're correct, but also rank has its responsibilities, and this CO was a good Captain. He said, "It's my responsibility not to make you the angel of death, because that's not how best you help my crew. So now, you deliver all the announcements."

Zarbock: Good decision on his part.

Stamm: It was.

Zarbock: Things like morale officer, what do you do?

Stamm: [laughs] Well, you know, some of it involves setting up tours when you come into ports and, and Com-Rel projects, Community Relation projects. We try to get sailors-- one of the unique things about Navy ministry, is that chaplains are usually very, take the lead on, very involved in-- is the community relation projects. We come to a port; I invite sailors, Marines, to go out to an orphanage, or to some, some way in which to benefit the community that we visit. And that's considered morale, as well. But you know, morale officer enters ways that you don't necessarily expect, as a chaplain. One underway period, you do UNREPS, underway replenishments, where your ship comes up to another ship, and you receive fuel and supplies that way, while you're underway. One particular underway period that went on for hours upon hours, over chow, and I recognized that my sailors were hungry, were very hungry, and so I went into the wardroom pantry and there was this huge plate of chocolate chip cookies that had been baked that morning. So I grabbed this huge bin of chocolate chip cookies and I went around the weather decks, and I passed out these chocolate chip cookies to these crew members who thought it was like Thanksgiving dinner because they were so cold and hungry out there. And the Supply Officer came in and wanted to know where his cookies had gone. And he was a very faithful, Christian man, but had a very volatile temper and took that out on the Food Officer who was supposed to approach me about what to do about the missing cookies. And so I got in a little bit of trouble minus the yelling about the cookies. I offered to pay for the cookies, do anything I could; he said, "No, no, no, just don't do it again." Well, fortunately the crew found out that the chaplain got in trouble over giving them sustenance during their long hours of underway, and so I became, in their eyes, a bit of a hero, that I would get in trouble so that they had something to eat and, you know, a little thing-- I'm not suggesting that other chaplains should go to the wardroom and take food that, you know, doesn't, necessarily-- proper procedures are important-- but that crew then knew that their chaplain cared about them. And whenever the crew knows that you care about them, then they come to tell you every problem that's going on in their life, knowing that you are someone who's trusted and will help them work through it.

Zarbock: It's called leadership, too, isn't it?

Stamm: [inaudible] Yes, it is.

Zarbock: In your military career, can-- would you reminisce a little bit? And-- did anything of a humorous or mirthful nature take place that you will remember for a fair piece of time?

Stamm: Can I use two?

Zarbock: Two? I'd really like three.

Stamm: [laughs] I could probably come up with three. But, you know, one of them is-- of a personal nature? Or of, within the-- ?

Zarbock: It's your call, Chaplain.

Stamm: Okay. Well, our first child, Christopher-- you know, I have a particular interest in children of military families. Children grow up in this culture, and they have no, no real say about the kind of lifestyle of living in the military. You know, a spouse either marries someone in uniform, like my wife did, or they have, hopefully, some kind of say as their husband, or, or if it's, you know, a husband marrying, who's married to a woman who's considering a military, a military lifestyle, at least in that process, they would hopefully have some say. Children are thrown into this lifestyle without a lot of say. So I have an interest in children of military families. But my oldest son, Christopher, this was at Camp Lejeune, and my wife asked me to be a part of the entire process, which I was willing to do. Asked me to attend the, all the birthing classes where you learn how to breathe, "Hoo, hoo, ha, ha," and all of this. You know, and I'm laughing through it and all, and she said, "Look, you really only have one job," and my wife is very conscious of the fact that I'm an officer and a chaplain and never wants to see any kind of special preferential treatment. But she said, "You know, the exception to this, is whenever I go into labor for the first time, in which case you can use any kind of influence that you have at your-- available to you-- to be sure that I get an epidural." She says, "I don't care if you teach me how to breathe; your job is to say, 'She wants an epidural.'"

Okay. So it comes to the time the baby's gonna be born; we, we go to the hospital; she's too early, they tell her to go home. We go back to the house. As soon as we get to the door, she said, "I think my water broke." And I said, "Well, I don't know a lot about it, but I don't think there's a thinking involved in there. Did it or didn't it?" So we waited a little while, probably too long, and at this point it's about two o'clock in the morning, of course, so we head back to the hospital at Camp Lejeune. We're headed to the gate, and this is a Saturday morning at about two o'clock. And of course, what do they do at the main gate at Camp Lejeune on a Saturday at zero two? There's a whole line of cars where they're checking for potential drunk drivers. So there's probably about eight, nine cars deep, my wife is screaming at me in pain, blaming me for this entire situation, not only the pregnancy, but also the fact that she's about to have a baby in the back of a Pontiac Grand Am. I roll down the window and scream, "Hey [inaudible] guard, we're having a baby back here!" And so he waves us forward, we go through the gate, and we get to the hospital. Go up to the second floor-- I don't know why they put labor and delivery on the second floor-- I ask my wife if she wants to go up the steps, she looks at me like I'm from the depths of Hades, that I had no sympathy. So we took the elevator up, whatever she wants; they take her for examination and they say, "Oh, this baby's coming out, we're going straight to delivery." And so I say, "Stop. She wants an epidural." And my wife told me to get-- well, an expletive that I cannot say, which she would never have otherwise used-- out of the way, 'cause this baby is gonna move. So. And the nurse there who is the midwife, says, "I'm sorry; I think we're past that, sir." So I move out of the way and the baby comes natural; I about lose my fingers because my wife is squeezing my hand and my wedding band is about to cut my hands-- my fingers off, but baby came out just fine; my wife had natural delivery, and she loves me yet today. So. [laughs]

Zarbock: She may, but did she ever forgive you?

Stamm: I think so, but I'm not 100 percent certain of that. The other story happens while I was in Kuwait. I went to Kuwait for seven months as an individual augmentee.

Zarbock: That's an individual-- ?

Stamm: Individual augmentee. So we will send sailors and Marines to Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, separate from their units. If you have a particular skill or ability that's needed, you individually go, without your unit. That's an individual augmentee. So I went there as, as the OIC for the Patient Affairs tracking team. So I tracked all patients leaving the theater of Iraq, and also, I tracked all the remains of those who were fatally wounded, and worked in the mortuary. But I also had to live and work in an Army environment while I was there. And this is where the humor comes in. Because the deck was myself and a gunnery sergeant, that was the entire team, and I was the OIC. So in order to pick up my mail, I had to attend a class, which was, of course, offered only at Camp Doha, Kuwait, on Sundays at eleven o'clock, which-- as a chaplain-- I'm usually otherwise occupied on Sundays at eleven o'clock. So I managed to find, make arrangements, that I could be free on Sundays at eleven, went to the post office, where I was told I was to go, well, that isn't where the class was, went, found the classroom. Well, the class had already started; this is my one opportunity to take the class so I could pick up my mail, which was somewhat important for me, separated from my family and all there. And so the sergeant comes to the door, and says, "Sir, I'm sorry, the class has already started," and I had my foot in the door-- I was, I was getting into this classroom [laughs]-- and I said, I said, "Sergeant; I'm a chaplain and this is my one opportunity and I need to take this class." So he reluctantly let me into the class. The other Marines who were in the class were all laughing; they knew me, they thought this was funny. So I go through the entire course; it's all the basic things you already know, where to put a stamp on the letter, you know, what I thought were all basic kind of things. So at the end of the course he says, "Well, I can't give you the card unless you all have a letter, a memo, from your OIC, saying that you can pick up the mail." And I said to the sergeant, I said, "Sergeant, I am the OIC." He said, "Yes, sir, but you still need a memo." I said, "Now, sergeant, can you help me understand this? You need a memo from me giving myself permission to pick up my own mail?" He said, "Sir, without that memo I cannot give you a card." So I managed-- and I was walking away from the class thinking I had to prepare this most absurd memo. So I sat down at lunch with one of the Army chaplains who was there, who's a friend of mine, I was explaining this ridiculous situation to him, and he said, "You know, I've been here over a year, and I have never had a card, and I just go tell them I'm a chaplain and they give me my mail." So I tried this out and sure enough, I walk into the post office and say, "I'm Chaplain Stamm; could I have my mail?" And they say, "Well certainly, Chaplain; here it is."

Zarbock: Was it personal mail?

Stamm: It was personal mail, it was; it was my mail. It was just myself and the gunnery sergeant, and the gunnery already had a card. He could pick up his own mail. So just-- only in the military would you have this incredible situation.

Zarbock: "Wake up, it's time for you to take your sleeping pill." [laughs]

Stamm: [laughs] That's exactly right. You know, you read "Catch-22," and you think, "How could this be real?" But--

Zarbock: It could happen. Sad stories?

Stamm: Probably the saddest stories would be whenever I was working in the mortuary. I would-- I worked with-- the Army has the lead on mortuary affairs. The Marine Corps is new to the area in mortuary affairs, and the central mortuary for Operation Iraqi Freedom is in Kuwait. The Marine Corps doesn't have anyone in Kuwait who knows anything about mortuary affairs. They have some mortuary affairs soldiers who work at collection points that actually go and collect the remains and place them into body bags, and then they're shipped to the central mortuary in Kuwait. So the chaplain for the Patient Affairs tracking team becomes the resident expert for mortuary affairs, which you all-- which you learn on the job. Any question for the Marine Corps about mortuary affairs comes to the chaplain of the tracking team there, the position I filled. Also-- so, when we received the remains, I would escort those remains into the mortuary, and work with the soldiers there, and actually do everything they did. We would open transfer cases, unzip the body bags, and then we would collect all the personal effects on the body and then do an inventory of those. One of the things that I think may be unique about the Marine Corps that I truly appreciate, is they see beyond what a chaplain can do, aside from the traditional roles. And they have-- and what I mean by that, is preaching, teaching, Sunday school, those kinds of things. The-- that they would place this responsibility in my hands. But also the Marine Corps' interest in their, the average Marine, that they want a chaplain present. If there was anything Christian on those personal effects, I would say prayers over those remains. In our Lutheran tradition, I would anoint them with oil in remembrance of their baptism, and I would mark on the margin of their death certificate that I had prayed over their remains, who I was, and that I come from a Lutheran tradition, in the anticipation that the family would receive that death certificate and know that a chaplain had been present with them in the mortuary.

And you know, you open those body bags, and at first the sights will shock you; you can imagine what remains look like, literally collected off the battlefield and put into a body bag. You see everything in the human body moved to different places and exposed. But after a while, it's the personal effects more than the sights of bodies torn and ripped apart that, that get to you. And probably, some of the saddest are whenever you find sonograms. We knew this soldier-- or this Marine-- was expecting a baby. He'd never, never see that baby. Those are the hard things. You know, and you just, you recognize that these-- what you carry in your wallet says a lot about you. It shows who your family is. What you carry on your person, tells you what's important in life, to you, even if you don't realize it.

And so the saddest is, was caring for those, those Marines. But it also was-- and remains, to this point-- some of the most meaningful ministry that I have, that I have done. Whenever those transfer cases were opened and those body bags were opened, I had a most unexplainable peace that came over me, and at first I couldn't recognize why I felt so much at peace in my heart, and I think it is, in reflection, I knew that I was doing the ministry that we are called to do, and there is complete fulfillment in that. I also recognized that God was using me, that-- you know, St. Paul says we are vessels, and I felt like I was being used as a vessel; it was almost like I could feel God's presence being used through me. And the soldiers who worked in this mortuary, I got very close to. And whenever-- of course, sometimes we would have seven, eight, nine, ten remains come in at once, and so as soon as they recognized something Christian on the remains, if I couldn't get over there, they would, they would point it out to me, and as soon as I stopped to say prayers, they would all stop their work for just a few minutes to recognize that this, this ministry was being done.

Zarbock: It's almost a final salute.

Stamm: It is, and it helped those soldiers as well, I believe, because when you look at this literal mass of humanity that is before you, it helps them stop to recognize two things. One, is "This is a person," and two, that God is the final word on this. That the enemy who did this will not have victory. You know, and I would-- I spent a lot of time with these soldiers. You know, they would send a mental health professional, and I don't mean to ping on the mental health profession at all, but he would come by maybe once a week and ask how they were doing. You know, veterans talk to veterans. These soldiers were not about to talk to this mental health professional unless he came at zero two in the morning and put on rubber gloves and took off his blouse and did the work we do, like I did. So they talked to me, and I think-- we didn't have a lot of problems with those soldiers, because, because they could talk to me about it.

Zarbock: But to whom could you talk, Pastor? Who was the chaplain to the chaplain?

Stamm: You know, you seek out colleagues. There was a Methodist chaplain there, who-- she knew kind of the work, and did a little of it; she couldn't do it fulltime, because the Army is spread so thin there, but she also-- she was officially in charge of these soldiers, but knew I was there all the time. And, and you know, rather than just-- see, clergy are human beings, and sometimes we get a little territorial. Fortunately, this wonderful Methodist chaplain didn't see that at all. What she saw was a wonderful blessing, that I was there to work with her soldiers. In the same sense, I tried to include her and facilitate her being involved as much as possible. And so we were a team, and so I could talk to her. And I could share with her whenever we had a particularly hard-- what I mean by "hard," is something like, we discover a sonogram or something like that. A sonogram on the remains. Whenever something struck me as particularly difficult with my work, I could talk to her, and she understood, 'cause she had, she had been there. And so you learn to seek out, if you are wise, to seek out others who you trust, who will listen, who will not think you're about to tell them something and be put off by it. And I very much trusted Terry, that I could tell her something and she wouldn't think I needed to be immediately referred to mental health. You know, if-- you know, and I'm not saying that you shouldn't go to mental health; I'm just saying sometimes you just need to share something; that is the best therapy. You know, you mentioned humor stories and humor, humor-- "Reader's Digest," "Humor is the Best Medicine"-- you know, working with these soldiers, what we would-- in the mortuary, after we finished with the remains, we would close up the body bags, we'd strap ice to the remains to try to preserve them, and then we'd tie it on. All these soldiers came from Puerto Rico, and they, some of them had better English than others; most of them had heavy accents. One of them, Victor Villafane, I'll never forget Victor. I sort of in some ways became a big brother, an uncle, a mentor, to Victor.

Zarbock: Do you know how to spell his name?

Stamm: No, I don't know if I can spell the whole thing.

Zarbock: Phonetic is good.

Stamm: Villafane, Victor Villafane. But Victor had a very heavy accent; I guess you have to work around remains and the pathos of dealing with this all the time, and Victor is, he's nineteen years old, and I think, at nineteen, could I do this job? You know, I know myself a little better at my age, to recognize how things affect me. That's one of the things that has grown with me, is perhaps some wisdom that comes with age, but I wonder if I could do that at nineteen. But Victor's nineteen, you know, and he says sometimes he talks to the remains and he wondered if he was crazy or he should do that. I encouraged Victor that that was an okay thing to do. He would tell the soldier or the Marine he was working on; he was saying, "Don't worry, it'll be okay, we'll get you to your family." And just letting him know that that was okay, was helpful to him. But the humorous thing, is we were tying on these bags of ice, and Victor-- I don't know if you want to record this or not-- but Victor says, he says, "Chaplain," he says, "I've been meaning to tell you something for a long time." He says, "You know, I've been working with you doing this, and you have some really nice Navy nuts." And I said, I said, "Victor, excuse me?" He said, "You have some nice nuts." And I said, "Victor, exactly what are you talking-- ?" He said, "Right here, the way you tie these, those are some nice nuts." I said, "Victor, the word is 'knots'." He said, "Yeah, that's what I said, 'nuts'." So I explained to him that that may be thought of as different, and we joked about that for the longest time.

[Crew talk]

Stamm: I'd just like maybe to include my, or sum up the experience of working there in Kuwait, but you don't have the mortuary, in that I wouldn't want to leave you with Victor Villafane and the Navy nuts. We had a lot of other humorous stories that happened there, but humorous for the mortuary. But in seriousness, the ministry there is time that I both-- I mean, this is while it was happening-- both I appreciated, I very much wanted to get back to my wife and my family. Of course, I was on Okinawa when I went as an individual augmentee, and they, at first said, said to me on Okinawa, "You're gonna go. You're not gonna go." They told me I definitely wasn't going, so Mary Ellen and I went ahead and-- well, our third child was two months underway when they said, "Guess what? You're going for seven months to Kuwait."

Zarbock: The timing is perfect.

Stamm: The timing is always perfect. I am very blessed with a wonderful wife. And--

Zarbock: Could I ask, at this time, how did you meet her? Let's, can we pick that up? How did you meet her? Where? And how old were you, and what were the events that surrounded that?

Stamm: I met Mary Ellen on a rollercoaster [laughs].

Zarbock: Sure.

Stamm: A very good classmate of mine from seminary had a church in the same county, in Rowan County. We decided-- he was dating someone, a graduate of Lenoir-Rhyne College who was a school teacher. He called me up one day, and said that he and Melissa were going to this amusement park in Charlotte called Carowinds, and asked if I wanted to go along. My first response was, "Hmm. You and Melissa and me. I think that doesn't sound like probably-- sounds like something-- ?"

Zarbock: Now, you were a chaplain at this time?

Stamm: I am, I am a parish pastor at this point.

Zarbock: Oh, okay.

Stamm: A church pastor. So I said, "No." "She's bringing a friend along." So it was a blind date. So we met at Carowinds, got to know each other there. I had decided I probably wasn't going to see her again, but she called me and invited me to her house where she had, her apartment, over in Hickory, North Carolina, where she was teaching school, for a turkey dinner. And I went over and I met her there, and we just continued to see each other. My church was very interested. You know, parishes, maybe particularly Lutheran parishes, they very much want their clergy to be married, but they are also very interested in what you're doing when you're dating. And so they have this high level of interest in the romantic life of their clergy. So Mary Ellen and I continued to see each other. And this is when I started to discern a call to the Navy Chaplain School. And so I had said to Mary Ellen; in fact she'd be glad to tell you about this. We went out to dinner once, and I said, "I need to tell you something, and you may decide that you do not want to see me after I explain this to you." And she had no idea where I was going with this [laughs]. She jokes about this today, trying to imagine in a split, fraction of a second, what I might possibly explain to her. "Well, I'm gonna be, I'm gonna be entering Navy Chaplain School, and being a pastor's wife is hard. Being a Naval officer's wife is hard. Being a Naval officer's wife when that Naval officer is also a pastor is doubly hard." And I said, "I am not sure, exactly, you know, at this point where our relationship is going, but I understand if this isn't the kind of life you want to get into." And she said, "Well, why are you making that decision for me?"

So, you know, all my work in trying, to, being a good lawyer, trying to hone my persuasive skills and argumentation, my greatest failure is convincing Mary Ellen that she didn't want to marry me. And I thank God for that failure, 'cause she is a wonderful wife, a wonderful wife, wonderful pastor's wife and a wonderful Navy wife.

But, okay, so there we are in Okinawa. She's two months pregnant. I explain to her, "Guess what? I am going to Kuwait for seven months." And so indeed I leave her in a foreign country. I have two other children at the time, six and three, about six and three. So I leave her with two young children in a foreign country and go off to a war zone. And you know, some spouses might say, "I can't handle that." Her response to me was, "You know, I'm a mother, and we have children. And those children some day might be in the military themselves. And if something tragic happened to them, I'd want a chaplain there to receive their remains and pray over them." She said, "I couldn't be a good mother if I did not care about those mothers, as well, and those young men and women." And so she said, "Don't worry. I will handle things on this end."

So I went off, and one of the wonderful things about Chaplain Corps is, particularly in overseas stations and locations; we take care of each another, and so my wife was well cared for by the chaplains there, the 1st Marine Air Wing, Okinawa, by all the chaplains on Okinawa. You know, it wasn't just-- the whole community took care. My sister-in-law thought for sure, she needed to come back to Raleigh, North Carolina. And Mary Ellen said, "Look, I have everything that I could need. Someone is looking to do for me here. You know, I have everything. I am cared for, here. I have family, here, even the chaplain." And, no offense to my family back there, but rather than to pull Christopher out of school and to change our home, she said she'd just rather stay there. But it is a testament to how well she was cared for. She also developed a fever while she was pregnant. She was feeling fine, but the fever required her to be hospitalized for two weeks, which meant my children were temporary orphans, and a Russian Orthodox chaplain and his wife, Chaplain Steve Dusenberry--

Zarbock: What was his name?

Stamm: Dusenberry.

Zarbock: Dusenberry.

Stamm: Yeah [laughs]. That is right. His father was a Lutheran and his mother, a Russian Orthodox, so you can see how that worked out. So he and his wife took in my two children and cared for them for two weeks, made sure that they got to school while my wife was in the hospital and I was in, I was in Kuwait. But-- so that ministry there was incredibly, I mean, you want to be home to take care of your family. You know you need to be where you are. I have, you know, often in ministry, you are torn between the ministry you are called to do, and taking care of your family. I felt like I was there where I needed to be. No one could really step in and do my job in an instant, and I just felt like I should be in two places at once. But when you, when you do trust in God, He does take care of you. He took care of my family through other chaplains. My wife was saying, "Don't worry. You do your job. Do your job there in Kuwait. You take care of those wounded and fatally wounded Marines and sailors."

Zarbock: Was communication-- what communication was possible between your wife in Okinawa and you, in Iraq?

Stamm: And that is where today's military is blessed, in that communication today is better than ever. Where I was in Kuwait, we had a DSN.

Zarbock: A what?

Stamm: I think it's "Defense Switchboard Network." They used to call it IBU. It's a defense phone line. And so, I could call Mary Ellen every day and talk to her, and letters were included. Having the opportunity for free email-- if I could thank our government for that. That is a wonderful thing, and I think it is often overlooked, having email. You know, soldiers, sailors, Marines in the past, airmen, didn't have email. And email is a wonderful way in which my wife could send me, not only what is going on, but also pictures of it. And those pictures are something that you can pull up all the time and look at again and again. I remember looking at my children playing in the grass in Okinawa, and what struck me not only was to see them, but to see all this green. You know, you live in the desert so long; you get so accustomed to brown. Everything is sand, and that's all you see when you look outside, is sand, sand, sand. And to see children playing in the grass, was-- it was just refreshing. I was there in the summer. It was 130, 140 degrees. The highest temperature was 140 degrees. But I could find a computer, pull up that picture of Christopher and Rebecca playing on the grass, and it was, it was refreshing.

Zarbock: Where were you quartered?

Stamm: I was quartered on Camp Doha. Camp Doha is just now closed. It'd been open since the first Gulf War. Basically they were warehouses. So, if you can imagine warehouses put in the desert. And it was right along the coast, there, and just north of Kuwait City, converted for rooms. Fortunately, they were air-conditioned. Air conditioning is another benefit that we had, that others did not have in the past, if you were fortunate enough to have air conditioning, which is-- like we do today. You know, that's where I was quartered. And we just spent a lot of time on the road, driving down to Kuwait City and the MASH Airport, which is where the mortuary was, or to Camp Arifjan, where our-- I did also track those soldiers who were not-- mostly, who were not combat wounded.

Zarbock: What was the name of the camp?

Stamm: Camp Arifjan. Arifjan is kind of the Army's center. Used to be Doha; now it's Arifjan, since they were closing Doha.

Zarbock: Is that an acronym, or the name of the-- ?

Stamm: It is the name. D-O-H-A, Camp Doha. And so, I would-- I was also in charge of all these, you know, the Expeditionary Medical Facility there at Camp Arifjan was a Navy facility, and anyone who had a non-combat injury-- hurt back, hurt knee, or the overflow of combat injuries-- came to Kuwait at Camp Arifjan. The Expeditionary Hospital could only keep them a certain amount of time. They had no long-term facility, so as soon as you were well enough to be discharged, they had to discharge you. Many of these Marines and sailors and soldiers, if they had continual physical therapy, could get back to their units and we could keep, you know, help the number of forces, 'cause these units who lost somebody to an injury, would get a replacement. And so, who was in charge of all of these patients discharged from the hospital, particularly the Marines and sailors? Well, the [inaudible] Marine Central Command OIC, who was a Marine colonel there, was kind of my boss. He said, "Chaplain, you are in charge of these patients." So, you know, this is one thing I love about the Marine Corps, like I said before. I do not know if the Navy would have done this, but the Marine Corps said, "Chaplain, you're a competent officer. You can take care of these Marines. They are yours."

So, all of these Marines were my responsibility. You know, where else would a chaplain have that kind of, to be responsible for men, men and women? And so, there's a big convalescent barracks where these Marines would live as their quarters. And I acted as-- I took care of them. I checked on them. You know, you walk into this, essentially a warehouse, with beds, with racks, and it's full of Army soldiers, and then you have Marines. And we would go in there to check on our Marines and sailors, myself and the guy. And it's hard. You see all these soldiers who wish-- I do not mean to put the Army down-- but they just do not have enough chaplains there to handle, you know, all of these. And you know, you're kind of like-- Jesus once said, that He came to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

So I walk in, and I'd be looking for Marines, checking on the Marines and sailors. Well, all these soldiers wanted a chaplain to check on them, too. And inasmuch as it tugs on your heartstrings, this facility would have a hundred individuals. And I came to check on my twenty Marines and sailors. So I would check on them, and then, if anyone was having a-- I would touch base with the, always with the senior enlisted who were there, to find out if anyone, any soldiers were having particular troubles, and then I would try to spend time with them, as well. But I was in charge of all these, you know, these Marines and sailors.

And I would act as a liaison, talking to their units up in Iraq and with the hospital staff, about trying to either get them back home if they were going to need much more therapy than was going to be able to accomplish at Kuwait, get them back to their home. But your question, was the communications.

And, you know, I also want to be that it's recognized that so many, perhaps different than previous wars, the support of the American public, because I would be armed as a chaplain with a stack of phone cards. I had phone cards that were donated by the American Legion, and VFW, and all kinds of organizations from people back home, who had donated money and who'd found out that the need of those in uniform was to call home when they had a chance. And so, wherever I went, I had a stack of phone cards, and so I'd see a Marine or sailor or soldier or airman, and I'd say, well, "Call home and talk to your family," and I'd give them a phone card so they could do that. And it's, what makes that possible, is not just the phone lines-- there's nothing new in telephone lines-- but it is the support of the American people, for this conflict. I can't thank them enough.

Zarbock: One of the highly personal questions. One of the chaplains, no, several of the chaplains have said, "The night or two before deployment, my wife and I could hardly talk with each other, or to each other. It was-- it was too painful. So in order to feign the elimination of the pain, we would put up a stiff upper lip so that the farewell was a ritualistic and rather stiff, well, ritualistic by definition, ritualistic, ritualistic adieu." Did you experience that with you or your colleagues?

Stamm: I think it depends on relationships. My wife and I have noticed that every time I deploy, we seemed to get into an argument about, sometimes the most silliest things, which husbands and wives, when they argue, often is about the most ridiculous things. And so, she and I have asked each other why this is. And we have come to the conclusion is, if we're angry at each other, it's easier to leave. And so, you know, aware of that, we realize that we're getting in an argument about something that we otherwise wouldn't argue about. We realize why that's happening. It is, it is painful. I would say the hardest part of being in the military for me, and I didn't anticipate this until I was married. Of course, I was a Navy officer, a chaplain, before I was married. And then having children, with how difficult it is to say goodbye.

Zarbock: What about reentry?

Stamm: Reentry. You know, chaplains are supposed to help Marines and sailors prepare for reentry and departure.

Zarbock: Serving?

Stamm: Yes.

Zarbock: Says so in the manual.

Stamm: [laughs] Yeah, says so in the manual. And I think we're good at that, but, you know, the thing I found, is you can't be a pastor to yourself or to your family. And so I find myself doing things and saying things that I would, would never-- you know, I would stop a sailor, a sailor or Marine telling me this and say, "Now, why did you say that?" You know, and yet there, I have said it. It has left my mouth and it has been done. So, reentry, you know, as much as I have spent hours upon hours helping Marines and sailors, you know, reentry, still it is, you know, I walk into the home and my wife has all of the routine that has helped her through this time of being a temporary single parent, and I step in there, and, you know, I want to spoil the children because I've missed them. I will give them chocolate cake for breakfast or something, and she-- it depends. And so, reentries are hard, as well. You know, there are times for me and my wife, wonderful homecomings. Great to be home, but always recognizing the adjustment, and how husbands and wives handle those adjustments. My wife and I, our relationship, I am so grateful for it, that she and I are able to approach things. We may have our moments, but later, we can step back and say, "What was that about?" And because we can do that, we can say, "Well, you know, there was more going on there than appeared on the surface," and realize that a love who can do that and be happy, to is what allows us to step back. And then maybe to handle things in the future that would [inaudible].

Zarbock: Well, speaking of entry, how long will you be here at the Navy Chaplain School, and what are your duties here?

Stamm: I will be here three years. I started a week ago, and I will be the Curriculum Officer. So the predecessor, Chaplain Michael Moore, is the first curriculum officer here at the school. They realize that, you know, much of the training has been a little bit ad hoc on the direction of the training by the instructor. And so what we really need, is a little more consistency, and also how to make our training integrate into the Navy's training processes. There's no way you can learn that, except on the job. So I have spent the last week immersed into Chaplain Michael Moore's brain, trying to learn everything that there is to learn about curriculum before our chaplain. But a curriculum officer has the responsibility for all curriculum, for all training for the entire chaplain, all aspects. And so right now, it seems to me, of course, two weeks into it, it seems huge to me. It seems a little bit daunting to me. I have Chaplain Moore until the twenty-fourth of August when he departs, and I am trying to learn as much as I can from him. He is a very gifted chaplain, and I hope to do at least as well as he do-- as he does. And being here at the Chaplain School, everyone here is a hand-selection which, at first when you find out you are hand-selected, it is wonderful. It is a wonderful feeling to recognize that of all chaplains that could have come here, you have been chosen. And it should come as no surprise to us, for those of us who are clergy and who are scholars in scripture, that not long after when you find out that you are chosen, sets in this second wave of feeling, and that is the overwhelming sense of responsibility. I imagine Moses felt wonderfully at first, when he finds God speaking to him, and then he hears what God has for him to do.

Zarbock: "That's not fair," [laughs]

Stamm: [laughs] That's right. "Send someone else."

Zarbock: Yeah. "I thought I was here to enjoy myself!"

Stamm: That's right. And here at the Chaplain School, since everyone here, they are hand selections, we have some of the best chaplains. And so I have the privilege of working with wonderful colleagues, but then, the standards also are very high, so the expectations are high. So I'm grateful for this opportunity, but I'm also very much aware of the work that is ahead of me.

Zarbock: Is it possible for you to look, with some accuracy, into the future and say, "Three years from now, I will-- "?

Stamm: Well, I can have an idea where I would like to be. I would like to have an operational billet.

Zarbock: What do you mean by "an operational-- "?

Stamm: "Operational" is a term we use for Marine and Navy units that are combat-related units. They are the ones who deploy, that go, that are not support to those units, but are on the forefront. So I would, I would like to be the command chaplain on a carrier, or an MSC chaplain, a Major Subordinate Command Chaplain for the Marine Corps, so I mean, be like the division chaplain or the MLG Marine for the First Marine Airmen. That it is usually where O6 is. They fill most of these positions, but with the changes happening in the Chaplain Corps today, we are reducing the number of O6 chaplains, because they are more likely to be filled by O5 commanders. I've been selected for a commander, so I will be promoted some time probably in the next year. But after I leave Chaplain School here, I would like to, if-- I would like to go to one of those commands. But I have also learned not to second-guess God. I heard, if you want to give God a good laugh, tell Him your plans [laughs]. So I try to keep myself aware of that. If I'm doing God's work, it is He who is leading me. He is the one who will lead me to my future.

Zarbock: Chaplain, one of the questions I have asked all interviewees, I'm now going to ask you. In your military career, was there any time in which you were ever ordered or strongly suggested or hinted at, or even with a nudge and a wink, that you do something you felt was in reverse of your role or of your spiritual and religious beliefs? Were you ever ordered or hinted or subtly, seductively, asked to change?

Stamm: I can think of one story which I very much enjoy. I enjoy it, because of the little bit of humor that comes along with it. On the USS Anzio, my first command, we had a laptop computer stolen from the combat system's officer's standard. Of course, this computer had sensitive, confidential, I believe secret, information on the computer. It was all, I believe, or as I was told, that the computer was locked, so that information could not be easily accessed that was secret, so there wasn't anything that immediately caused for concern that higher authorities needed to be made aware of. But at any rate, a massive search happened for this computer. Not found. And they were at the point where they had to report this loss, which was not good for the ship-- to report this lost piece of equipment. I was working late. Of course, I lived in Hampton, Virginia, and I was single. I wasn't married. And of course, going through the Hampton Bridge Tunnel, often traffic there is an issue. And so I discovered that since there was nobody waiting for me at home, I would just work later hours and once the traffic had cleared out. Then I could go home, rather than sit in traffic. I thought that time was better served for God and for my command to be on the ship, working, than sitting in traffic, when I didn't get home any sooner if I left early.

So one of these days I was working late. A-- one of the yeoman came, he said, "Chaplain, there's a phone call for you in the ship's office." So I went to the ship's office, and on the other line, end of the line, was this voice. He said, "Chaplain, I understand when we talk to you, it's confidential." And I said, "Well, yes, as much as I can assure you, talking to you on the phone standing here in the ship's office." And he said, "Okay." But he said, "If I tell you something, and I am asking for pastoral confidence, you can grant that to me as much as you can assure." And I said, "Yes." He said, "I have the computer, and I want to turn it in, but I won't turn it in if I have to reveal who I am." And he said, he said he also is a Christian, and he said he's been feeling very bad that he has stolen this piece of equipment.

So I'm trying to review quickly in my mind all of the legalities of pastoral confidence. I asked him to meet me at the chapel on the Norfolk Naval Station, because I wanted to be sure that we were on ground that was indeed dedicated to ministry. So this sailor from the Anzio meets me there on the grounds of the chapel. We talk about stealing. We pray together. I used the Brief Order of Confession and Forgiveness from our Lutheran tradition, and pronounced forgiveness for him with the assurance that he is repentant. He is not going do this again. And so he gives me this box with this computer, and I am walking-- go back to the piers, and I am walking down the pier. Of course, the Anzio is the last on the pier. The XO is leaving the ship, and our XO is always the last to leave. And he stops me, and he says, "Chaplain, you're walking the wrong direction." He says, "I'm the last to leave. You can't go back to the ship. You're supposed to be going home." And I said, "Yes, sir." I said, "Sir, I have a laptop computer which I think you'll be interested in." Which, of course, he was.

So we went back to the ship. He very much wanted me to reveal the identity of the sailor. And I don't want to say anything here that could maybe, in the future, cause someone to go back and figure out who this is. But it's probably safe now. But the entire wardroom became involved in this discussion with half of the officers. Of course, on a cruiser, it's not a larger wardroom, so almost all the officers sit around the same table. Half of the officers were arguing loudly over lunch more than one meeting, that the chaplain had to reveal, as an officer, who had committed this crime, and that it was my duty in Naval tradition, if there is a thief aboard the ship, to reveal who that was. The other half of the officers insisted, no, it is also tradition in our culture and law that clergy who find out something in confidence cannot reveal who this is, that that conversation is basically between God and that individual. And so they were loudly arguing back and forth who this individual who stole this laptop is. In fact, in my, my farewell, you know, they give you a picture of the ship, and they all sign it. It is signed there by a warrant officer who thought I absolutely had to tell. It says, "Chaps, you can tell me now, right?" That was his joke. But the individual who stole this laptop computer was a food service assistant. It was a mess aide. And so, while this argument was going on, this young man was pouring their coffee, getting their dessert, and clearing their dishes while he heard this loud discussion of whether the chaplain should tell or not. The commanding officer, of course, wanted an investigation. He wanted me to tell. He directly asked me. He said, "I'm ordering you to tell me who this individual is." And I said, "Sir, I cannot do that."

Zarbock: And-- I'm sorry. Your refusal to obey that order is upheld by Navy regulations?

Stamm: It is. It is. And they pulled out the JAGM, the Judge Advocate General Manual. They were looking every reference, and calling the legal services to find out if this, indeed, was so, and if there was any way that they could get the chaplain--

[crew talk]

Stamm: [laughs] The chaplain to tell. And sure enough, you know, all the legal, the military has upheld that this was a religious discussion, in terms of pastoral penitent relationship between chaplain and sailor. And I not only was right in not telling, but I legally could not.

Zarbock: Chaplain, would did, that-- what might that have done to your career?

Stamm: I guess the, you know, directly, probably nothing, but indirectly, probably quite a lot. You know, CO's have a lot of discretion, particularly CO's, captains, ship captains. So, you cannot directly punish me for doing what was right, but there's a lot of indirect ways which are realistic, that he could have either made my life terribly uncomfortable, or graded me down in areas that no one could prove otherwise. Fortunately, my commanding officers, officer, rather than punishing me when he realized that I was backed by tradition and I was taking care of his crew, recognized that this was an example of someone who was being-- holding, sticking to their guns, holding to what they knew what was right, despite--

Zarbock: You were doing your duty.

Stamm: Despite the pressures otherwise, was doing what he knew was right. And he also knew that he needed that very quality in his other officers, who he put-- when he went to bed at night, were up on the bridge of the ship, that if he couldn't be reached for some reason, would stick to their guns and do what was right, regardless of the pressures around these duty officers. So, in fact, I think, in the end, my CO respected me more.

Zarbock: You know, of course, this story that you have just told me, is grist for the mill of off-Broadway shows. Really. Can't you just see it, you know, the arguments swashing back and forth, and the thief there in the room?

Stamm: And I can just imagine, as this is going on, how nervous this young man must have been. And at the same sense, this incredible-- some might see as power. I didn't see it that way. I saw it as a responsibility and a privilege that he would trust me.

Zarbock: Yes. Oh, yes.

Stamm: And continue to trust me, that I would do what I was called to do.

Zarbock: Had you had anything other than normal or even casual contact with the man?

Stamm: Nothing more than casual. You know, a cruiser is a small ship, 350 sailors. And so I spent, you know, a good part of-- well, when you work with young people, sailors, Marines, everything is a relation, and so I knew that they would trust me if I got to know them. And so I spent a lot of time around as many of them as I could. I often knew their troubles before they came to tell me about them. And so, he probably-- I knew him, and I knew him well enough that we weren't casual. I wasn't anonymous to him. He had seen me in my work, in my daily rounds on the ship. You know, I'd stop to talk to him about casual things, his hometown, you know, what he did, what his favorite things were to do, just the things in order to build a relationship that I would do with anyone.

Zarbock: Two more, and they are final, questions. Again, off-camera, I told you I was gonna ask you this. Scanning across your entire life, educational background, familial background, positive and less-than-positive experiences in the military and in non-military life, your religious beliefs and your spiritual beliefs, what sort of credo have you developed for yourself? What does Chaplain-- what does Chaplain Stamm amount to?

Stamm: This is what Chaplain Stamm amounts to. You know, when I was-- and this has been formulated in my life by many experiences, and I guess if you looked at all this entire interview, you might see this tied together. And that is what holds me together as to who I am, and that is that I am a servant of Christ, and keeping the theology of the cross before me. The theology of the cross is, Lutherans claim this. But I find it particularly helpful in my day-to-day ministry. You know, sometimes when we heard about this in Chaplain School, you know, we say, "Which side of the collar do chaplains live by?" You know, you have your rank and you have your cross. And Lutherans, we talk about law and gospel, that as clergy we have a responsibility of preaching the law, the Ten Commandments, how our sin convicts us, and how much we need God, how much we need Christ. And the gospel is the Good News, that despite any effort on our part, we cannot accomplish any amount of earned grace or forgiveness. It comes to us as a gift, and that gift comes to us with Christ's death and sacrifice on the cross. And so, to some sense, I can feel that this particular theology which I have adopted as my own, helps me, because there is a little bit of law, humility. You know, I am a Naval officer, but I am a chaplain. Sometimes, I need to preach a little more law and be a little more of a Naval officer, but never at losing the most important fact: that I am a chaplain. And there are sometimes I need law, unfortunately. Because we have plenty of other people who are good Naval officers who aren't chaplains, I can be more of the chaplain, which is the gospel. I can claim the Good News.

Many chaplains either err on the side of being too much on their rank side of the collar, or too much on the gospel side of the collar, that they lose part-- they lose one or the other. And I find that in this theology, it's particularly helpful as a Navy chaplain. But I also want to touch on the theology of the cross, that it is only by God becoming absolutely weak, God taking the form of a slave. It isn't through absolute power, the absolute weakness, that God does His greatest work. And, and that God refuses to allow death to have a victory, that He is the one who controlled everything from the beginning, from the first breath that we take, to the last beat of our life, that He is the one who is our Lord and leads us, who owns us, who saves us. So this theology of the cross, I think, is also helpful to me as a chaplain, and I have incorporated that into my personal theology.

So where does this rubber hit the road when it comes to be being a chaplain? When it comes to sticking to your convictions, when the forces around you are trying to drive you to do other, you know that your Lord died for you, alone on the cross, and that you are never alone. You know that you are right and doing the right thing. In times of whenever we would open transfer cases in the mortuary, and I would see the sadness of a young life snuffed out, and I would sometimes think about my own children, how I would hold my son and my daughter, and how we would care for this young child, you know, who trusts in us completely, who we love so completely. And we would so much take this, care for this child, grow up to formulate this child's life to adulthood, and to think that some parent like myself has raised this child, and just to imagine the unimaginable grief that they are not yet even going through because they don't know that their son or daughter is dead. One could be paralyzed by that, absolutely paralyzed. One could lose oneself in that grief.

But for me, keeping that theology of the cross in front of me reminded me of two things. One, who I am, what I am about, that I am sitting here to proclaim, that in spite of all of the powers of evil, that death will not have victory over us, and also to pray for those families at home. I would remember them in prayers, having that theology that Christ died for us. He became weak for us. That helped me through that ministry. And I think also helps in the terms of mental health. When you forget who you are and become lost in grief, then you lose a lot of mental health in the process. And that was a huge part of it. You know, when I was caring for those Marines or sailors in the mortuary, I'd often think of, you know, of Christ's body being taken down from the cross. And I would think of those who cared for Jesus' own body, and how, if we are to be like Christ, how we were caring for the bodies of those who might be sailors. And how, you know, I mentioned Victor Villafane before. Victor was once caring for the remains of a young man who was younger than he was, and he was starting to break down when he was doing this. And he turned to me, and he said, "Chaplain, I can't do this anymore." He said, "All I do is put my hands on death, every day." He said, "I just can't do it anymore." So I took Victor aside and sat him down. And I said, "We are just going to take a break." And once just a few minutes had passed, I said, "You know, Victor, what were you doing over there when it got to be too much to you?" He says, "Oh, I was putting a young man's shower shoes in a bag."

Zarbock: "I was" what?

Stamm: Putting a young man's shower shoes, his shower sandals. And I said, "You know, whenever his family receives his personal effects, they will see that even his shower shoes-- no item is too small that you didn't take care of it. And they will find a little bit of comfort to know that he was taken care of. And so, you indirectly, are in a small way, reducing their grief for those families, in just a small way. And if you can reduce just a little bit of their grief, you are doing wonderful work." And he came back. He went back to work, and the next day he thanked me. And, you know, what's the insight for that? It is-- did I do something or say something that another chaplain couldn't say? It is just speaking the words we are called to speak at the right time. My theology, the theology of the cross, teaches me, leads me, to become that Good News in words and actions.

Zarbock: And my final question is-- we only have a couple more minutes on the tape. What would you like to say in farewell?

Stamm: Well, you mentioned this is in posterity, so it's hard to-- you know, you sit here and you think about your children as adults, or your grandchildren, your great-grandchildren, when you're deceased, are learning something about you. I hope they would know-- my children right now, Christopher, Rebecca, and Matthew-- that they would know how much I love them, how much Mary Ellen and I both love them, how much I hope that they grow up to be honorable, wonderful adults and human beings, that they would see something beyond making money, but serving God and other people. And that would make me the most happy.

Zarbock: Thank you, Chaplain.

Stamm: Thanks.

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