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CAMP LEJEUNE, North Carolina—Jerry D. Durham loved teaching the Lord to young people and he loved his country. He served a decade in ministry on high school and college campuses after leaving the United States Marine Corps Reserves.
“I felt called to the ministry, but I also felt called to the Navy,” recalls Durham, who grew up in an Assemblies of God home. One day, when he saw a military chaplain in action, he realized in Durham that he could fulfill his vocation and ministry desires in the same role.
But his plan nearly derailed in 1996. Shortly after marrying Kim Goodger, Durham underwent radial keratotomy eye surgery, then a common practice to correct myopia before the advent of laser correction.
The Navy then informed Durham that, because a scalpel had been used in the operation, he would be permanently disqualified from full-time military service. The revelation floored the optimistic and affable Durham.
“I cried being disqualified,” recalls Durham, who grew up in Mansfield, Missouri. “I felt God’s call so strong.”
Shortly thereafter, however, the Army National Guard conducted a pilot program that granted a waiver to potential troops who had had the eye surgery. The Navy followed suit and Durham entered the Navy Chaplain Candidate Program in 2002, transitioning to active duty in 2004 as an approved AG chaplain. Since then, he and Kim – who have four adult children – have lived in seven duty stations.
Durham, 53, is a rarity to have served in all four maritime services: Navy, Coast Guard, Marines and Merchant Navy. He deployed to Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, assisted in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in Haiti, and served as command chaplain for the United States Merchant Marine Academy. in Kings Point, New York.
Since late 2021, he has served as assistant division chaplain for the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, his second stint at that facility along the North Carolina coast.
In its largely administrative mission, Durham has a direct role in supervising and training 19 religious ministry teams at the division, including three regimental chaplains and 16 battalion chaplains. There are also 39 religious program specialists he deals with, including those from the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant traditions. Overall, there are 12,000 personnel in the 2nd Marine Division, which is the ground combat element of II Marine Expeditionary Force – responsible for amphibious assaults and sustained operations.
“My role is to help chaplains perform excellent religious ministry in the field and in combat,” says Durham, who holds a master’s degree in theology from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri. “The big focus is how spiritual preparation fuels the overall tenacity of a Marine or Sailor.”
Over the past two years, Durham has tried to help others deal with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
“COVID-19 has had an impact on the general well-being of our Marines and Sailors,” says Durham, an ordained GA minister since 2003. “Many are struggling with the isolation that COVID has brought.”
Durham’s supervisor, Division Chaplain David M. Todd, 58, supports Durham’s ministry.
“Jerry is just a lovely human being who brings an appreciative smile when he walks into a room,” says Todd, endorsed by the Presbyterian Church in America. “There can be a lot of frustrations and challenges caused by unforeseen events, but he brings a human element to the situation. It is really a chaplain who follows me.