Serving as a Lay Leader Aboard an Aircraft Carrier
LCDR (Sel) Brendan Good, MSC, USN
I reported to USS JOHN C. STENNIS (CVN 74), a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, in Bremerton, WA during the spring of 2015 and served 30 months as the Medical Administrative Officer.
My main duties were to coordinate the medical evacuation of wounded, ill, and injured sailors, and maintaining our life-saving stock of supplies. To better perform my duties, I made it a point to introduce myself to personnel in several key departments, including Supply, Navigation, Operations, and Command Religious Ministries (CRM). The first three departments directly impacted my ability to execute the mission. However, the main goal of the ship’s medical was to treat sailors’ physical and mental conditions in order to return them to duty. CRM’s goals overlapped as they provided emotional support and guidance to aid sailors in their job performance by building resilience and creating a familiar environment where they could refresh their spirit.
I was quickly welcomed by the team of three chaplains stationed on board the ship. After a short survey to gauge my religious needs, I was asked if I would be willing to serve as a Lay Leader for the Jewish community on the ship. I was told there was a storage room filled with Judaica and religious items, but that it had been many years since anyone had served in the Lay Leader role and significant effort would be required to restart any type of services. I accepted the chaplains’ challenge and was eager to begin, despite having not led a service since I was active in the University of Oregon’s Hillel community almost 10 years prior.
CVN 74 began its pre-deployment workup cycle shortly after I reported onboard and I found myself at sea for the majority of the next six months. I used this time to take stock of my supplies, establish a role for myself within CRM, and search for Jewish sailors elsewhere on the ship. The previously mentioned storage room contained a trove of items, including Pesach supplies, yahrzeit candles, kippahs, a set of unused tefillin, a dusty shofar, several dozen siddurim, many Shabbat related items, and a large quantity of kosher Meals Ready to Eat (MREs). Seeing several shortfalls, I began outreach to Jewish Navy chaplains and several organizations, including Aleph Institute, for support during the upcoming deployment. Theconnectionsmadewereinvaluable during my time as the Lay Leader as I was provided kosher food, holiday-specific items, and an immediate support network.
Despite squaring away the supplies, establishing connections with the various chaplains, and publicizing a schedule for services, I struggled to locate other Jewish sailors. I planned to start modestly by offering a 30-minute combined Mincha and Kabbalat Shabbat but did not have a single attendee for the first three weeks. Undeterred, I focused on outreach and my fourth Shabbat service netted three sailors. We could never reach a minyan despite attendance growing slowly. However, I was confident that we would eventually be able to draw larger crowds.
Indeed, deployment drove a greater turnout, and Jewish sailors would gather in the chapel for my 30-minute service and to share funny stories about their respective youth group experiences or home town synagogues. For a half hour we were not living and working on a 100,000 ton floating airport with more than 5,000 other sailors; we were in a synagogue and had created a space where we could enjoy the gift of Shabbat. In addition to Shabbat, I organized a seder with 25 sailors in attendance, complete with charoset I had made in the ship’s galley and matzah delivered from Aleph Institute and elsewhere. During our end-of- deployment Tiger Cruise, a four-day underway from Hawaii to San Diego with more than 1,000 friends and family members of the ship’s personnel on board, I organized a large Shabbat service followed by an oneg. More than 40 sailors and family members attended, requiring additional seating and leading the Chaplains to remark that it was the largest lay led service they had seen onboard the ship.
I transferred from CVN 74 in the fall of 2017 to a shore command in Portsmouth, VA, but still retained some of my Lay Leader duties. My role is no longer operational; instead I support units in the local fleet concentration area by conducting site visits for pre-deployment vessels and encourage Christian Navy Chaplains to actively support their Jewish sailors. I also provide chaplains with periodic reminders that the Navy supply system provides the capability to order a wide array of Jewish items, to include siddurim, kippot, and kosher MREs. It is my continued hope that Chaplains and Lay Leaders will provide meaningful Jewish experiences in the operational environment to support sailors personally and professionally. I am honored to have been part of the Jewish experience while at sea. It was a grounding and inspirational aspect of my duties on board the USS John C. Stennis.
A native of Talent, Oregon, Lieutenant Commander (Select) Brendan H. Good is the Naval Medical Forces Atlantic Regional Health Facility Planner & Project Officer. He is an active duty Medical Service Corps officer who has previously served as the Medical Administrative Officer onboard USS John C. Stennis(CVN 74), completing a Western Pacific deployment. Prior to that, he was the Patient Administration Department Head at Naval Health Clinic Quantico,VA. HehasaBachelorof Arts degree in History from the University of Oregon, and earned his Master of Public Administration: Health Administration from the Mark O. Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University. LT Good is married to the former Shoshana McClellan, a teacher, and they have one daughter, Meira.
Originally printed in the Chanukah 2021 issue of the Jewish American Warrior.