By Ashley Craig,
Navy Office of Community Outreach

MILLINGTON, Tenn. – Lt. j.g. Robert White, a native of Columbia, recently completed training at the Naval Chaplaincy School to serve as a chaplain for America’s seafaring warfighters.

White graduated from Eau Claire High School in 1984. White earned a bachelor’s degree in 2017 and master’s degrees in 2019 and 2024.

The skills and values needed to succeed in the Navy are similar to those found in Columbia.

“Two lessons I learned from my hometown that have remained with me are that everyone needs compassion and that people in general have more things in common than most are aware until they engage in a conversation,” said White.

White joined the Navy nine years ago.

“I joined the U.S. Navy for three main reasons,” said White. “First, to fulfill a divine calling. Secondly, to contribute to the care of sailors and Marines on the front end to mitigate some of the issues the sea service personnel face, which I’ve seen them suffer and struggle with on the back end as veterans. The third and final reason that I joined the Navy is to help prevent suicides by offering a ministry of presence, empathetic listening without judgment and to inspire hope.”

More than 800 Navy chaplains from more than 100 faith groups, including Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist, serve in the Navy Chaplain Corps. After seven weeks of training at Naval Chaplaincy School and Center at Naval Station Newport, Rhode Island, the chaplains set on their mission to provide support and guidance to sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen at sea and on the shore.

“In conversations about national defense, you hear about great power competition and competition among peers and near-peers,” said Capt. Charles Varsogea, chaplain and commanding officer of the Naval Chaplaincy School. “The people of the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard have no peers. Part of what makes them peerless defenders of the Constitution is their determination to do so with body, mind, and spirit. No nation on earth can replicate the fighting spirit of our sea services. The graduates of our Basic Leadership Course are trained, developed, and inspired to give our seagoing warfighters the strength of spirit necessary to complete their missions with honor.”

Chaplains and religious program specialists (RP) play a critical role in helping the Department of the Navy achieve and maintain a ready force through the delivery of professional religious ministry and compassionate pastoral care. Chaplains and RPs are embedded within commands operating at sea and ashore to ensure 24/7 availability. They provide a source of comfort and refuge that enables service members and their families to practice and grow in their faith and to face personal and professional challenges.

“Navy chaplains encourage their shipmates to connect to the ultimate good and to a community that shares their convictions about what or who that good is,” said Varsogea. “Navy chaplains help people find the value, the meaning, and the purpose of their lives. Navy chaplains support people in their willingness to serve and sacrifice for the greater good.”

In the Basic Leadership Course, Navy chaplains learn to tailor religious ministry to life in the sea services, said Varsogea. They also learn how to facilitate the free exercise of religion for people of faiths other than their own. They learn service-specific ways to care for all people and they learn how and when to render their best military advice.

“The thing that I like best about my ‘job’ is the fact that it enables me to have opportunities to do what I’m clinically trained and naturally inclined to do: provide emotional support, primarily by listening, to all people, religious services to those of in my faith tradition, to facilitate it for others” said White.
White has many opportunities to achieve accomplishments during military service.

“One of my proudest moments was when two chief petty officers asked me to serve as the chaplain for their Navy retirement ceremony and to conduct their marriage vow renewal ceremony on the same day,” said White.

White can take pride in serving America through military service.

“Serving in the Navy means having an opportunity to meet needs and potentially make a positive difference in the lives of an itinerant population of people whose work makes an impact, national and international, on a daily basis,” said White. “I have worked many years in mental health and chaplaincy, most recently as Chief of Chaplains for the U.S. Veterans Health Administration and as a nationally board-certified clinical chaplain. I have learned to work effectively in a pluralistic setting and am able to go anywhere in the world and care well for others, regardless of differences. My diverse and vast life experiences, (including grief, loss and trauma, as well as great achievement and success) enable me to relate to most individuals I encounter, whether the person is in crisis or celebration mode.”