CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan --
A young James C. Ragain found himself face to face with tragedy in his seventh-grade year. His father, a Navy dentist, had moved his family to Parris Island, S.C. where Ragain recalled his first contact with military chaplains that would forever change his life.
“One afternoon a couple buddies and I went to a local swimming pool and one of my friends drowned,” Ragain said. “The whole neighborhood came out to console the family. I remember the chaplains being out there to support the boy’s family. That was enough to really make a lasting impact on a young boy like me.”
After graduating from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, with a degree in social studies education Ragain became a high school teacher.
But two years later, he still felt a call to serve the military and to serve God. So the Knoxville, Tenn., native decided to take part in the Navy’s chaplain candidate program.
“I became a chaplain candidate in 2003, and then went on to seminary where I worked on my Master of Divinity studies in Chicago,” said Ragain, who currently serves in the U.S. Navy’s chaplain corps as a lieutenant.
Ragain joined the active duty ranks in 2009, arriving at his first duty station at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., and in 2011 deployed to Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 40 as the squadron’s chaplain.
“What never changes is that you are facilitating a method for someone to get their religious needs, you’re caring for all the people, you’re doing counseling, advising the command and doing workspace visits,” said Ragain when comparing being a chaplain in garrison and on deployment.
“There is definitely a difference in the nature of the things we talk about in counseling, such as being separated from loved ones,” said Ragain, whose wife Michelle lives in New Bern, N.C., working both as a personal trainer and as a mother to the couple’s three children – including twin 3-year-old daughters. “The Marines are away from their families, just like I am, so I am able to counsel them and offer them first-hand guidance.”
Ragain provides several religious services every week and also works with his squadron’s leadership to work with Marines who may be facing difficulties.
“In addition to the regular services out here we are also doing suicide intervention training,” said Ragain. “It’s a week-long training program we do with leaders to help with anyone who may be having suicidal ideations.”
“I have had a couple of incidences in which I had to talk to Marines who were having troubling thoughts,” he said. “Generally, we would talk for a while and then I work with them to get the next level of help that they need.”
Ragain’s efforts have proved valuable to his command, and squadron leaders said the chaplain’s well-known sense of humor and approachability are ideal for reaching Marines of all ranks.
“He’s probably the greatest secret weapon I have here in my squadron,” said Lt. Col. Clarence Harper, the MALS-40 commanding officer. “The way he goes about building religious programs within the squadron is exceptional. He’s just a tremendous help. I love that guy like a brother.”
1st Lt. Joseph W. Steen, the logistics officer for MALS-40 said he goes to Wednesday night services regularly to continue his spiritual education. He said since he met Ragain, they have become close friends.
“He’s one of the best chaplains I’ve ever met,” said Steen. “He is appreciated and very respected in this squadron. We talk about three times a week and I can honestly say that we have a deep sense of friendship.”
Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason Dockter serves as a religious programs specialist for MALS-40 and works side-by-side with Ragain.
“Chaplain Ragain has been great to work for,” said Dockter. “I can work with him on a professional level, but I can also connect with him on a personal level and I think that helps us develop as a team when we meet with Marines and interact with them.”
Since he’s been working with Ragain, Dockter has been in a prime position to witness the positive influence Ragain has made on the squadron.
“I definitely see the impact he makes,” said Dockter. “It’s been apparent in our Bible studies. When we first got here the Bible studies started off very small and since then, they have grown exponentially. I think that is a testament to the kind of person that Chaplain Ragain is and how he’s able to deliver the word of God.”
Although Ragain is known as a fun and approachable person, he takes his ministry very seriously.
“I think the best thing that a chaplain can offer service members in a deployed environment is a representation of who God is,” said Ragain. “Since we’re strictly noncombatants and are not allowed to carry weapons we’re set apart and I think people want us to be that representation of God.”
Although he has gained the trust and appreciation of many Marines and Sailors in MALS-40, Ragain’s goals are far from accomplished.
“I want to be obedient to God. Being faithful to him and serving the Marines and Sailors the best I can is the best way I can do that,” Ragain said. “I just take it tour by tour and see where God leads me. I want to continue to grow in leadership, grow in my knowledge of scripture and who God is and how to best be a representative of him in whatever setting I’m in.”