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Navy chaplain says he was emotionally saved by 2 Marines. Now he wants to pay it forward.

Navy Chaplain (Lt.) Robert M. Hess stands in a field in Marjah, Afghanistan, on July 14, 2011.

U.S. MARINE CORPS

By LEE TOLLIVER | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: May 11, 2019

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (Tribune News Service) — The battle scene was more than just a shock for Robert Hess.

The pain and suffering, death, blood and horror overwhelmed him.

Luckily there were others around with more experience.

"I had two Marine captains who had been through extremely bloody campaigns, and they noticed I was struggling," said Hess, a Navy Chaplain who will graduate from Regent University on Saturday with a masters in psychology. "Those two sat me down and talked to me. I'll never forget what they did.

"They basically ripped off these scabs of their own and bled emotionally to help me."

Regent's commencement ceremony will start at 9:15 a.m. at the university's library plaza. It will be the largest graduating class in the school's history, with 807 undergraduate and 1,508 graduate degrees handed out. Author and philanthropist Ken Eldred will be the keynote speaker.

Hess said he won't be able to attend the ceremony because he'll be performing a prayer breakfast before heading to Virginia Beach for the Chancellor's luncheon.

Memories of that day in Afghanistan are still emotional for Hess.

"Their selfless act brought a healing to my brokenness," said the 47-year-old. "That's what chaplains do, help people who are hurting."

Hess, who is stationed in Yorktown and lives in Williamsburg with his wife, decided that a degree in psychology would help him as a chaplain because he would have a better understanding of emotions. He said Regent's online program was about the only way he could have succeeded.

"It's such smart, forward thinking to be that flexible," said the lieutenant commander from Pennsylvania. "I was stationed in Spain and was responsible for four ships and 1,200 sailors and some significant things were going on in our theater. Lybia, Croatia, we were there monitoring things and after 14-hour days on the ship, I'd scrape what little time I could to take my classes. It was really challenging."

Hess' life in the Navy has had plenty of challenges that reinforced his faith. He was in the Navy for four years before joining the reserves, going to college and becoming a pastor first at a rural church and then at a larger one in Philadelphia. He was called back to duty after 9-11 and worked three years in security. But ministering to the military was his calling.

He learned more lessons of how difficult it could be when he was stationed at the Air Force base in Ramstein, Germany, to work in the Third Location Decompression program. There he dealt with military personnel on their way home from combat duty dealing with a wide array of physical and emotional wounds.

"It doesn't matter where you are in life or what you are doing, there's always some level of grief to deal with," said Hess, "and I want to stay in the Navy as long as they'll have me so I can help people deal with it. I experienced what these people are going through on my own, and I got help.

"I know I wouldn't be able to do my job at this level if it weren't for those captains."

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