Beautiful blue and green ocean waves gently crash on the sand, clear skies and a bright sun warm the air, beautiful cliffs and rock formations line the shore, large iguanas wander around like dogs … sounds like a dream vacation spot, but in reality it is a small bay in Cuba that is home to nearly 8,000 United States military personnel. Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is divided into two sections: a Navy base that conducts naval operations and a Joint Task Force that conducts safe, humane, legal and transparent care and custody of detainees, including those convicted by military commission. It is in the Joint Task Force that Commander Gary Bennett, JTF Command Chaplain, has lived and worked for the past nine months.
Born to a military father who served in the Vietnam War and having lived on a naval station in the high desert of Southern California for most of his young life, Bennett is no stranger to the honor and demands of serving in the United States military. Yet despite the military background of his father, Bennett felt called into full-time ministry. In preparation for ministry, he chose to attend Arizona State University and now holds three master’s degrees and a doctorate from Chapman University, the Naval War College, and Fuller Theological Seminary. During this time, Bennett served as an ordained Baptist pastor at a number of churches in Arizona and California as an ordained Baptist pastor. While working as a missionary on the Marshall Islands for a year, Bennett met a Navy chaplain who recommended that he consider becoming a chaplain. It was at this point that Bennett began seriously considering and praying about his possible future in the military.
At the nudging of the Holy Spirit, Bennett became a Navy reserve chaplain. This decision changed Bennett’s life forever. In the past twenty-eight years as a Navy reservist, Bennett has been activated twice. During these times of activation, Bennett served as a Navy chaplain in Korea, Italy, Iraq, and, now, in Cuba. At one point during his service as a reservist, Bennett and his wife, Susan, began praying specifically that God would use him in his role as a Navy chaplain, and that he would be open to whatever and wherever God sent him.
Shortly after surrendering to this prayer, Bennett was assigned to Joint Task Force in Guantanamo Bay, U.S. Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as the JTF Command Chaplain. In this role, Bennett oversees and leads all of the chaplains representing over ten different Christian denominations. He is responsible for ensuring the representation and practice of faith for all service men and women in accordance with military guidelines and first amendment rights for faith and religion.
According to Bennett, one of his greatest and most challenging responsibilities is to provide spiritual guidance and support to the service men and women in Cuba, including prison guards, JAG, military psychologists and doctors, enlisted and officers, and all other levels and areas of the military. These men and women experience emotional and spiritual challenges while serving in this combat zone. In order to facilitate spiritual growth and meet the spiritual needs of the service men and women, Chaplain Bennett conducts and oversees several church services, multiple Bible studies, counseling, worship band, morale activities, and other holiday worship services. Bennett is continuously investing in and developing other chaplains.
Trinity church has played a significant role in Commander Bennett’s ministry as a chaplain throughout the years. Commander Bennett and his wife consider Trinity their home church and have been active members for many years. In addition to providing endless prayers and support for Gary & Susan, Trinity members have partnered with Commander Bennett in some unique ways. For example, women in Susan’s Monday night bible study group have faithfully provided spiritual based books and newspapers for a library Chaplain Bennett created and has made available to service men and women. Also, Worship Pastor, Bill Born, has faithfully partnered each week with Bennett by sending him the worship songs that the Trinity worship team will be leading. Bennett then shares this information with the worship team in Cuba.
When Chaplain Bennett is not on active duty, he serves as a public school teacher at Coronado High School in the West Covina School District. In this role, he works with students who are at the end of their educational opportunities and written off by many as hopeless. Bennett finds working with these students to be extremely rewarding and believes he is making just as much of a difference with them as he is when he is serving in the role of a Chaplain in Guantanamo Bay. Your continuous prayers for Chaplain Bennett and the work the Lord is doing at Guantanamo Bay are very much coveted and appreciated. Glory be to God.
By Laura Whitehurst