CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti –
The Chapel of Enduring Freedom on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti (CLDJ), welcomed chaplain, U.S. Navy Reserve Lt. Richard Shang, a Reserve Sailor from San Jose, California.
On his first deployment as a member of the Navy Reserve, Lt. Shang wanted all residents of CLDJ, regardless of their religious beliefs, to know the chapel is open to them.
“My purpose here is to provide spiritual and emotional support, as well as the religious services,” said Shang. “It is across the spectrum. Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Seventh-day Adventist, Jehovah’s Witness, or any other denomination, if a Sailor or any other service member has needs, we will provide it ourselves, or we will help to find a connection and resources for this particular individual.”
Chaplain services are not only for religious purposes. Chaplains also provide free and confidential counseling. The Navy puts a large emphasis on mental health. It is important that service members are able to have an outlet to reduce their levels of stress and remain mission-ready emotionally as well as physically.
“Even though we are here where we have a big family,” said Shang. “We still have lots of things going on, whether it is a job back in the States, or our family members, we probably face some difficulties or challenges from time to time. We also do a lot of counseling. The counseling is one-hundred percent confidential. Everyone is welcome, and they don’t have to be afraid that anything that they said will go outside the walls.”
May is recognized as Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage month. Lt. Shang feels it is an important time to reflect on the contributions they have made on the history of the U.S.
“It is very important to raise awareness of different heritages in this great land of ours,” said Shang. “Many people don’t know that in the 19th century a lot of Chinese workers came to the United States to build up the railroads, and it was a great undertaking. During World War II, there were second and third generation Japanese that fought in Italy and the European Theater, and they had done a tremendous job. One of our destroyers, the Chung-Hoon was named after a Chinese descended captain who served during World War II in the Pacific Theater. It is an important part of history, but not many people know about that.”
Shang himself is an immigrant from Taiwan. His own experiences inspired his journey to join the U.S. Navy.
“Years back, Taiwan had a policy that all healthy males had to serve two years mandatory service in the military branches,” said Shang. “I was selected to be an army soldier, and I was stationed on a small island called Kinmen. The island is only several kilometers from the coast of China, and during our first free presidential election in 1996, the Chinese government launched a test missile on the northern and southern sides of the Taiwan Strait trying to intimidate us to stop us from holding this free election. They were not fond of the idea at all. During those couple of weeks, I was stationed on the island, and things got very, very tense. There were swarms of boats off the coast. Helicopters would conduct their air exercises overhead. I felt for the first time that war was so close.
I would stay in a foxhole pretty much all day. It felt like at any moment, anything could happen. That intensity was a really challenging time for me.”
In response to what is now known as the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis, the U.S. government staged the largest display of military power projection in Asia since the Vietnam War.
“During the crisis, the U.S. sent two carrier strike groups,” said Shang. “That is a stance that the United States made. The clear message was sent to the Chinese government, and eventually they backed down. Because of that, because the 7th Fleet protected Taiwan, I think all those memories and my personal story made me decide to join the Navy. I truly believe that our military presence is a great force of stability across the world. We are literally doing the world peace-keeping project. I literally feel that is true, because that is what I experienced.”
Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti serves as an expeditionary base for U.S. military forces providing support to ships, aircraft, and personnel that ensure security and stability throughout Europe, Africa and Southwest Asia. The Department of Defense supports our African partners with capacity building, strengthening defense institutions, and supporting a whole-of government approach in the region so diplomatic and developmental solutions can take root.