Lt. j.g. Asif Balbale: I'm from India. I was born and raised in Kuwait. When Saddam's troops marched into Kuwait, we were airlifted to Mumbai, India. When the American ground offensive started, I never imagined that years down the road I would be part of the American Armed Forces.
I came to the United States on the 14th of August 2000. There was no doubt in my mind that I was a part of this nation. But how do I contribute to this nation as a Muslim? So I decided, well, I will join the U.S. Navy and see where life takes me.
Being a chaplain was never on my radar. I had accidentally emailed a chaplain corps recruiter asking about officer programs. I don't know how I got his email address, but I guess God chooses your destiny, so to speak. And he said, "Well, I recruit chaplains. I don't recruit general officers." Something kept pushing me to go back, exchanging emails, asking, "Tell me more about your program."
And he said, "You have to go to school. You have to get a master's in theology, and it's going to take you four years." And I clearly remember I told him, "Sir, I'm not going back to school for four years. I just finished my bachelor's."
By the time we came home from the deployment, I had already made up my mind; this is what I was going to do in life. The greatness of our nation lies in our people, the diversity of our people, I would say. It's not you being Muslim. It's not you being Christian. It's that unique capability of all of us to come together and fight as one united force.
We do operations in nations which are predominantly Muslim. So it is a learning opportunity for people. With the current complex, a part of our mission is winning the hearts and minds of people, and if you don't know about the culture that you're engaged with, it would be difficult for us to accomplish that part of our mission. Ministry of presence is important to me. It means being around with the Marines and the Sailors, going out with them when they go out to the field. You stop by. You check on their well-being. You talk to them. It's not necessarily a conversation about faith, but just well-being in general: "How are you doing? How is your day? How is the deployment going?" That's what we mean by ministry of presence, being present in the good and the bad with the Marines and the Sailors.
As a former refugee of war, there's no victory in war for me, but sometimes war becomes a necessary evil, and it is important for not only me as a Muslim to understand, but for everybody out there in the Armed Forces to understand that we are not at war with Islam, and we are not at war with Muslims. There is no place on this planet where you can serve God, country and religion all at the same time. It's a good, rewarding experience, the unique opportunity to be able to serve in that capacity, to be able to serve with people of different faith groups and different ethnic origins. It's an opportunity for them to learn about my faith, and it gives me an opportunity to learn about them as a human being. If I'm going to serve them as a chaplain, I have to be able to connect with them.
My name is Asif Iqbal Balbale, lieutenant junior grade, and I am a Navy chaplain.