Chaplain Paul A. Hyder, Lieutenant, Chaplain Corps, USN, doesn’t need a pulpit or a church to preach God’s word to his congregation of sailors and Marines. A muddy hill and open ears will do just fine.
Proud of his time as a young enlisted Marine, Hyder said, “One of the things I enjoyed about being a Marine is that we roughed it. That’s going out in the woods and the mud, and that’s exactly what God was calling me to do. I felt like I was good at bringing the gospel to an expeditionary situation; it was something I was wired to do.”
Hyder both holds to his roots as a Marine and embraces his new role as a Navy officer and chaplain. The Marine Corps Mustang Association (MCMA) recently recognized his service and spirit and named him as an honorary member.
The term Mustang has long been a nickname for Marines and sailors who have advanced through the ranks from enlisted to officer. Chaplain Hyder was not able to qualify as an association member, however, because he transitioned to the officer side through the Navy.
MCMA board member Major Joe Featherston, USMC (Ret) described Chaplain Hyder as “remarkable” and as an exemplary Mustang officer. He presented Hyder with the honorary Mustang Association certificate during a ceremony Aug. 25 at The Clubs at Quantico aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., coinciding with a reunion of the Officer Candidates School 7th Warrant Officer class and The Basic School class of 1966.
Hyder is the association’s fifth honorary member, with predecessors including two Marine Commandants, General Alfred M. Gray and Gen Carl E. Mundy Jr.; a Medal of Honor Marine, Colonel Wesley L. “Wes” Fox; and a Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Jeremy Boorda, USN.
“I was very surprised and honored and humbled,” Hyder said of the recognition. “I think it has made me appreciate my prior service in a way that’s deeper and richer. I gratefully accept the award on behalf of all my fellow Marines who are now chaplains serving in the Navy.”
Road to Seminary
A Texas native, Hyder enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1988 fresh from high school. He worked in the motor pool for about two years at MCB Camp Pendleton, Calif., and one year at Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan.
Not the best student in his teenage years, Hyder said his experience in the Corps taught him discipline and helped him grow in his faith.
“The Marine Corps is the stick that God hit me over the head with to make me teachable, to get me to a point where [God] was able to get a hold of me in a way that I probably wouldn’t have [been] able to hear without the Marine Corps squaring me away,” Hyder said.
Hyder was honorably discharged as a corporal in 1992 and later earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology from Dallas Baptist University. He then spent seven years as a prison guard in Texas. It was during that time he married his wife, Aprile, and the two became heavily involved in their church.
But Hyder felt God was calling him to serve as a missionary in Africa, so in 2000, he and Aprile sold off most of their belongings and moved to Wake Forest, N.C., so he could attend Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. By then the couple had three daughters: twins Kaye and Maddy, now 15 years old; and Ally, now 12 years old.
But during his four-year stay at the seminary, Hyder realized his heart was set on chaplaincy instead of missionary work. He said he still needs a mission mindset because a chaplain must connect with a diverse group of military personnel.
“In a church, you’re surrounded by people who agree with you and you’re preaching to the choir so to speak,” Hyder said. “But as a chaplain, not everybody you run into is on board with what you believe, and you need to be able to operate in that environment. You can imagine there’s some tension there.”
“Trial by Fire”
To qualify as a Navy chaplain, each candidate must earn a master’s degree in religious studies, be endorsed by a religious group, be eligible for a Navy officer’s commission, and have at least two years of professional experience.
Hyder spent his two years as the director of religious education at Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, Texas. He was a civilian contractor working with two Navy chaplains at the base chapel. In 2006, Hyder was fully endorsed by The North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and reported to active duty.
The transition from Marine to chaplain was relatively smooth, Hyder said, because he was a civilian for 14 years in between those two titles. Yet sometimes he does have to remind himself of his new role when old Marine instincts kick in.
“I have to remember that I don’t need to comment on their haircut or be a drill instructor,” Hyder said. “They don’t need another Marine yelling at them; they need a chaplain listening to them.”
Hyder spent his first three years in the Navy as the chaplain for a squadron of minesweepers at Naval Station Ingleside, Texas, and during that time deployed to Camp Bucca, Iraq.
Hyder said his 10-month tour was “trial by fire” as a chaplain, and it challenged him to grow in his leadership. His flock of 400 sailors guarded suspected terrorists in detainment on the largely Army base.
Deployments are chock-full of stressful situations, Hyder said, and it’s essential those troops have the freedom and access to practice their religion for their emotional and spiritual needs.
“We’re more than just flesh and blood,” Hyder said.
But it’s often during those hard times that breakthroughs are made, he said. When many of those deployed troops struggled with killing other humans, Hyder relied on Romans, Chapter 13, to show the Bible’s explanation of using lethal force in the name of a government.
“A lot of Marines think they have to check their faith at the door,” Hyder said. “They say, ‘I can’t be a good Christian and use deadly force.’ Your faith is not mutually exclusive to being a good warrior.”
A Marine at Heart
Hyder and his family moved to MCB Quantico in 2009. He served as the chaplain for The Basic School the first year, then as the chaplain for Headquarters and Service Battalion his second year and served his third year as the chaplain for the U.S. Marine Memorial Chapel. He preached the traditional Protestant service at the chapel each Sunday.
Commander Roger Vanderwerken, USN is the deputy command chaplain and describes Hyder as successful at the balancing act of being a chaplain.
“He walks in both worlds quite well—that of the officer and the clergyman,” Vanderwerken said. “It’s the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man.”
Hyder directly worked with four religious program (RP) specialists, but as the division officer, Hyder also oversaw all RPs at Quantico.
Religious Program Specialist Second Class (RP2) Jeff Raynor said Hyder’s enlisted experience is apparent in how he interacts with his juniors.
“Some officers get respect by what they wear on their collar,” Raynor said. “But [Chaplain Hyder] has a better understanding of how it is on the enlisted side. He never talks down to us and always goes to bat for us.”
Hyder and his family left Quantico this past October and now are stationed at Naval Station San Diego. He is the command chaplain and a plankholder for USS Somerset (LPD-25). The ship is the third in a series dedicated to 9/11, including USS Arlington (LPD-24) and USS New York (LPD-21). Hyder said he’s pleased to be attached to the ship and to be part of the inaugural crew.
RP3 Alex Farmer worked with Hyder at the Quantico chapel and said the chaplain has been missed. Farmer said he respects Hyder because he always kept his office door open and listened to the perspectives of the enlisted Marines and sailors.
“Mustangs make excellent officers,” Farmer said. “They understand what it’s like to spend four hours straight swabbing the deck. A Marine Corps officer leads from the front.”
Hyder may be a Navy chaplain, Farmer said, but he still has the heart of a Marine.
“He is still a Marine,” Farmer said. “He didn’t put on a new collar device and forget what he had worked to become. He remembers what it’s like to get dirty, and I’m lucky to have [had] him. I can say that he is my leader, not just placed higher in the command.”
Editor’s note: Roxanne Baker is the writer and media coordinator for MCA&F. A Marine wife, she is an experienced multimedia journalist with hundreds of published works.