NORFOLK, Va. – National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS) Chaplain CAPT Mark Winward recently gave the invocation and benediction during the decommissioning ceremony for the USS San Jacinto in Norfolk, Virginia — a full circle moment, as he was one of the first sailors to serve on the vessel in 1987.
“That was the beginning of my career,” Winward said, smiling before describing his experience at the ceremony as “coming to closure.”
With 37 years in the Navy, Winward said he is the San Jacinto’s last active duty “plank owner” — or original commissioning crew member. When he learned the Aegis-equipped guided missile cruiser would be decommissioned, he asked if a chaplain was needed for the special event and offered his services.
“Having been a member of the commissioning crew, and the last active duty crew member, I wanted to give the invocation and have the last word,” said Winward.
For Winward, who has a self-described “pathological love for big gray boats,” the decommissioning was bittersweet. While the event allowed him to reconnect with people he hadn’t seen in years, he said it was difficult watching a ship once full of activity become lifeless as crews in each department ceremoniously departed the ship.
“If you’re a sailor, ships are something you associate with being alive,” Winward said. “When you see a ship that’s completely empty, it’s creepy because ships are living things.”
Winward said new crews would breathe life into a ship by running on board, powering up the radar, and safely firing rounds with the ship’s artillery — setting the stage for bonds that last a lifetime.
“Shipboard life is hard,” said Winward. “When you have shared suffering, it tends to draw people together.”
The Ticonderoga-class San Jacinto spent 35 years protecting carriers from missile attacks, winning major awards along the way. Its last deployment was in December 2021 to the Mediterranean Sea as part of the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group (HST CSG). During that time, San Jacinto made seven port calls to five countries. The HST CSG worked with many NATO ships during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In his invocation, Winward gave an overview of the San Jacinto’s deployment history. He explained how the ship was active across the Middle East and Balkans with the “opening shots” of Operation Desert Storm, enforcing no-fly zones over Bosnia-Herzegovina during Operation Iraqi Freedom Tomahawk strikes and anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.
“From operations throughout the globe to record-setting days at sea,” Winward said, “San Jacinto has etched her name in history and assured our great Nation that victory is certain.”
Winward called it a privilege to be part of the San Jacinto’s decommissioning, with the final words in his benediction seeming to parallel to his own life as he prepares to conclude his professional career.
“We thank you that this ship’s course is run,” Winward said. “Her colors stuck, her logbook done. And as we each go on our way, may all who served here be blessed, we pray. Amen.”
Looking toward his retirement next year, Winward discussed how his naval experiences equipped him for the Agency.
“My time aboard San Jacinto absolutely prepared me for chaplaincy and ultimately ministry at NSA/CSS,” Winward said. “I won’t forget how the chaplain supported me and what I expected of them. Consequently, I try very hard to be that person.”
Winward added that he thinks he makes a better chaplain than ship’s officer.
“I think God called me to be a chaplain, and you tend to be good at what you’re called to do.”
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