Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany has gone some time without a full-time chaplain. One came on board earlier this year, and he is not afraid of getting his hands dirty.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael Matson came to the base chaplain post at MCLB Albany in July. His goal is to build relationships on both sides of the fence line to make sure active-duty service members in his charge are able to maintain their own connections.
Born and raised within the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, Matson received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Augsburg University in 2006. He received a call to ministry and graduated from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in 2012, and is now ordained by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
“I was a business major, but heavily involved in campus ministry,” he said. “It planted the seeds to continue into ministry.”
Matson served seven years in the parish and campus ministry. He served two parishes in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the first as an associate pastor at Richfield Lutheran Church and the second as sole pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church. Matson also served during this time in Augsburg University’s campus ministry department as chaplain to student athletes and with the Minneapolis Police Department as a chaplain in the First Precinct.
He eventually felt led to specialized ministry. This took him to Naval Chaplaincy School at Naval Station Newport in Rhode Island.
“I wanted to serve those who serve. I wanted to be a chaplain of Marines,” the lieutenant commander said.
While all service members are valuable, there is something different Matson sees in Marines.
“They have a sense of purpose and sacrifice,” he said. “I don’t know of a stronger sense of identity than Marines. They are a special group. I feel called to serve them, and it is a dream come true.”
Matson was selected to the U.S. Navy Reserve in 2014 and served on active-duty training orders at Marine Corps Special Operations Command, Marine Raider Training Center from 2018 to 2019. He entered into the active component in July 2019, reporting to USS Gerald R. Ford the following month as the principal assistant for the command’s religious ministries department.
Coming to Albany has given Matson a feel for what a rural setting is like.
“MCLB Albany is a unique community in that it has a smaller Marine footprint,” he said. “It is an isolated area off the coast. Not a huge military population.”
Matson has been conducting weekly services in the base’s chapel. He has gone the extra mile to make connections with his civilian counterparts so those he serves are able to do the same.
The outcomes range from ministry opportunities outside the fence line, to chances for fellowship to finding a place for service members to go when such connections at the base are not practical to tap into.
“I have made contacts out in town. I am getting to know the clergy out in town,” the chaplain said. “I want to get Marines involved in the faith community outside of the base to help them grow.”
“I encourage them to get out there.”
There is something to be said of the connection between the military and non-military populations in southwest Georgia. Both have a mutual interest in seeing the Marines in Albany succeed.
“There is a sense of community because they are Marines and they are local,” the chaplain said. “There is an honest commitment to MCLB and the Marines as well.”
He sees this connection as an opportunity to take his duties to the next level. There is more to a service member’s job than going from station to station.
“It is easy for Marines, especially young Marines, to feel isolated,” he said. “We need to find them meaningful connections through events and community involvement.”
Young Marines, particularly, can find themselves getting bored in smaller cities like Albany. One way to fix this is to get them involved in the numerous volunteer opportunities available.
The chaplain is eager to do so.
“Any way a community member sees a valuable way to get a Marine involved, we want to continue to foster those relationships,” Matson said.
His primary duty is the development and execution of the base’s religious program. This requires him to get on the same level as the service members he is working with, wherever that may be.
“I am tasked with ensuring free practice of religion,” Matson said. “I am here for morale and building a sense of resiliency and a sense of purpose.”
“I need to meet the Marine where he or she is. They will be more equipped to carry out the mission before them (when spiritual needs are met),” he added.
The chaplain hosts weekly Bible studies and services and engages in meaningful conversations. He is actively finding ways to plug into the Marines’ lives, including engagement in the activities they take part in daily.
He goes on physical training and hikes and interacts on a personal level. He plans community events and joins in on things going on at the base.
He does it as someone who can relate to military life.
“I am wearing a uniform and get more involved in what (the Marines) are doing,” Matson said. “It’s an opportunity to engage without being in a stuffy office. We are in a more comfortable setting (in the field).”
The chance to minister to Marines in this way is something Matson is especially proud of.
“There is nothing I am more proud of than getting kneecap to kneecap with Marines in crisis and being with them in the most difficult part of their life,” he said.
Matson is the first full-time chaplain MCLB Albany has had in several years. His order is to be in Albany for three years.
The base was previously served by part-time chaplains who moved on after a few months. It was better than nothing, but did not adequately fulfill the installation’s needs for spiritual care.
“Now there will be no gap,” Matson said. “I am very grateful that happened.”
The chaplain sees a lot of growth potential in his current role.
“There is so much potential in Albany in general to create opportunities for Marines and sailors to enjoy their experience here and develop their career,” he said. “I’d like to set up programs and engage with one another and have fun.”
This includes growth in the spiritual component, community building, relationship development and the nurturing of engagement.
The Single Marine Program at MCLB Albany is already a valuable partner. The Marines involved with that program are often selling concessions at certain events on base, including movie nights coordinated by Matson.
The smaller size of MCLB Albany and its surrounding communities relative to other military installations makes community engagement a different process, as it can be more difficult to establish affiliations. It is a challenge to be worked through.
“There are ways for Marines to have a good time, morale and a sense of fellowship,” Matson said. “We are in a unique setting, and we are trying to find ways to plug in.”
“This does serve to build readiness and morale. That’s a challenge anywhere.”
He has seen a strong buy-in already, so he’s off to a good start.
“Anytime I ask for help, the Marines jump to,” he said. “It’s been a great welcome so far. They volunteer and help out. I can’t ask for better.”
Matson’s awards include the two awards of the Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medal and two awards of the Navy Achievement Medal.
For more information on the services offered by the MCLB Albany Base Chaplain Office, call 229-639-7426.