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Buddhist Pennant Flies aboard Navy Ship for First Time

14 September 2022

From Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kerri Kline, USS McFaul Public Affairs

The Buddhist pennant made its first appearance on an underway ship when the blue and white banner was spotted Sept. 11, aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS McFaul (DDG 74).


The newest official U.S. Navy pennant flew in observance of the Buddhist Dharma service held aboard McFaul and led by Navy Chaplain Lt. Saejeong Kim.  Now one of four church pennants maintained by the U.S. Navy, the pennant’s development was a joint effort between U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFFC) and Naval Surface Force Atlantic (SURFLANT). SURFLANT Force Chaplain, Capt. David Thames, noted the limited church pennants available to ships, despite diverse religious services conducted underway. After months of production and development, the USFFC Chaplain Capt. Brian Stamm accepted the pennant and placed it into service in August.
“I want to share this special moment with my Sailors and fellow Buddhist practitioners,” said Kim. “While Buddhist representation in the U.S. military is not large, as a Buddhist chaplain in the fleet, I have been uniquely positioned to appeal to a broad cultural and faith spectrum in the growing number of sailors who identify as ‘Spiritual But Not Religious.’
“I am grateful for this opportunity to support the spiritual readiness of Sailors who sometimes do not have a language for their spirituality.”
The Buddhist Pennant consists of a blue Dharmachara (Dharma Wheel) on a white field with a rounded tip on the pennant. According to Kim, the Buddhist insignia is a manifestation of Buddha’s teachings through one’s body, speech, and mind. The Dharma wheel symbolizes a threefold practice: the outer circle (moral conduct), the spokes (wisdom), and the hub (meditation).

“This pennant is a landmark of our Navy’s commitment to our Sailors’ faiths and genuine support of religious diversity,” said Destroyer Squadron 2 Commodore, Capt. Stefan Walch. “I am thrilled for Chaplain Kim. Her efforts provide excellent care for our Sailors and she is an outstanding ambassador for her faith throughout the sea services. This is a great day for the Navy.”
The U.S. Flag Code stipulates that any church pennant be flown immediately above the ensign while a chaplain conducts religious services underway. The U.S. Navy maintains four church pennants: Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, and Muslim. Cmdr. Antonia Shey, McFaul commanding officer, said the ship is honored to fly this historic pennant.
“McFaul is proud to fly the Buddhist Pennant for the first time in the Navy as Chaplain Kim leads divine services at sea,” said Shey. “While flying this pennant is a historic first today, Kim has faithfully provided exceptional care and religious guidance to Sailors for many years. The support Kim provides my Sailors is extraordinary.”
Born in Chicago and raised in South Korea, Kim was ordained as a Won Buddhist priest in 2006 after completing Won Buddhist Studies at the Won Institute of Graduate Studies. She received her Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from Wonkwang University in 2016, after she served various Korean and American Buddhist temples. She was commissioned a Navy Chaplain in 2017 and currently serves with Destroyer Squadron 2 as the only active-duty Buddhist chaplain in the Navy.
Commissioned in 1998, McFaul is the 24th Arleigh Burke-class destroyer and was named after Chief Petty Officer Donald L. McFaul. McFaul was a SEAL Team 4 hero who was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the nation's second-highest combat valor award, for his heroic actions in saving his teammates during combat operations in December 1989 as part of Operation Just Cause in Panama.

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