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Camp Abu Ghurayb, IRAQ - Hospitalman 3rd Class Kipp A. Petry, a 42-year-old corpsman with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, Regimental Combat Team-1, and native of El Paso, Texas, emerges from the water during his baptism aboard Camp Abu Ghurayb, Iraq March 6. Petry felt the service held more significance due to his role in building the baptismal pit.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Paul Robbins Jr.

3/4 "Doc" builds faith in Iraq

27 Apr 2005 | Lance Cpl. Paul Robbins Jr. 2nd Marine Division

Sweat poured down his forehead with every swing of the pickaxe, the ground splitting before the force of the blows. Neither the burning sun nor the hard ground would stop him, the time was right. Hospitalman 3rd Class Kipp A. Petry, a 42-year-old corpsman with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, Regimental Combat Team-1, had an epiphany while he sped through his day aboard Camp Abu Ghraib, Iraq. Petry decided he would be baptized, and Iraq seemed the perfect place."Something inside me said it's right," said the El Paso, Texas, native, "something said now is the time to do it, and what better place to do it?"On Feb. 19, Petry approached the battalion's Religious Program Specialist, Petty Officer 2nd Class Aaron G. Neely, to make his request. After a discussion with the chaplain, Neely came back to Petry with an eager approval. Neely began preparations almost immediately, but was stopped by an unexpected request from Petry."I was just going to have the engineers dig the pit, but Petry said no, he was going to do it," Neely said.Petry began working on the pit immediately, with Neely by his side, using a shovel and pickaxe to make a grave worthy of the ceremony.The pair worked tirelessly, using their free time to work on the project, while gaining a sense of accomplishment with each swing of the pickaxe."Every time I removed a chunk of ground, I felt as if I was removing an old part of my life. I couldn't stop," Petry said.The digging portion of the project was slated to be a weeklong endeavor, but the pair finished in three days.Over the next few days, sandbags were placed along the sides of the pit and a sheet of plastic was placed over the sandbags to keep the water clean."It held more significance to me because I took an active part in preparing it," Petry explained, "I'm a worker and I was blessed to be able to do it."Petry's baptism, attended by his friends, fellow enlisted service members and a number of officers, took place the following Sunday."We had at least 15-20 people there," said Navy Lt. Matthew S. Weems, the battalion chaplain and 33-year-old native of Kingfisher, Okla., "from his company's guys to battalion staff. It was good."For Petry, the elation of having such a good turnout and the strong sense of accomplishment, was only outdone by what he felt as he was being baptized."When I got in the water it was heavy, like it was pushing in on me," Petry said, "but when I came back up, the weight was lifted. It felt great!"The pit was used again later that day for the baptism of a Marine and will continue to be used for this purpose in the future. Although it was Petry who worked so hard to build it, he knew when he started that he would not be the only one to benefit."I built it for those who need it," Petry said, "It wasn't just for me."