When the Continental Navy was established in 1775, the Marine Committee that administered specified in the regulations it promulgated for this new military branch that a “divine service be performed twice a day on board, and a sermon preached on Sundays” (provided the weather was good and there were no other exigencies such as naval warfare taking place). The wording of the regulations, in addition to implicitly recognizing the need for a chaplain to perform the requisite services, made it clear that the notion of Sailors needing guidance in any faith other than Christianity had not crossed their minds.

It was an assumption that remained unchanged through the 19th century and into the 20th, but millions of immigrants who sojourned from Europe to America in the during that time brought with them several faiths that were previously been notable in the U.S. for their almost complete absence. It was a reality that confronted the Navy during World War I; in response to the needs of Jewish Sailors, in 1917 the Navy commissioned Rabbi David Goldberg, the service’s first Jewish Chaplain. (A Jewish Chaplin Corps insignia was not created until several decades later, however.) 1998 saw the Navy’s first Muslim Chaplain, and in 2004 the seemingly most unlikely addition of all: A Buddhist Chaplain.

Lieutenant (junior grade) Jeanette G. Shin was commissioned as the Navy’s first Buddhist Chaplain in a ceremony at the Pentagon on July 22, 2004. Shin graduated from George Mason University in 2004 with a bachelor of arts degree in Philosophy and Religious studies, and went on to earn her master of arts degree in Buddhist studies four years later at the Graduate Theological Union/Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, California, just a little over two months prior to being commissioned.

With the arrival of the first Buddhist Chaplain in its ranks, the Navy created a new insignia for the Chaplain Corps to represent the latest member of it faith community. As you can see on this page, it selected the dharmachakra), also called the "Dharma Wheel" or "Wheel of the Dharma" and sometimes referred to by non-Buddhists as the "Wheel of Life." Because Buddhism is not a monolithic faith, there is no single definitive meaning of the symbolism employed in the dharmachakra.

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