Commissioned an ensign in the Naval Reserve through the Chaplain Candidate Program, Chaplain Elson came on active duty in June of 1987. His assignments were as follows: Marine Corps Base, Camp S. D. Butler, Okinawa, Japan; Naval Station Charleston, S. C.; COMSIXTHFLT, Gaeta, Italy; Naval Education and Training Center, Newport, R. I.; Naval Recruiting Command, Area ONE, Scotia, NY; and as Staff Chaplain at the United States Naval Academy.
In August of 2003, Chaplain Elson reported for duty at Marine Corps Air Station, Miramar, CA with Additional Duty (ADDU) to 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. In January of 2003, Rabbi Elson deployed to Kuwait and eventually Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom as Jewish Chaplain for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. As the only Jewish chaplain serving with Marines in Iraq, and chaplain for 1st Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, Rabbi Elson participated in numerous combat engagements throughout the conflict. Rabbi Elson returned to Iraq in September of 2004 where he served as Jewish chaplain for IMEF during the Battle for Fallujah. He also conducted Jewish High Holy Day services for Jewish personnel in the Al Ahnbar (Sunni Triangle) Province of Iraq during that time.
In June of 2005, Rabbi Elson reported for duty as deputy command chaplain at the US Naval Academy. Rabbi Elson was selected for promotion to captain in May of 2006. In July of 2007 he became the first force chaplain for Commander Naval Air Forces. In August of 2010 Chaplain Elson reported back with the Marine Corps, as Wing Chaplain III Marine Aircraft Wing.
Rabbi Irving A. Elson was born in Mexico City, Mexico, in 1960. He was educated at Yeshiva University in New York, and earned his AA and BA in 1982, majoring in Psychology and Jewish Studies. He entered a masters program at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York, and was awarded an MA in medieval Hebrew literature in 1984. During this time, he also spent a year of postgraduate study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem from 1983-1984. The Jewish Theological Seminary of America ordained him a rabbi in 1987. Rabbi Elson's hobbies include civil aviation (he holds a commercial pilot's license with over 2,300 hours of flight time) and cross-country skiing. He is fluent in Spanish and Hebrew.