When I printed a letter last week asking for the experiences Latter-day Saints have with spiritual support in the military, I expected a half dozen responses.  All I can say is, “Booyah!”  The LDS military presence is alive and well, and apparently there are a whole lot of military families who read Meridian Magazine.  Let’s see what they have to say:

My entire family (myself, wife, daughter, and son) have experience in this area.  I enlisted in 1975, and along with my wife moved all over the United States due to military assignments.  My children started out as military “brats” and moved on to being military spouse and active duty Marine. 

Unfortunately, a young person in the military has the opportunity to “hide,” and it is a matter of being humbled that often leads them back to attending Church.  A great motivator for many is coming to the realization that Sunday is a great day for extra cleaning and other mundane tasks when in basic training.  Attending church is a way to escape from these tasks, and no one will criticize a military person for going.  It might not be the most genuine reason for attending, but I believe that when Priesthood ordinances are being performed, the spirit will touch hearts. 

One of the added benefits of this initial attending meetings, even if it only has the intent of escaping the job of cleaning, is that it then identifies less active members to those who have strong testimonies.  After this, there is no “hiding out.”  Many of those who are active are also returned missionaries.  In some cases, they are joining the Reserves to earn additional money before leaving on a mission.  The “less active” are a great teaching pool for both. 

I haven’t even addressed that there are FHE groups, and senior missionaries at many military bases.  These both are great for providing support and positive peer pressure. 

We have seen how well this works.  Our son became active in the Church while serving in the Marines, and was married in the San Diego Temple. 

Gary Thomas
Deer Park, Washington

Thanks for a great, optimistic letter, Gary.  The father who wrote in last week will really appreciate your happy ending.

Everywhere he goes there will be members.  The last town we lived in, there were so many soldiers that they had to change callings around every time a deployment ended/began.  It was like the brethren were taking turns ? when half left, the other half came back.  There is much work to be done in a military ward, there are many people on home teaching routes (at one point my husband had 12 families).  Women and children need support from the ward (and from their extended families) while their loved one is away, so home teaching/ visiting teaching is vital.

While my husband is deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, there is a small group of members who get together on Sundays for church.  My husband couldn’t always go because of his work schedule, but they are always there for support, needed blessings, and so on.  Once my husband and some soldiers baptized another soldier while they were there and needed to figure out how to make a font.  Somehow they built a makeshift font from either a really large drum or tarps (or something), and the only water they had was from bottled water, which they proceeded to empty into the “font” and fill.  But it worked and it was a powerful experience!

I was privileged to receive a letter from a General Authority who is over the Afghanistan area, while my husband was deployed (not all of the sisters received one).  It said that what my husband was doing was important work and the work I was doing, as a military wife and mother was equally important.  I was blown away! I wasn’t expecting that at all, but I was (and still am) grateful.

I hope this helps!  With your son being not so active, I can see why you worry.  Just keep praying for him; being a soldier is hard.  This might be just the thing to help him really build his testimony and really put all eternal things into perspective!

Pilot’s Wife

Thanks for another great, optimistic letter.  I’m betting the mailbag is going to be full of these today, and every one will be a comfort to those parents whose children are considering the military.

I joined the Lord’s Church more than 20 years ago while in college and serving in the Army National Guard. Where I was baptized had a large military presence because of the local Air Force Base.  I was surprised to find out that I had two members in my Guard unit too! 

I currently work as a registered nurse at a local army post, and one of the other nurses is a Latter- day Saint.  I have experienced a strong LDS presence in the military all around the world. Almost every military installation has an LDS ward or branch, even in theatre.  There are also several LDS chaplains.  All a soldier has to do is search and find the other members; then the networking takes care of itself. Most non-LDS chaplains also can direct soldiers to LDS soldier, sailor, airman and marine members.  I hope this helps.  Best wishes for success.

Bro. T. Buechter


Thanks for letting us know about the good that LDS (and even non-LDS) chaplains do in connecting Latter-day Saints with their fellow church members.  I’m really enjoying the optimistic tone of today’s letters.  Thanks for writing.

Having spent 22 years in the Air Force and stationed all over the U.S. and in Germany (9 years), I can honestly say that each and every ward and stake we were in was just what we needed at the time. Some wards were close to 100% military, while others were as low as fewer than 10%. We found that each one accepted us and we naturally gravitated to those with whom we had the most in common, that being military.

We now have friends who are all over the world and we love and support them all. Our most memorable places have been overseas, where we had to depend on each other for so many things. There is just a special spirit among the LDS Servicemen serving overseas.

I was in the Air Force for four years and then got out for 15 months. It was the special spirit of the military wards that drew us back into the Air Force. The many wards and diverse people welded our hearts to the military communities and church. Gaining much experience from so many people, I was able to serve on several high councils and after I retired, served as bishop of a largely military ward in a stake that has three military bases. With so many people coming and going all the time, it was sometimes hard to keep up with everyone, but we would not trade it for the world.

I cannot tell you how much fun it was to serve in a stake with two Air Force bases and one large Army post.

It was truly a wonderful experience. We loved it so much that we stayed there for 15 years before we moved back home to Utah. Diversity and meeting so many of the best people on earth ? what’s not to like or look forward to?

Dennis L. Brown

Syracuse, Utah 

That’s a real endorsement, Dennis ? to actually reenlist because you were so touched by the spirit in the military wards.  Thanks for letting us know about your spiritual journey in the military.

Having spent 20 years in the Air Force with my husband, a B-52 pilot, I can honestly say I miss the closeness we shared in the different wards we were in.  The wards are not just military wards; they have a mixture of a little of this and a little of that.  But because most of us are away from our families, we rely on each other.  Sad to say, but sometimes I knew more about my ward members than I did my own family back in Utah. 

Married families try to look out for the singles living in the dorms.  We had a girl that became our “adopted” daughter.  We would have her over to our house every chance we could just to get her out of that environment.  A lot of areas now have the singles wards.  This also helps the singles in the military.  It gives them a chance to be with people their own age. 

The best missionary experiences I ever had were in the play groups with other military wives.  The discussion of religion always came up.  Missionaries say that their mission was the best two years of their lives.  I honestly can say the military was the best 20 years of my life.

I personally feel that this young man can get just what he puts into it.  If he sits back and waits for somebody from the church to make all the moves maybe it won’t be the most spiritual time of his life.  On the other hand, if the minute he knows where he is going, he can go his ward clerk and get the name of the bishop and or branch president where he will be stationed, he then can call them and let them know he is coming. 

Oh, and one other thing.  When he does get to his new ward, he shouldn’t wait around for people to welcome him.  He should make an effort to introduce himself.  Many times, it is not because people think they are better than you that they don’t speak to you; it is because they are shy.  Also, in a military ward, you never know who has been there forever or who is coming for the first time like he is.

Remember, a smile is the same in every language. Good luck! 

Deanna Groke

Southern Utah 

Thanks for sending advice for the father of the soon-to-be recruit, Deanna.  Once the recruit learns where he is going, the father can contact the bishop of the ward and have him be on the lookout for his son.  He may just be loved into activity, wherever he ends up.  As the old saying goes, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”

My husband and I are currently serving a full time mission in Jacksonville, North Carolina, as military relations specialists. We work mainly with YSA Marines at Camp Lejeune, Camp Geiger, and Camp Johnson. The prerequisite for this calling is prior military service. (My husband is a veteran of two foreign wars, Vietnam and Desert Storm.)

Our work is both rewarding and difficult because members currently serving move around so often with training and deployment that their records have a hard time following them. However, here is the good news. There are senior military mission couples at almost every major base around the world, in all branches of the military. We have couples in Japan, Italy, and many of the bases in the U.S. We are here, waiting to be contacted by the Marine/Soldier or his family.

We are constantly praying for divine help in finding these young people. Sometimes we find them because the spirit sends them our way. For example, we were sitting in our car in a parking lot looking for another Marine and a car pulled up beside us and said (and I quote), “Do you need help? I’m a Mormon but I’m inactive!” It’s as if he had no idea that he was going to say that; it just came tumbling out. As it turns out, he was on our list of people we’d been unable to find ? and there he was!

My husband drives more than 100 miles on Sundays making pickups at all three bases to make sure these young people can’t use the excuse that they don’t have transportation. We have home evenings on Mondays, Institute on Tuesdays and conduct sacrament meeting on Sunday evenings for those coming in from a long 29-day Marine Combat Training in the field. We go to all of their graduations, we take them to the airport, and we pick them up when they need it. We also make blessings available for the sick and ailing, mentally and spiritually. We provide all of that and so much more, but unless we know they are here we can’t help them.

Military life is both difficult and rewarding. The greatest challenge is in keeping spiritually in tune to be able to avoid the inherent pitfalls ? the drinking, smoking, tattoos, and other facets of military social life.

The Lord has provided a way to both serve in the military and stay as active as possible but it’s a two way street. You need to want what is available. We are all here to help!

Elder and Sister Zollinger
North Carolina Raleigh Mission
Military Relations, Camp Lejeune

I had no idea there were missionaries called to serve people in the service, Sister Zollinger.  Thanks for telling us that you’re out there, and what you do.  The father whose letter appeared last week can be on the lookout for your counterparts once his son is assigned to a base.

During our time stationed at West Point (United States Military Academy) we met a dozen or so prospective elders every year who had purposely chosen to attend West Point in order to avoid a mission call.  Little did they know that members of the West Point Branch, mostly faculty at West Point, sought out those cadets and wrapped their arms around them, invited them to their homes for Thanksgiving, called them to teach in the Primary, and made friends with their anxious families back home. 

After two years of this, many of these cadets chose to resign from West Point to accept a mission call.  In almost all cases, the cadets re-applied to West Point on completion of their missions and became highly respected leaders in the cadet brigades.  Some were instrumental in continuing their missionary spirit and brought other cadets into the Church.

A Reader

Thanks for letting us know, Reader, that even when people enlist in order to avoid mission calls, the Lord doesn’t forget about them.  Your letter will encourage many parents whose children are in similar situations.  It’s nice to know that, like Jonah, people may be able to run from the Lord, but they can’t hide.

Parents should realize that any military branch of service is a very honorable profession.


  Military Relations Missionaries are now at most installations, and are usually senior couples who have retired from military service.  They invite and invite those who are inactive or less-active to enjoy full blessings and fellowship in the gospel by organizing family home evening groups and temple preparation classes, teaching Institute classes, and doing other things to include Latter-day Saints who are in the military.  Be assured that they love and serve those families and individuals diligently, especially during periods of deployment. 

To the parent who was concerned about other spiritual support, please be heartened by the faithful prayers offered by the Brethren and church members, throughout the world, every week in the holy temples, for the physical and spiritual safety of our military members! 


Thanks for reminding us, Kevan, that members of the military are prayed for every day at the altars of the temples.  If the temple workers don’t forget the Saints in the military, you can be sure that the Lord remembers them as well.

Our grandson recently graduated from Infantry training/boot camp at Fort Benning, Georgia.

My husband, our daughter (his mom) and his older sister all traveled from Nevada and Colorado to attend his “Turning Blue” and graduation ceremonies.  They were there for five days, and that included a Sunday.  They all attended his new home ward off post.  Turns out his new bishop is a doctor for his division, and his elders quorum president is a ranger. 

I talked with the branch president for the branch on post for LDS soldiers going through basic training.  There are a lot of LDS chaplains all over, and they are a great source of info on the Latter-day Saints in the area they are serving.  There are always challenges our young men and women will encounter in the service.  Our grandson has one in his roommate.  This is a time for them to grow and become strong in their testimonies and faith. 

Our grandson was not as strong as we would like when he went into the Army.  We are prayerful that he will become more active and that his testimony and faith will grow.  The support is there, but in the end our grandson, like all young men and women, has to take the steps toward that support, and that is something they have to do on their own.  This is part of growing up. 

We can love them, encourage them, keep them in our prayers and their names in the temple prayer rolls, but we can’t do the process for them.  That is their job.

Grandmother in Nevada

Thanks for reminding us, Grandmother, that whether our youth are in the military or living as civilians, ultimately they are the ones who are responsible for living the lives they are going to live.  It’s hard to allow those we love to have the freedom to choose when that includes the option of making wrong choices, but that is one of the reasons we came here.  Sometimes all we can do is pray.

I’m a retired USAF officer and have run into this situation many, many times.  The network that exists is the Church itself.  There is no special “LDS Military Network” out there.  There are a few LDS Chaplains, but they are not part of any particular special network. 

My advice is to encourage your son to always check in with the local church unit. You can help him by knowing where he is at all times and providing him the contact information.  Your own bishop/branch president will have access to it and can help you. 

Sometimes your son may find himself in a situation with no established ward/branch and will be in a “Serviceman’s Group” situation under a presiding high priest. At many military bases there will be an older couple serving a full-time mission specifically to seek out and help provide support to military personnel.  My wife and I hope to serve this type of mission.  Also, get in contact with the Church Military Department, and they can provide you with tons of good information. 

The military is a good life.  Yes, just like our society, there are those that do not avail themselves of their full potential and waste away opportunities, but for the most part, the kids in the Service are wonderful and deserve our praise.  LDS military personnel are in a category by themselves, because no matter where they go, someone will be looking for them.  The priesthood is his best networking opportunity.  Good luck and enjoy this wonderful opportunity that lies ahead of you and your family.

Marc Strickland

Major, USAF Retired

I had no idea that there was Church Military Department, Marc.  Thanks to your letter I googled it and found a web page that will help parents whose children are contemplating military service.  Here’s the link 

When I joined the military in the spring of 1971, I had been inactive for many months after being baptized in November 1969.

But when I learned that there was an LDS service in the base chapel I went and soon found myself in the only place on base where rank did not matter. I felt the warm embrace of the spirit, and as I moved from assignment to assignment I found LDS members at every location, always willing to help out.

My eight years in the military are now just a memory, but the bonds I made with many, many LDS friends while stateside and overseas will bring warm memories for an eternity. Rest assured that if your son seeks out the Saints where ever he is stationed, he will probably find the same support I found many years ago.

Don Pritchard W6ZPC
in honor of the original W6ZPC, my father: Gavin Lee Pritchard (SK)

Thanks for a letter from someone who was actually reactivated by being in the military, Don.  I’m sure your letter is going to mean a lot to parents of young people who are considering military service.

My husband and I have a calling where we go and help with a branch on Fort Leonard Wood here in Missouri. This is a church service for the young soldiers who are in basic training and are not allowed to leave the base. We love doing this calling because we know how much it helps the new recruits stay in touch with the gospel at this difficult time in their lives.

There are also a high percentage of nonmembers who come to be “battle buddies” to the LDS service men and women, so there is a great amount of missionary work going on there. Almost every Sunday we have at least one baptism after classes. Yesterday (Sunday March 5th 2011) we had a total of 485 in the congregation (we had to set up a second sacrament meeting group down in the basement to fit them all into this army chapel). The largest percent of those were nonmembers. When was the last time your ward had that count in a meeting and had a large percentage of them potential new members?

Yes, there are some of those who come the first time just so they can spend two hours away from the drill sergeants, but the Lord works in mysterious ways to get the gospel out to some who would not otherwise reach out to the Church.



Being on the military base they are required to stay in the building the whole two hours. In other words, they cannot go outside into groups and talk or smoke until their transport gets there. We have classes in every room of the building (even the chapel), so if they want to sit in the back and try to sleep they are still hearing a class go on and the message gets through.

This is a time in these men’s and women’s lives where they are being yelled at, ordered around, and put into situations that could drive them away from the Church, making them feel more like a herd of cattle than children of God. You can see it on their faces as they enter the building. We make a special point to all be there to greet everyone with a smile on our faces and a pleasant greeting. We can tell the ones who haven’t been there before because of the “beat down” look on their faces. The next Sunday those new people are lifting their eyes and heads up to meet our greetings, and their faces tell the story that they are glad to be there. It is a place of peace for them.

If a young man has been on a mission, he is given a job in the branch. Most often he serves as a ward missionary (we need a lot of them here). They are encouraged to use the priesthood they have to bless sacrament, pass sacrament, and during help with priesthood blessings in classes if someone needs those. Believe me, a lot of them need blessings and take advantage of this time ? even nonmembers. Their minds and bodies are being pressed more than they ever have before. It is no wonder to me that we will have at least two full-sized pews filled with blessing seekers.

I wish each of us in the Church could attend just one of these meetings. Even with that mass of people there is a reverence there that not found in too many other places. Let me add this: Until you have heard an impromptu military choir you have not heard a great choir. Each week we have a choir that sings the opening song, and their voices are angelic.

Each young man who is a member is encouraged to be worthy to use his priesthood, expand it by moving from priest to elder and so forth. There will come a time when they will be deployed and the need for qualified elders will be even greater. We are also allowed to pass out a dog tag that has their religion on it and instructs that if the need arises, the reader should contact another member of the Church.

There is a network out there for these young men and women, but like out in the civilian world they have to be the ones who step towards the help. The Church has never nor will it ever abandon these children of God. To a mother or father concerned they should be letting these kids know that there is a network there to keep in touch with the Church. They need to do the asking for where the Church meets on base. These branches are there at every base.    

We love your sons and daughters who come to us each week.  It is hard to get to know and love “our” kids and then have to send them away in five to ten weeks.

Missouri Member

Thanks for an inspirational letter, Missouri.  Your description of the meetings you have every Sunday was so detailed that I felt as though I had been there.  What wonderful surroundings you have created for so many service men and women ? members and nonmembers alike.

One thing I’d suggest is going to the following and signing up for the ldsmilitarymoms/wives group.  Although the group is for family members of those in the military, I imagine the members have information of the type being looked for (I know in the missionary moms group they are very willing to share.) 



Thanks for the website, June!  I’m always looking for links that will offer support to people who write in, and this looks like a good one.

Having served in both the Navy (Korean War) and the Air Force (Cold War, Vietnam, Middle East) and being an LDS Group Leader and branch president during those military assignments, as well as president of the erstwhile LDS Veterans’ Association (VASAA) for some 20 years, perhaps my experiences can provide somewhat of the information desired.  I also served in branch and district presidencies in overseas assignments, in addition to the LDS Cadet Institute instructor at the USAF Academy.

Currently there are many LDS chaplains serving in all of the military services.  Also, the Church implemented a special program several years ago of calling retired military personnel to serve as liaisons at major military bases.  These special missionaries are tasked with looking after newly enlisted LDS members.  More information about this program may be obtained via the Church’s Military Relations Committee, Bro. Frank Clawson, director.

During the almost 20 years that VASAA existed, it served as a viable network for military families. Although the Association ceased its operation on D-Day 1998, there are still possibilities to obtain information or at least reactions/responses from parents with the father’s concerns.  A final thought:  At every military base/station/ship or location throughout the world, there is a ward or branch with the responsibility of making contact with LDS members and encouraging activity.

Virgil N. Kovalenko, Ph.D.

President, VASAA [Retired]

Veterans’ Association for Service Activities Abroad [Dislvd]

Thanks for an encouraging letter, Virgil.  I’m sure the father who wrote in will appreciate the words of someone who has served all over the world, as you have, and who has found support for Latter-day Saints wherever he has served.

I’m currently serving in the U.S. Army, and have for the past 18.5 years.  As a former bishop and currently an Assistant Serviceman’s Group Leader in Iraq, I can promise you that there is a strong LDS support chain for military members.  The general authorities and local leaders of the Church are very concerned about the spiritual wellbeing of our service men and women. 

The Military and Missionary Committees work very hard to ensure that almost every military base, especially those responsible for basic training, has a retired military couple called as a senior military missionary couple.  They are a great resource and help to the local bishoprics and stake leadership.  These couples work full time on the military bases; the most recent couple that I worked with on our base were amazing.  They attended every “welcome” briefing, ensuring that as members reported to duty at an installation, they knew which ward that were assigned to and had the bishop’s contact information. 

They cannot proselyte on base, but they can contact members and provide assistance at the direction of the mission president, stake president and bishoprics.  The couple missionaries serving on our base are just amazing; they were directly responsible for numerous reactivations and strengthened the testimonies of almost everyone they met.

When service men and women deploy away from their assigned base, whether aboard a Navy vessel or to a tour throughout the world, the church has established “Servicemen Groups” that are responsible to assist in the spiritual development of these deployed individuals.

  In Iraq, the Church as established the Military District of Iraq, with branches in a couple of the larger locations and servicemen groups through out the rest of Iraq.  I understand it is the same for Afghanistan. 

These servicemen’s groups hold regular worship services at the base chapels and when possible and appropriate also hold family home evening activities and even Institute classes.

I am very grateful for the LDS service men and women that I have had the privilege of serving with over the past almost two decades now.  I have seen many testimonies strengthened in the service of our great country and witness countless miracles at the hand of a loving Heavenly Father.

Jonathan Larsen

Thanks for your letter, Jonathan.  It’s obvious from more than 18 years of experience that you know what you’re talking about, and your letter will be a comfort to many.

My name is Stephanie and I spent 10 years in the Air Force.  I joined the military when I was 18, separating right before I turned 30 in 2005.  Believe it or not, I was not a member of the Church when I joined the military!  I became a member of the Church when I was 24, and married in the temple at age 26 thanks to the support of my LDS military family.  There is spiritual support to be found in the military, even when you are single.  Like any testimony, finding God in the middle of a sea of military members requires faith and endurance.

I grew up in a pretty liberal family.  When I joined the military, I immediately fell in with “the wrong crowd.”  One night I went out partying with my friends, and by the end of the night I was so intoxicated that I couldn’t remember what group of friends I came with, and I was pretty unsure of how I was going to get home.  It was then that I realized that I had fallen into a terrible situation and that I would not find long-term happiness in this manner. 

I didn’t grow up going to any church, but I knew that if I became more involved with good, solid, Christian people ? well, maybe I would find the long-term happiness that I was looking for.
After investigating several churches I stumbled across my “free copy of The Book of Mormon.”  And don’t you know it?  They delivered those by hand!  The rest, as they say, is history. 

In the area I lived I attended the singles ward for a while, eventually deciding to go to a family ward that I liked better (even though I was still single).  What a blessing, when a year later I was “set up” on a date with my bishop’s son, and a year after that we were married.  I separated a couple years after we married when we decided to start our family through adoption (which is a story for another day).

If spiritual support is wanted, it really will be there.  But, as a minority religion (and a woman!) in the military, it had to be actively sought out.  It is likely that there will be an LDS chaplain during basic training or “boot camp,” but after that the nearest bishop will be the biggest support. 

I also found that there were so many amazing Christian military members who were good influences and had high standards, too, that I became really good friends with many of the most wonderful people.  The hardest part was constantly being around people who had a different lifestyle and little to no standards.  It took faith and constant prayer to remember the things that would truly make me happy. 

Heavenly Father is so good and has blessed me immeasurably.  The military paid for my schooling, provided my husband and me with a great income while he completed medical school, and gave us great insurance coverage.  I wouldn’t have changed a thing!


Stephanie, it was great to end today’s column with a letter from someone who was actually converted to the Church while in the military.  Thanks for sharing your experiences.  Your letter was a real day-brightener.

Okay, people, that’s it for this week.  Tune in two weeks from today to read the rest of people’s comments about the Church and the military.  And please, please don’t send in any more letters on this subject.  I’ve already got a mailbox full, thanks to the good will of our military Latter-day Saints.

Until next time ? Kathy

 “We deceive ourselves when we fancy that only weakness needs support. Strength needs it far more.” 

Anne Sophie Swetchine