Recently we have been discussing how members of the U.S. military find church support when they leave home to serve in the armed services.  Today we have letters from more active duty military families, as well as from veterans, that should provide comfort to anyone who is considering a military career. 

First we have a letter from a missionary couple who were featured in our last column.  They sent in a great story that illustrates just how much help our young men and women who are being deployed can find from their fellow Latter-day Saints.  Here is what they have to say:

I wish that the Church would find a way to list all the bases that have Military Relations Specialists Missionaries in the Ensign or Church News. I can’t tell you how many calls we get from parents who tell us how hard it was to find a representative on base.

When we first came out here we were told that we could not wear our name badges on any of the bases unless we were conducting sacrament meeting at Camp Geiger. As we developed a good working relationship with the chaplains we discussed the fact that our own membership couldn’t recognize us without the name tags. They were surprised that we had been told not to wear them because as far as they are concerned they know that our members need to know we are here and they (the chaplains) can’t do what we do!

So now we wear our name badges everywhere on base and as a result we have military personnel come to us and introduce themselves. We have begun to find many of these young kids who really need to know they are missed in Church. 

I want to share an experience that is the defining moment for us in this mission.

We went to a nighttime farewell for two of our members who are currently deployed to Afghanistan. While we were standing there, some parents came over and introduced themselves, telling us their son was a returned missionary who had gone inactive. He was also there that night to deploy. We only had a ten-minute time window to talk with him, but in that ten minutes we were able to get the military set of scriptures in his hands with his promise that he would start reading them again.

The last thing he told Elder Zollinger was that as soon as he was able, he was going to get active again. That young man, Lucas Pyeatt, was killed by an IED just two weeks later. (You can do a web search to find his information.)

You tell me, just how important was that nametag? I hope that you are able to let people know how important the Military Relations Mission is to our Marines/Soldiers.

Elder and Sister Zollinger 

North Carolina Raleigh Mission
Military Relations-Camp Lejeune

Thanks for writing back to share that story, Zollingers.  Readers, if you want to see a picture of the Zollingers, here they are:

Zollinger

Oh, the stories I could tell of the spiritual moments surrounding LDS military life. They could fill a book.  There are at least two books about that very subject. To oversee the LDS military member (especially single members), senior missionaries, mostly retired military, are assigned to most large bases. Their responsibilities are the spiritual, emotional, and physical welfare of the active duty military member and their family. 

All over the world there are wonderful strong close military wards and branches and groups. There are institute classes, singles activities, and LDS chaplains.  Having been surrounded by LDS military personal for 30 years I can report that spiritual support and experiences overflow. 

My advice if you are a member is to identify with the LDS group quickly. If they don’t find you the first day on base you can find them through the chaplain’s office or just hum, “Do what is Right” or “I am a Child of God” at lunch.  Military families “adopt” young single LDS military members. We loved two of our adopted “sons” so much that we added them to our forever family as sons-in-law. 

Rick and Rob’s MIL

Thanks for a great endorsement, MIL.  I’ve received many letters from people telling about the way they’ve supported military Latter-day Saints, but yours shows that you gave two of your daughters to them.  That’s going the extra mile!

My son joined the Army eighteen months ago.  It has been my experience that you can be as active or inactive as you want in the service.  When my son was “on fire,” he not only had missionary opportunities, but he also created opportunities.  He brought many people to church and baptized several.  Then his girl friend dumped him, because her parents told her Army guys wouldn’t be good members.  At that point, he went inactive (thus proving the parents correct). 

There are plenty of chances in the service to drink, have sex, swear, and do other “non LDS” stuff, so he is out doing them.  The bottom line of all this is, like any other place in the world, you make your choices.  The service guys who are active are amazing.  They save lives by using the priesthood and setting a good example.  They, in fact, can be the most awesome of member missionaries that there are.  But, you can also choose the wrong.  It will be up to your son.

Been There

Been There is right, readers.  Ultimately people can lead us all to water, but we are the ones who have to lean down to drink. 

I was a new member of the Church when I entered the Air Force in 1967.  After basic training and tech school, I was stationed at Scott AFB in Illinois.  There was a small M-Men and Gleaner group, and we had fun activities that we did, including a trip to Nauvoo one weekend.  The ward members were about half military and half civilian, and we all got along great.  Many times another LDS woman and I were invited to share meals with ward families.  One family in particular (Darrell and Nancy Clanton) had us over numerous times.  They opened their home to us often, and gave us support and strength, as we were both relatively new members of the Church.

Later, I married an Army career man, and we traveled the world.  Each place we were stationed, we knew that that is where the Lord wanted us to be, either for our own personal growth or to help others in the Gospel, or both.  We were part of many wonderful wards/branches, and to this day, we have dear friends that we keep in touch with, that we met many years ago while stationed in different places.

There are definite challenges for LDS families in the military, separations, traveling, and being stationed in a place you’d rather not be.  But with the support of local ward members we always had friends, and always had help when we needed it.

When I was Relief Society president in our ward in Hawaii, the bishop would often give me names of new members who were coming to be stationed there too.  He got this information from the parents of the young man or woman, who called and asked us to watch out for their son or daughter, and help them adjust to living there, and to welcome them to the ward.


When we lived in Oklahoma, I didn’t realize how much my neighbor watched us, and after a few months she said to me, “How can you have so many friends so fast?”  She had lived there for a few years and only knew the people who lived next door to her, and behind her.  She even mentioned to me one time that, “Those two women didn’t visit you last month”!

She came to RS homemaking meeting twice, and said, “Now I know why you call it Relief Society — you get relief when you come here.”  What a testament to how strong the Church is in reaching out to military members and helping them to feel welcome, and provide opportunities to learn and grow in the Gospel.

Members who do not want to be contacted or be part of the wards always have that option, and some make it difficult for the bishop to find them, but our experience is that once they are found, and once they come to the meetings, they feel loved and welcomed, and want to be part of the ward.

Our children have expressed the fun of living in so many different places.  Two were born in the northeast U.S., one in Germany, and another in the southern U.S.  Each place was different, having its drawbacks and its advantages.  We always embraced the opportunities to learn new things, go new places, and we enjoyed each place we were stationed.  There is a strong connection in the world amongst Latter-day Saints, and that closeness is even more evident, and much stronger amongst the LDS military members.

RMSW

Your letter was a striking reminder, RMSW, of how closely we are watched as Latter-day
Saints.  If a nonmember can notice that our visiting teachers didn’t come this month, it should be a reminder to all home teachers and visiting teachers that our actions effect people we may not ever meet.

I am writing in response to Bob Taylor’s question of whether there is church support in the military.

Our only son just completed Marine boot camp in San Diego. He is a returned missionary. Now he is a Marine. He has many experiences to tell of his connection with the Church and I have yet to hear all of them (which I am planning on doing through written correspondence). What I do know is this: Your son will definitely be exposed to spirituality simply by being at boot camp. My son was what they call a prayer leader. These new recruits gather for prayer every night.

We had the privilege of attending his graduation ceremony. There were a dozen LDS new Marine graduates that day. We met his branch president as well as the senior couple missionaries in his branch. His branch president is a retired high ranked Marine. The branch provided a luncheon for all of the graduates and their families while we were there. There were local members volunteering their time to cook for all of us. The branch really watches out for LDS Marines. We were overwhelmed with the love they have for these guys. 

In addition to that, our son said he helped the missionaries teach a fellow recruit who was baptized during boot camp. Hope to learn the details on that.

He helped other recruits make it emotionally through boot camp, too. He is older and had been away from home before. So there are good LDS military people; if your son will simply take notice he will see them.

Our church has a Military Orientation available for the asking. I learned of this on the official church website www.lds.org, just in time to arrange it for our son and our immediate family. The stake president set it up. Ask your stake president about it. One of the high councilmen and a current military LDS member from our stake met with our family and son. We viewed the church DVD orientation for new military and their family. In this DVD we saw actual footage from boot camp. One recruit was water training in full uniform and gear in one end of the (swimming) pool. At the other end of the pool was another recruit being baptized! No lie!

Another touching scene was about three or four troops out in the field in camo and gear partaking of the sacrament.

Our son was presented with a special military set of scriptures and LDS dog tags.

I don’t know about the other branches so much, but definitely in the Marines they teach values and morals. Our son said some of the recruits were learning these for the first time in their life. Amazing that they turn their lives around the way that they do in order to graduate. It is nothing short of a miracle.

If your son even has a drop of desire to keep connected with the Church he will be able to do so easily. It is all there for the taking and he will go through the humbling process of becoming a new military member. He will need some kind of faith to hold onto. They all do! Even if he doesn’t participate in church he will be watching others set good or bad examples for him. He hopefully will grab on and not let go of the good examples.

We will pray for him and all military from now on. Please write him uplifting and encouraging letters should he enlist. It could be the best thing he does with his life and it will give him direction and focus. He will be so proud of himself! Our son loves it so far!

Marine Mom

Thanks for telling us about the support you can get from the stake before your son or daughter even leaves for basic training, Marine Mom.  That DVD sounds both informative and interesting, and the presentation of a military set of scriptures and LDS dog tags must have been a real comfort to your son.

I’m one of many who have had experience in this area.  I served 21 years in the Air Force, serving three years of my career in Germany with my family.  I can tell you that there is definitely support for LDS service members.  To start with, your stake should have a military service member specialist (probably one of your high councilmen) whom you should contact.  He can provide you with a service member’s pocket-size edition of the scriptures, as well as other helpful information.

Also, if you know where you’ll be stationed, your bishop can look in his church directory and find the bishop (or branch president) of your new ward (or branch), and you can contact him and let him know you’re coming.

As far as there being an “LDS network,” you may be stationed where there is an LDS member who serves as a chaplain.  Although his primary military duty is to be a Protestant chaplain, he will take special interest in the LDS members under his charge.

Also, the Church has started calling couples as “military relations missionaries” who are assigned near military installations and are specifically called to work with and fellowship LDS service members stationed in their area.

(I have some good friends who are currently serving one of these missions in Japan!)

But you can be assured that wherever Uncle Sam may send you, you will find Church members who will welcome you and make you part of their “family.


”  Wherever my career took me, I never had to be alone because as soon as I found my ward (or branch) I was “home.”  You’ll come to appreciate what a comfort that can be.

You’ll find that the Church is true everywhere, and there are always opportunities to serve.  Even when I spent two three-month tours in Saudi Arabia, I found other Church members with whom I could meet every Sunday for sacrament service.

I hope some of this has been helpful to you.

Jim D.

Vacaville, California 

Thanks for telling us your experience, Jim.  Your letter is a terrific introduction to the next group of letters, which are from some of those missionary couples you wrote about:

This is a great concern of loving family members and an excellent question.  We are currently serving as Military Relations Missionaries, one of 54 Military Relations couples who serve around the world at various military installations.  Shortly after 9/11, Military Relations missionary couples who have military experience became available as part of senior mission opportunities.  So, the short answer to your question is yes, there is an amazing LDS military network! 

At most inductee training sites, there is a Military Relations couple and a dedicated group of LDS members who serve in callings that support and encourage the newly enlisted.  The one thing that is common to all military installations is that there is no proselyting anywhere, anyhow on the base, post, or camp.  And so, if your son identifies himself as being a member of the Church, then it is almost a guarantee that he will find himself amongst some great servants of the Lord. 

There is another factor to consider and that is the principle that is often heard:  “There are no atheists in foxholes.”  We see this weekly at the training station where we are assigned.  Young men who have strayed prior to boot camp are brought to their knees as they realize that they cannot do this on their own.  They find themselves pleading with God for His help and forgiveness.  They discover that our Savior understands and knows how to succor them in a very personal way.  Their faith increases along with their muscle strength and miracles happen daily, if they open their eyes and acknowledge the hand of the Lord in their day-to-day training. 

In our year of being on our mission, we have seen a variety of LDS military enlistees.  We see returned missionaries who have enlisted and are following the examples of men that we read about in The Book of Mormon.  We see young members who are trying to escape home because they feel that they have been forced to attend church.  We see young men who are reservists and have a goal to serve a mission and feel that this is their economic boost to do that.  We see members who attend church for a variety of reasons, but they all feel the spirit that is present. 

We know there are some who never identify themselves as members and thus we never get a chance to know them.  We see members who progress in their priesthood advancements, prepare themselves to receive their patriarchal blessing, prepare themselves to do baptismal work at the temple or to receive their own endowment.  We see visitors who attend Sunday services, gain their own testimony and express a desire to be baptized.

The church has an excellent website that anyone can visit,  or email the military relations division at [email protected] or call 800-453-3860, ext 22286.

We would be happy to answer any questions or offer any support.  Thank you,

Elder and Sister Griffith 

Readers, I have not put the Griffiths’ contact information in this column, but if you would like to contact them, please write to me at [email protected], and I will send you their email address and phone number.

My wife and I currently serve in a military branch at Fort Leonard Wood, where our mission is to strengthen, edify, and support the LDS soldiers who are going through basic training and advanced individual training on their way to becoming soldiers.  Outside of Fort Leonard Wood is a family ward that supports all other soldiers, their families, and the civilian community.

We have served in this capacity for three years and are hopeful that we do not have to return to the ward because we love serving these courageous young men and women.  They bring such a spirit to the meetings.  Many of them are returned missionaries, active in their home wards.  Some have not been to an LDS meeting since they were in their teens or younger, but they come looking for comfort, peace, and acceptance which we try to provide.  Our branch staff is composed of retired and active duty soldiers, sailors, Marines, and the Air Force.

Linda and I joined the Church while we were stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.  What a blessing that ward was in our life!  They set our understanding of the Gospel and provided the basis for our testimonies.  Wherever we went in the world, the Church was there. We would make new friends and greet old friends.  My mother, who is not a member, told us she never had to worry about us because she knew the Church was there and we had a home.

Currently the church is organized in Afghanistan.  There is a district with each base or forward operating base (FOB) having one or more servicemen groups, depending on the need.  These are organized church units with a group leader.  There are certain things that they can and cannot do since they are below a branch in the organizational chart.  Their purpose is to strengthen, edify, and support the soldiers stationed in harm’s way.  They hold sacrament meetings, Relief Society and priesthood meetings, do home and visiting teaching — all depending on their circumstances. 

There is an LDS network that is not anything different from what you may find any place else in the world where the Church is organized.  Linda and I have worshipped in buildings that we shared with German Saints in one part of the world and Korean Saints in another.

I love the Church for its organization.  I never had to shop for a church like my nonmember friends.

One word of advice for the young man going into the service is that he needs to tell his drill sergeant that he would like to attend the LDS services.  There is a branch or ward near every military installation.

William and Linda Oberholtzer

Thanks for the information, Oberholtzer.  As I read your letter I was reminded of friends we have who serve as civilian support personnel in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  All the services you wrote about are available to civilian support staff, too.

My husband and I are currently serving as military relations missionaries for the Church in Missouri.  We are retired military and would like to give our opinion on the military.

The Church has an amazing network of support for these young men and women who decide to join the service and defend our freedoms.


  They provide missionary couples at service bases and stations throughout the world.

We serve at a basic training base where we provide LDS church services to the members in training here.  They are loved, looked after and prayed for by our whole branch and as they come each week, they express their gratitude for the services here.  It is such a testimony that to us that the Church so looks after and loves the members of the military.

We served for 20 years and found that no matter where in the world we were stationed, we had immediate “family” when we arrived at a new assignment.  What a blessing that was to us and our family in adapting to the change of surroundings.  There are so many opportunities to serve in the Church at each new base, and you are always welcomed with open arms.

It has definitely been a blessing in our lives and we have lifelong friends all over the world from our service in the military.

Sister Maughan

It must be a real comfort, Sister Maughan, to be in the service and to be prayed for every week by all the members of the branch or unit.  I’m sure there are moments that your branch members remember those meetings and derive great comfort from those prayers.

I am a senior missionary serving US Army soldiers in their second level of training.  We receive new soldiers almost every week who desire to be associated with the LDS Church here.  In basic training the soldiers are so desirous to be “away from the Army life” for even a few hours (it is hard work and very demanding) that they go to Church together.  Some go just so they can avoid the details (additional tasks) they will be given in the barracks if they don’t go to church. 

In their second level of training, called Advanced Individual Training or AIT, they have a bit more freedom but are generally restricted to the base or post.  Those who choose to be associated with the Church do so; those who choose not to be active do so.  Even though we provide the opportunity for them to be active, it is an individual choice. 

We, as senior missionaries, are not allowed to go to their barracks or to proselyte on post.  If a soldier desires to be taught the gospel, we are able to call upon the full-time missionaries in our area and we simply facilitate their meeting place. 

As this young man’s parents are sure to experience, no one but the individual can do the choosing for him.  We can encourage, make things available, pray that they make the right choice, and love them regardless — but the Lord has provided each of us with agency and we must learn that there are consequences, good and bad, to the choices we make. 

We love “our soldiers” and pray for all of those who have chosen not to be active with us.  Our “sons” and “daughters” here are like family and we hold them very dear.  Know that at most training bases the Lord has called senior missionaries like us to look after their children, but, sorry to say, not all will choose to walk toward the light.  Regardless, we love them and pray for them and do everything in our power to encourage them.  I can only project what Father feels about all of His children in like situations.

Elder Bryan Elkins

Fort Eustis, Virginia 

Thanks for writing, Elder Elkins.  And thanks for your service in my home state of Virginia.

My friend’s son went into the Air Force a couple years ago. When he got off his transportation to the military base, an older missionary couple met him and welcomed him to the area.  They gave him the information on how to get to church and where, and said that they were available to assist him with any questions or problems. His mother never found out how they knew her son was coming or that he was a member. But she was very grateful they were there for him.

Friend of a Military Mom

Your short letter, Friend, reminds us that people we never meet can be grateful for the service we perform.  Thanks for writing.

I am retired from the Air Force Reserve with 28 years total service (four years active and 24 years reserve duty).  On active duty I was stationed in San Antonio, Texas, by Lackland AFB, where all Air Force basic training (boot camp) is conducted.  That base had a special branch for all of the trainees to attend.  The branch was organized under the local stake, with individuals called from several wards who were active duty.  When there was an LDS chaplain, he was the branch president.  The trainees only had a limited time off from training so we were only able to conduct a short sacrament meeting and a short priesthood and/or Relief Society meeting. 

Your son will be able to be as active as he desires.  Most military bases have wards close by that he will be able to attend.  Even Naval ships have groups that meet and conduct services. During my time in the reserves, I had many assignments to places around the U.S. and once to Japan (my jobs kept me mostly stateside).  I was always able to contact the local ward to get a ride to meetings on Sunday or even to a temple if one was close by if I could get time off.

Make sure he has had his patriarchal blessing and a father’s blessing before he leaves for basic training (boot camp).  Tell him not to be afraid to stand up for what he knows is true.  My troops soon found out I was LDS and would watch me like a hawk for any mistakes I might make against LDS standards.  It was even more of a challenge then to live up to the standards that I should under those circumstances.

I wish your son the best.  Our country needs good LDS servicemen and servicewomen.  May the Lord watch over him always.

J. Gill, Lt Col, USAFR (retired)

Thanks for reminding us of the importance of priesthood blessings.  Priesthood blessings are a lifeline to me, and I can only imagine how much more important they would be to someone who is putting his life in jeopardy as a member of the military.

Please assure your friend that every military base has at least one LDS unit associated with it. We have been in Germany and Japan and the U.S., and have always had friendly, helpful, active folks greet us upon arrival.  Even deployed soldiers will be assigned to at least a small group with a group leader.  

In addition, when I was Relief Society president, I got not a few letters/emails from parents with information about their transferring family members so we knew to look them up.  If the man who wrote is afraid his less active son might not search us out, he can contact us and we’ll find his son!  Don’t worry; he’ll be well taken care of no matter where he is!  

Janet
Currently in the Ansbach Ward, Nuernberg Germany Stake

Janet’s invitation is extended to all you readers with loved ones in the military.


If they haven’t contacted church authorities in their area, you can help them along by submitting their names to local church authorities.

I could go on for pages but I’ll keep this brief!  My husband has been in the military for just about 27 years.  We have lived in 14 wards and two branches.  We have had the full realm of the church everywhere we have gone until recently, where we don’t have a patriarch in our district. 

I have raised seven children in these wards, and it has been wonderful.  It is so nice to see the Gospel lived in different states and countries and run pretty much the same way, with the only difference being personalities.  What you will find among military wards is that there is a lot of young talent that is centralized in one location! 

My husband (51) and I (49) are getting to be one of the “older” couples in our current branch because of the youth in the military, but the energy of the wards we have been in has always been great.  I think most people who have spent a career serving in the military worry about going back to a “home” ward that hasn’t changed much over time, where things are done the way they’ve always been done and where differences are not celebrated.

Military Wife

Thanks for a unique perspective (among these letters, at least) on the advantages of serving in young, fluid wards.  I’m sure living in wards like those has kept you young, and that’s always a good thing.

I am the product of a military ward. I was a career Navy enlisted man living in Navy housing and was introduced to the Gospel by a neighbor. Within 18 months I was baptized in the New London Connecticut Ward, and two weeks later moved to Charleston, South Carolina.

I attended the Charleston II Ward but fell away because of a word of wisdom problem. However, I did have a good home teacher who faithfully and often came to our home. In 1972 we were still on the split meeting schedule, and one Sunday right after priesthood my home teacher (he happened to be the elders quorum president) stopped in and invited me to come to Sunday School. As he left he passed the bishop in the driveway who sternly and lovingly said “Brother Hale, you are coming to church today aren’t you!” I have been active ever since.

Everywhere I have been stationed there was a military ward — even on Guam. When I was at sea on my submarine I was the group leader and authorized to hold sacrament meeting weekly. We reactivated one young man and even converted another during the three patrols I spent on that submarine.

The Church is strong around every military base, with members from the base and from the community. I even met my current wife through the singles group that was very active in the ward. The records being shipped into the new ward allows the ward/branch to identify and seek out the less-actives and fellowship them — usually with great success because their peers are working with them and understand their plight. There will also be a number of senior military enlisted or officers that serve as mentors for the young men arriving there. I am living proof of that concept.

Bottom line is that the Church is very well supported at most military bases.

Elder Allan Hale

World Wide Support for new.familysearch.org

Retired Senior Chief Electronics Technician Submarine Qualified

Thanks for sharing your reactivation story — and your love story — with us.  Your letter indicates there are many advantages that can benefit a person who affiliates with the Church in a military setting.

There is an LDS office for dealing with military affairs.  An Army chaplain, Richard H. Whaley, is in charge of that office at church headquarters in SLC. He was a missionary in England when I joined the church there in the 1960’s. I can’t find his e-mail address right off, but I bet you can find him.

Wendy Holsberger

York 1st Ward Pennsylvania

I didn’t even get the chance to do the detective work, Wendy.  The next letter I read came from the person who is currently director of military relations for the Church, and he provided the link for me.  Here it is:

I don’t know how to respond directly to the father who asked the question about Church network in the military.  Maybe you can forward it to him for me.  Probably the best way to answer it is to have him contact Military Relations at 801-240-2286.  We do have a well established organization for members joining the military starting at Basic Training.  I would also suggest that they review the materials on our web site

Frank Clawson

Director Military Relations

Thanks for sending the phone number and the link.  You may be in for an influx of calls during the next few days, but it’s all for a good cause.

The Church is everywhere.  I was in the Army for three years, went to basic training (“boot camp”) in Missouri, continued my training in Texas, was stationed in Germany, and deployed to Kuwait for a time.  The Church, to some degree, was in every one of these places. 

It’s true that the military has to allow you to worship as you wish, so going to church was never really an issue. I just had to make it known that I wanted to go and which church I wanted to go to. During training, there is time set aside for church if you wish, and the LDS church is always there.

Depending on where you are, church may be held in an actual chapel, a vacant room with nothing but a few chairs, or it may even be in a tent in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes, you actually get to dress up for church in typical Sunday dress but other times church is held while you’re in your dirty uniform because dressing up is not an option. 

You may have church with a large number of other members or you may only have a handful, as long as the priesthood is there.  The church also makes a special set of scriptures that are small and simplified just for military members.  Those in the military are not forgotten by the Church, and I certainly appreciated that while I was in the Army.  It helped me immensely.   

Female Army Vet

Thanks for reminding us, Vet, that no matter how you’re dressed or where the services are held, you can find LDS meetings even in remote corners of the world.  That is a real comfort to people who are away from home.

For the father that is concerned about support in the military for his LDS son I wanted to provide some information on my experiences in a ward adjacent to a large military base. 

The United States Armed Forces is composed of many members of the Church, both in the enlisted and officers’ ranks, and as such nearly every military installation has a nearby ward or, in remote areas near war zones or on ships, LDS groups that meet together to have lessons, partake of the sacrament, and provide support to each other.

For overseas locations where smaller numbers of LDS service personnel are located there may be a branch serving the needs of the members and their families.


I currently live in a ward that is probably over 80% active duty or retired military.  The majority of our bishops have been current active duty, reservists, or retired military personnel.  I would say that also the majority of elders quorum presidencies, high priest group leaders, Young Men presidencies, and various other key ward leaders have come from the ranks of current or retired military. 

I’ve had a bishop that was a flag officer in the military and another that had spent some time as an enlisted person as a young man and everything in between.  About a third of our ward changes membership about every six to eight months, so our ward has a lot of experience with LDS service members and the unique needs of they and their families have.  Most of the LDS service members in our ward tend to be male, particularly those who have chosen the military as a career.  Female service members are rare in the ward and tend to be young, enlisted, and single, with nearly all not planning on making the military their career. 

The first step for this young man going into the military is to have his bishop contact the bishop of the ward where this young man will be attending basic training when he knows when and where he is going.  Unless he gets into trouble at basic training he will most likely be able to attend LDS services at the local ward, branch, or group on Sunday — which most young men and women who have attended services will tell you is the highlight of their time in training.  It is like a refuge from the craziness that takes place during initial training. 

Those aboard ships or in more primitive conditions near war zones also look forward greatly to the spiritual solace provided by LDS group worship services.  These are generally overseen by a priesthood holder who has been set apart for this unique calling but not always due to the demands of war zones on personnel.  Announcements and posted notices on bulletin boards in remote duty stations are frequent ways that soldiers, sailors, marines, and airman find out when and where LDS group services will take place. 

Bishops can order and provide at no cost to LDS service members special editions of the scriptures that are smaller and lighter for those service members on deployment or making frequent transfers.  Those stationed stateside at regular military facilities generally enjoy large, active wards with lots of LDS service members and their families. 

Priesthood leadership in wards near military bases are particularly vigilant in getting servicemen and women involved in the ward and in keeping them active, but it is critically important that their church records with a good address and phone number follow them to each duty station.  I served as the executive secretary to two different bishops and cannot tell you how difficult and frustrating it is to receive records for service members with incomplete or missing information. 

Sometimes the records for a particular service member don’t even arrive until after that service member has already been transferred or is deployed to an overseas assignment.  At other times we would get records with only the name of the city with no address or phone number.  Wards can do little for them if they do not know they are there.  Some parents want to keep their child’s records with the family ward but this is a huge mistake as the ward where a service member is stationed will not know they are there without those records unless the service member walks into the clerk’s office and gets the records transferred in. 

Ward members on deployments to war zones will most likely keep their membership records in the ward at the main base where they are stationed because ships and war zones don’t generally have wards and branches to send the records to.  I know some military personnel whose records travel with their spouse and children, who may return to the spouse’s parents’ ward for support while the service member is deployed.  This can make it difficult though to determine if a particular LDS service member is coming back to the ward after deployment.  We have had military members return, go inactive, and not know about it because their records never came back when the spouse and kids came back.

Military wards change dramatically throughout the year, but even for those who may only be in the ward a few months callings are generally extended.  While not military myself, I do enjoy the many opportunities to serve in a wide variety of callings in a short period of time due to the constant changes in ward membership due to military transfers and deployments overseas. 

If a person does not like his current calling in a military ward he’ll likely get a new one after a short while because the ward membership changes constantly.  Callings will most likely be extended with the military member’s schedule and duties in mind, but not always.  We had a bishop that was deployed for six months.  He had one counselor that did most of the work while he was gone! 

It’s also nice getting new people in who constantly re-energize the ward with new ideas and enthusiasm.  Military folks and their families are generally pretty used to moving and making new friends so they jump right in and are ready to meet new people and be actively engaged in the ward.

The military chaplain services do have LDS chaplains, but my experience has been that sometimes it can be rare to come across one.  In the 35+ years in my current ward we’ve only had one LDS chaplain stationed here that I can remember.  They are in all branches of the military, but the way the military utilizes chaplains they generally provide support to service members of multiple denominations so even having a large population of LDS service members in one particular place does not mean there will be an LDS chaplain.  Talking to other service members in the ward, this seems to be the case world wide. 

I know the military is always looking for new chaplains but our faith’s requirements to receive ecclesiastical endorsement along with the military’s requirements to become an LDS chaplain in the U.S. military may be a primary barrier.  (For more info on becoming an LDS military chaplain )  In nearly all cases the local ward/branch (or LDS group in remote areas) will provide the priesthood, services, and support for LDS service members.

Now a word of caution.  I have seen countless instances where new service members who are LDS choose not to be active in the Church after joining the armed forces.  Some use it as an escape from their past and home life or get caught up in the more worldly aspect available to military life such as alcohol, partying, and promiscuity.  Suddenly a young man or young women finds himself away from home with just enough money and free time to do what he wants without Mommy and Daddy looking over his shoulder.

 

I’ve even seen returned missionaries totally ignore their covenants and avoid the ward and ward leadership.


Just as there is an active support system of LDS members in the wards and groups, there are also a lot of people in the military ready to support life choices and behavior contrary to the teachings of the gospel.  For some young people this new life with new choices is too much for them to resist.  For young men there are lots of very attractive young ladies who are eager to sleep with any young man in a uniform.  It’s almost like a game with them.  Some of them are under age, which also presents the possibility of legal problems if a service man is not careful. 

Basic training and ongoing “education” opportunities for service members will stress the importance of safe sex and the dangers of not having safe sex but will not be much help reinforcing morality and abstinence.  Young service members are away from home, family, and their friends they had in high school, so there is no one there that knows them or knows what they are doing to provide any sort of social shame, stigma, or constraints for not staying true to covenants.  Those with weak or immature testimonies may have difficulties.

No matter how hard the ward leadership works at it, they cannot make someone’s son or daughter attend church or honor sacred covenants.  I remember countless times in Sunday morning bishopric meetings when calls would come in from frantic parents begging us to please get their child to church.  Calls and visits would follow to the service member, but there was absolutely no interest on the part of the wayward service member.  The hand of fellowship and support is extended, the contact information is left, but all attempts are rebuffed. 

We’ve had upset parents on some occasions who think that it is the ward’s fault that their child has strayed while in the military, but the ward cannot do more than extend invitations, assign home teachers, and even on some occasions offer to give rides.  If those actions are rebuffed, as they sometimes are, the ward leadership cannot force the person’s child to go to church or honor covenants because they are adults at this point in their life. 

On several occasions the child service members have told their parents that they are much more active in the Church than they really are.  We had one occasion where a sister visiting the ward castigated the membership during fast and testimony meeting for not providing meals and other support when her daughter had a baby that week.  The ward membership scratched their head, wondering who the daughter even was.  The family all left right after sacrament meeting, not even allowing for anyone to find out!  If we don’t know they are in the ward or they rebuff attempts of the ward members and leadership to reach out to them, there is nothing that can be done.  Just like any other adults living anywhere else in the world, they have their free agency.  They are adults and the ward cannot be their parents no matter how heartsick that makes Mom and Dad. 

We also get well-meaning grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and other relatives transferring in membership records for service members with no other information other than the name and town.  If we are lucky and do locate them, often these contacts are rebuffed and not in a nice way.  It is heartbreaking hearing from a sad grandmother who believes that if the ward could make yet another visit, her granddaughter who wants nothing to do with the Church will return to activity.  It can happen but rarely does.  It’s too easy to disappear into the military if a child wants to, particularly with frequent deployments and moving to new military installations. 

We have had members leave the ward without telling anyone and with no notice.  Unless they request their records at their new location, we have no way of finding them unless Mom or Dad forwards them with good contact information to the new ward.  I even was the witness to a hasty wedding in the bishop’s office for a young sister in the military marrying a nonmember who we didn’t even know was in the ward until they showed up with the marriage license in hand asking to be married!  They moved within a week or two of that hasty wedding, leaving no time from when they returned from their honeymoon to make further contact.  It’s really that easy to disappear.

Marriage and dating are also big challenges for young LDS service members.  Often the dating pool within the Church for young service men and women who are LDS is very, very small.  Many end up dating and marrying nonmembers, particularly the young sisters.  Very rarely does the other spouse join the Church and stay active.  It happens but rarely, and many times they still end up going inactive.  This is particularly heartbreaking for the sisters who are in the service and their active families.  Many of the them are getting asked out on dates by nice young men who are good looking, persistent, employed in positions of authority in the military, and seemingly nice but who do not have the gospel or its standards.  These young sisters are far from home, family, and friends, and the attention can become too much to resist — especially for a lonely girl.  For some girls it may be their first time getting asked out on a date or dating boys with expectations much different from the LDS young men they dated in high school back home. 

For young men the allure of the party life with alcohol and very friendly women without gospel standards can be too much of a temptation.  The person who your daughter or son might bring home might not be what you had in mind for their future.  Even when a service member does date and marry someone who is also a member, there is also the difficulty of long separations while the service member is on deployment or the strain of constant moving.  If both spouses are in the military deploying at different times or even stationed in different locations it can destroy a marriage. 

Some spouses of service members can handle these separations and constant moving easily, while others cannot.  Sometimes married service members “forget” who they are on deployments and make choices to violate covenants that result in divorce.  Sometimes the spouses that remain behind “forget” who they are while their spouses are away and make similar choices.  I have seen both and the results are heartbreaking. 

I have seen sisters have mental and emotional breakdowns when separated from their service member husbands for lengthy periods.  For some, being far from home with small children is just too much.  I’ve also seen severe behavioral problems in children who have a parent deployed for long periods of time.  But many spouses and children handle it just fine — particularly if they are mature in the gospel, mature in their testimonies, and valiant in maintaining gospel practices at home while the spouse is deployed.

In some cases I have seen the spouse and children left behind on a deployment go inactive simply because without the military spouse at home it’s too much work to get the kids ready on Sunday or just too much trouble to go to church.


They and their children find it very difficult if not impossible to return to activity after the deployment.  Sometimes the service member goes inactive while being deployed.  This can result from just an unwillingness to attend group services or just laziness. 

Sometimes it is challenging to attend services and stay active while far from home without the resources church members enjoy in their home wards.  Their testimonies, families, and activity in the Church generally suffer when they return.  It is good advice to choose one’s spouse carefully as a member of the armed forces, strengthen testimonies, and stay actively engaged in living the gospel.

I apologize if this is too long for your column, but maybe the information can be useful for those members looking to go into the armed forces and their families.  Many, many LDS service members are great folks who make good choices, serve actively in their wards, are great members of the armed forces and have no problems.  Both they and their families seem to thrive in military life with all the opportunities and adventures it offers.  Some of the most valiant saints I have known have been active members of the armed forces.  Some I have counted among my best friends.  Many have been great leaders in the past who have been real assets to the ward.   

But for others whose testimonies may not be strong or mature enough or who are only currently active because mom and dad make them go to church will find an easy and convenient way to not be faithful saints once they start their time in the military.

This link to the church’s Military Relations website that may be of use

Jason Orton

Stratford, California 

Your letter was long, Jason, but what you wrote was so important that I didn’t cut a sentence of it.  Readers, please don’t expect local church leaders to track down your sons and daughters when they go into the service.  If you want people to find your loved ones, send complete contact information so local church leaders can at least find them to give them the option of church activity.

Please be sure to let your readers know about the church’s Military Relations Department and their website on lds.org: https://lds.org/pa/display/1,17884,4649-1,00.html.  Many of this dad’s questions can probably be answered through the information on this website.

When my son joined the Army as an active duty infantry soldier, I was able to find a few online support groups that helped me through the tough times. Though these groups were not specifically LDS, they were definitely helpful, especially when he was deployed.

My son was also not interested in attending church at the time he enlisted, but the opportunities for him to do so were definitely there.  He had those opportunities during his basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, while he was stationed in Hawaii, and when he served in Iraq!  (Did you know that soldiers blessing the sacrament in war zones have their rifles at their side?) And when he was in basic training (or OSUT) in Georgia, there was an LDS retired military officer who oversaw the ward where the basic training soldiers went to church. There are also many LDS members who serve as chaplains throughout the world. The church is definitely accessible to those members who serve in the military!

Shauna in California

Readers, Shauna also provided contact information for anyone who would like to talk to her personally.  If you want to contact her, write to me at [email protected].

The Church is everywhere, around the world.  A member can stay as close to the church or “hide” and fall between the cracks.  We can not ask for their membership records if they don’t come to church and ask the ward clerk to request them. 

We live in next to Fort Sill, Oklahoma.   There is a singles serviceman’s branch with a wonderful senior couple assigned to them.  That is all they do is help those soldiers with whatever they need, spiritually.  If married, there are two close wards and a few more if one chooses to live more than 10-15 miles away from the fort.  Your soldier son (or daughter) can be as active
or as “inactive” as he chooses.  Stepping up and introducing one’s self to the bishopric, in Sunday school and priesthood (or Relief Society) will set the wheels in motion for home and visiting teachers and can get them involved in the ward.  Living out in “the mission field” is a wonderful experience.  It will make one stronger in the gospel if one chooses, or one can keep quiet and probably never have a member find them if that is what they so choose.

I was born and raised in Utah but moved away when my husband joined the military shortly
after we wed.  We now have 15 grandchildren, with one in the Air Force and two in the Army reserves.  One recently joined the reserves after spending seven years in the Army with three deployments to Iraq. Another one of our sons was active duty Army before going into the reserves.  He was killed 6 years ago in an auto accident, not related to the military at all. 

My husband and I have nine children and were in the military for 14 years, then retired from the reserves.  He is a Department of the Army civilian now, which puts us near military installations.  
We love the “military wards” we have been in and love all the people we have met.  God puts his saints at certain places for his purposes but uses “Uncle Sam” to help with the moving.  I hope this helps.

LeAnn Enderle

You did indeed help, LeeAnn.  Your letter showed, as the others did, that Latter-day Saints can make lives in the military that are just as spiritually satisfying and fulfilling as those of us who are not in the military.

Thanks to all of you who wrote in on this topic. And thanks to all of you who have served in the military in your respective countries.  Your sacrifices have kept and continue to keep us safe, and we are grateful for what you do for us, and have done for us in the past.

To close this topic, I have an audio file that was sent to me today.  It contains the words of a cowboy who talks about his gratitude for America and the people who defend her.  Click below to listen.


Next week we’ll have a new topic for your consideration.

Until next time — Kathy

 “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”

Mark Twain