This week, the nation celebrates its 236th birthday. Most birthday parties are joyous occasions. However, this one should be a time of reflection and thanksgiving for those who have spilled their blood to make and keep this country free.
Millions have lost their lives in this endeavor. However, the costs associated with our all-volunteer force now serving in the Middle East is a lot higher than it ought to be. A little-known fact is that soldiers serving in Afghanistan now are 50 percent more likely to die of suicide than they are at the hands of an enemy.
The armed forces have averaged one such death a day, 154 in the first 155 days of the year. Add to this a growing number of cases of sexual assaults, domestic violence and alcohol and drug abuse.
The military has spent millions of taxpayer dollars on studies looking for answers. In addition, it has added a plethora of prescription drugs like Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft to fight these problems. These drugs carry warnings that they are particularly dangerous for those less than 24 years of age. One of the dangers is suicide. However, according to the Army surgeon general, 8 percent of our active duty military soldiers are on sedatives and more than 6 percent are on antidepressants.
The stress of war takes a tremendous tole. Today soldiers often are deployed multiple times. However, a substantial number of these suicides occur among soldiers who have never deployed. Clearly these pharmaceutical Band-Aids are not working.
The answer is not what has been added, but what is missing from the preparation, training and the daily lives of soldiers who now have, or will soon be assigned, the most stressful job on earth.
Any student of history can tell you that the effectual, fervent prayers of our military leaders and their chaplains have been a constant source of encouragement, inspiration and sustenance through our war-torn years. When you take away the ability of their leaders to sincerely pray with their troops and seek divine protection, wisdom and endurance in the face of danger and difficulties, you can expect many soldiers to crumble under this pressure.
Gen. George C. Marshall correctly taught that morale comes from “the religious fervor of the soul.” Gen. Marshall said, “I look upon the spiritual life of the soldier as even more important than his physical equipment … the soldier’s heart, the soldier’s spirit, the soldier’s soul are everything. Unless the soldier’s soul sustains him, he cannot be relied on and will fail himself and his commander and his country in the end.”
Clearly prayer is a military necessity! It always has been and always will be.
Nevertheless, in today’s politically correct military, the Pentagon has all but neutralized our most effective weapon. In 1998, under President Clinton, the JAG’s Legal Center sent out a directive that forbid military leaders from praying. It instructed line officers to let the chaplains give invocations and benedictions because they are “experts and are the most likely to use the appropriate language.” Furthermore, they were told, “if an event is not large enough to merit attendance of a chaplain, then a prayer is probably not appropriate.” Chaplains, in turn, were instructed not to “reference divinity by any sectarian name.”
A full 70 percent of our troops self-identify as Christians, and Christians are specifically instructed to pray “in Jesus name.” Any other prayer would be disingenuous and therefore meaningless.
A battle over this religious censorship ensued in Congress. It took several years to overturn this policy. However, the practical effects remain. It is well-understood in all branches of the military that officers who dare pray with their troops will not be viewed kindly and will kiss their chance of advancement goodbye. Chaplains, more often than not, speak in generalities and guard their words, fearful of losing their jobs and their retirement security. As a result, our troops’ spiritual needs are poorly served.
From 1774 through 2002, prayer was not simply encouraged in this country, but some 77 different prayer books were published and/or distributed through official government channels to our troops. Seventy-three percent of those prayers were in the name of Jesus Christ. Now, instead of prayer, it’s Prozac.
This has left a deadly vacuum. Col Ron Ray, former JAG lawyer, decorated Vietnam veteran and deputy assistant secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan, has attempted to fill that vacuum with a collection of these historic military prayers in a book by First Principles Press, “Endowed by their Creator.”
Churches have distributed thousands of copies to our men and women in uniform. This would make a great birthday present for someone you know in the military. It might even be used to save a life.