Military service is often a time of personal growth, but some enlisted members find it challenging to maintain spirituality and contact with the Church. To find out more about strengthening members in the military, the Ensign spoke with Paul Jensen, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who serves as the Church’s military relations liaison.
Question: Is it a good idea for young people to serve in the military?
Response: In today’s world, some Latter-day Saints shy away from voluntary military service because of perceived low moral standards. But leaving home for college or work can also put youth into a challenging moral environment, with similar pressures and temptations. If young people are not valiant, faithful, and true to their covenants, they’re going to have the same problems at college or work as they would in the military.
Some nations have involuntary conscription into the military, such as Norway, Korea, and Taiwan. Other nations draft citizens into military service during times of need. As Latter-day Saints, we accept these obligations. We believe in honoring and sustaining the laws of our nations, regardless of where we live.
President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, said: “One of the highest duties of citizenship is to defend one’s country. This is because in wartime military service often demands the ultimate sacrifice—life itself.” He continued: “I served for three years in World War II. During most of that time I was married and was separated from my wife for a considerable period. I was drafted and served because it was the law of the land. I was no hero, but I believe I did the right thing” (“The Integrity of Obeying the Law,” in Vital Speeches of the Day [1 Sept. 1995], 687).
Q: What helps military personnel stay strong in the Church?
R: Local leaders and home teachers can help prepare young people who will be leaving soon for military enlistment. They can help recruits understand how to keep up their standards, teach others about the gospel, and hold on to the Church as an anchor in the storm. For many young people, military service leads to activation and conversion as they mature in the face of difficult circumstances and set good examples for those around them. When young people who have been less active in their home wards are warmly greeted by their Church leaders and peers at military posts, many take advantage of the opportunity to start over again in the Church and subsequently serve full-time missions.
Following are some practical suggestions for Latter-day Saints serving in the armed forces:
Pray regularly. Study the scriptures daily. Ponder and meditate.
Live righteously and be worthy of the Lord’s Spirit and protection.
Avoid the very appearance of evil.
Stay in contact with your family.
Find the Church immediately upon reassignment. Before you enlist, ask your bishop to help you locate the ward or branch that serves your military installation. You may also check the phone directory or inquire at the installation chaplain’s office. There is almost always a ward, branch, or group anywhere you will be stationed or deployed on land or sea.
Be active in your ward, branch, or group. The Church is like a home away from home.
Take advantage of your missionary opportunities.
Wear the uniform with dignity. Bring honor to yourself and the Church which you represent.
Q: Does military service provide opportunities to influence others for good?
R: President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency, said: “Our men and women in uniform have influenced thousands for good. How do they accomplish this? They live the commandments of God and teach to others His divine word. They are prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within them. They are sufficiently acquainted with the doctrines of the Church so that they can touch the heart of an inquiring friend. I pay tribute to them. I honor them. I salute them.”
The opportunities for baptisms, retention, and activation in the military are phenomenal. If a young person who is living the gospel and is friendly and accepts others as sons and daughters of God makes any effort at all—such as inviting others to Church activities, dances, and institute classes—those whom the Lord has prepared will respond. One of the major U.S. Army basic training stations is in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Last year more than 130 people joined the Church there, more than in some missions. I visited that branch recently, and I watched as local members who had been called as leaders in that military branch personally shook the hands of more than 180 young people who arrived on four buses to attend church. The Sunday I was there, full-time missionaries gave 38 first discussions, and I witnessed six baptisms. If these converts and activated members are retained properly at their next duty station, the momentum continues to build and they friendship and fellowship others.
As members of the Church, we have deeply rooted foundations in serving our nations and protecting our religious freedoms and our right to worship according to the dictates of our consciences. When a person puts on a uniform and pursues a just cause in a military situation, he or she is in essence protecting the freedom of agency. Captain Moroni and Helaman are great examples of men who wore the uniforms of their nations—whether literally or figuratively—with dignity and nobleness of purpose. It may not be everybody’s role or responsibility to serve in the military, but it is everybody’s responsibility to support those who do. They deserve our recognition, our honor, and our gratitude.