I am a returned missionary. I am also a soldier in the United States Army serving a second tour of duty in Iraq. Between my mission and my military service, I have seen people both at their best and at their worst. I’m grateful for all the experiences I’ve had, but I’m grateful I could serve a mission first. It prepared me for military service in some surprising ways.
One of the first things I learned on my mission was how to talk with other people. When I attended high school, I was shy and unsure of myself. I felt uncomfortable around strangers and uneasy in crowds. I found it hard to strike up conversations with people and often wouldn’t try. Serving in the México Mérida Mission helped get me out of my comfort zone. I slowly realized that people are easy to talk to if I put forth the effort. I soon found it easy to speak with strangers, and I had my heart touched by many people with whom I met and talked. When I joined the army, I took with me what I had gained on my mission—the ability to communicate.
Communication is imperative in the army. I am a flight crew chief on Black Hawk helicopters, in charge of the defense and security of aircraft and aiding pilots in their side vision. The lives of the pilots, passengers, and my own life often rely on my communication skills. It was on my mission that I learned to be open and to communicate effectively.
Another thing I learned on my mission was humility. When I was growing up, I had everything I needed. I never had to worry about food, shelter, or the clothes on my back. In contrast, my mission area was on the Yucatán Peninsula, and life was very simple there. Not having the luxuries I had grown accustomed to all my life was extremely humbling.
As anyone who has served in the military knows, a soldier must place himself second to the safety of his fellow soldiers and the preservation of his country. I look back on my mission now and thank my Heavenly Father for allowing me to be humbled in preparation for serving my country.
As a soldier at war, you give up every luxury of home. The men and women I served with gave up their warm beds, dry socks, and daily showers. When I am deployed, not a day goes by that I don’t appreciate all the blessings I have waiting for me at home.
Perhaps the greatest way my mission prepared me for military service was what it taught me about the power of example. While serving with the 101st Airborne Division, I have come to realize how powerful a good example can be to those with whom I serve. People say they never hear me use profanity or see me drink alcohol or view pornography. A lot of the guys in my unit have asked me why I won’t participate in those activities and have questioned me about the Church and what it teaches. I always explain my values, telling them my religion teaches me that certain things are bad for me and to abstain from them. Knowing that others are noticing my actions helps me strive to be a good example of what a Latter-day Saint should be.
Finally, on my mission I learned to have faith in Heavenly Father. I learned to pray to Him for strength. There were days during my mission when I felt frustrated and wanted to give up. I would pray for strength to get through the day. Learning to deal with my frustrations by relying on the Lord has helped me get through many tough situations in Iraq.
There is a saying in the army: “Drink water, and drive on.” To me that means, no matter what happens, one must persevere. In the scriptures, this is called enduring to the end. I have learned that I need to continually have faith, read my scriptures, and pray for guidance to get me through tough times. I have learned that the Lord is in control and is looking out for me, so I try to focus on my job. Living with Heavenly Father’s guidance has helped me realize how true the gospel is. My faith is a great source of strength in helping me cope with being deployed in a war zone.
In these and other ways my mission experiences in Mexico help me survive and thrive in the army. I always remember my Book of Mormon hero, Moroni. He served in wars and saw death and destruction, yet he remained a true and faithful servant of the Lord. I find great comfort in knowing that even during the darkest of times you can be at your best.
Are you a member of the military or considering military service? The Church is aware of your needs and challenges. Here are some resources to help you make the transition to military life:
Each Church member who joins the military should receive a servicemember’s edition of the scriptures (available only in English), a copy of the book Principles of the Gospel (available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese), and an LDS dog tag from his or her bishop or whoever conducts the pre-military service Church orientation.
A pre-military service Church orientation video and brochure, both called Serving Your Country, are available through your stake president. This orientation will help answer questions and concerns about what to expect in military service. The video is only available in English, but the brochure is available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.
A new DVD, Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled—A Message of Peace for Latter-day Saints in Military Service, is available to help members in the military understand and cope with the challenges of military duty. The DVD is available through priesthood leaders, military chaplains, and Church distribution centers (item #54616000). It is only available in English.
Local Church leaders and missionary couples stationed near training bases help look after recruits. To find the nearest service member group leaders and missionary couples, call 1-800-453-3860, ext. 2-2286. For help in locating a Church unit, call 1-800-453-3860, ext. 2-3500.
For additional help and resources, go to www.lds.org, and click on “Serving in the Church” and then “Military Relations.” To contact Church Military Relations, call 1-800-453-3860, ext. 2-2286, or e-mail PST-Military@ldschurch.org.