Onward, Mormon Soldier

Usually I reveal my ignorance gradually over the course of a blog post, perhaps saving the big reveal for the end. This time I’ll get it out of the way up front. I know how spiritual growth and progress toward engagement with the church at an adult level works in lives more or less like my own: high school graduation and transition to elders quorum or Relief Society, starting college and going on a mission (in roughly that order), finishing college and getting married (in roughly that order), and starting a career and accepting adult church callings. What I don’t understand well, despite a need to do so, is how typical milestones of spiritual growth fit into the lives of those who opt for military service.

Certainly I know it’s possible. In the wards I’ve been part of, I’ve known many current and former service members who are devoted church members. Even so, military service typically comes at a critical time in people’s lives, often at the same time and potentially conflicting with the milestones of spiritual progress that I do understand. Moreover, military service typically comes at a stage of life – young adulthood and leaving home for the first time – and often holds greatest appeal for a demographic – young men – at heightened risk of drifting off into inactivity. So I have questions.

  1. What can families and wards do to encourage young people entering military service to remain active?
  2. What resources are available to support enlisted military personnel and their families?
  3. What’s the best approach to a mission, anyway? Both for those who can serve before or after their time in the military, and for those whose careers all but preclude missionary service?
  4. How do the typical hallmarks of church engagement – missions, priesthood ordination, temple endowment, and marriage, among others – fit in with the typical path of 2-6+ years of military enlistment following high school graduation?

I would be grateful for comments, useful links, and information about what has worked for you or people you know.

14 comments for “Onward, Mormon Soldier

  1. ji
    October 17, 2017 at 11:10 am

    Jonathan,

    I have read that when the U.S. had conscription (the draft), each LDS ward (or was it stake?) had a strict quota on missionary deferments. For example, a ward with ten draft-eligible young men in 1968 might be able to get only two deferments, leaving the other eight to the military. The Church had (and still had) an extensive military relations effort to minister to LDS persons in uniform.

  2. ji
    October 17, 2017 at 11:11 am

    Oops! …and still has

  3. David Frandin
    October 17, 2017 at 1:29 pm

    This post hits me right where I live.. I was drafted into the Army in Sept 1969 at the age of 19. I was attending Jr College, and my father had warned me to get down and pre-register for the next semester, but like many 19 y/o’s, dear ole dad was ignored, and so, around mid August of 1969, I got the dreaded “greetings” from my local draft board. I was a Priest, and had been talking to the Bishop about a mission, and being ordained an Elder. Getting drafted shot that plan down. To make a long story short, due to there being no LDS services available (so I was told) during boot camp at Fort Bliss TX and being unable to get to services during my advanced training at Ft Huachuca AZ and THEN being sent to Vietnam, where there was barely ANY Sunday services for ANY church at the base I was assigned to, I gradually fell away from the Church, and picked up a LOT of bad habits (smoking/drinking). Despite this, I got a lump in my throat whenever I heard the MoTab, or heard a reference to the Church. I putted along for close to 40 years away from the Church, and married a very nice Catholic girl in 1985. Around 2010, I became VERY depressed, as I’d just turned 60 and was having trouble at work, such that after giving me all sorts of breaks, they finally fired me. This really did in the depression and my lovely wife called the
    missionaries, and now I’m back, working on killing many of the “bad habits” I picked up over the 40 years I was away.. Wife has been
    baptised and I’m hoping we can go to the Temple in the near future… Thanks for the post!

  4. Jerry Schmidt
    October 17, 2017 at 2:59 pm

    We are reminded that God and his Christ are mindful of all God’s children, and even outside the beaten path efforts are made, seen and unseen, to bring children back home

  5. Jerry Schmidt
    October 17, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    I, as well, wonder if military service involving LDS men presented a challenge, but even farther back in the history of Utah and the church. Did those LDS men who did not migrate to Utah get caught up in the U. S. Civil War? Did LDS men in northern Mexico get caught up in the conflicts there? How did LDS men (and women) involved in the British Empire’s various conflicts survive the experience with faith intact? Or LDS men in Germany, Austria, France, etc?

    Did the church provide specific programs for such times and places? The church has considered itself global almost since it’s official organization, but such programs most likely would not have existed in the 1800s period of the church.

    Someone should write abook…then get criticized for either putting the church in a bad light or going to easy on the church.

  6. Dale Draeger
    October 17, 2017 at 6:44 pm

    Jonathan,

    Please go to LDS.ORG and type in Military Relations and you will find answers to all of your questions for support and what the Church provides to church members serving there country.

    I have been in the military for 28+ years and a commander several times. I am very active in the church and love serving the Lord. My motto or call in my companies and Battalions is “For God and Country”! There are many people in the services that are active LDS serving in many capacities of the church.

    I have been deployed 5 times and have helped young men get on there missions. I served my mission from 19-21 and then joined the military at age 24. I have done all the things in my LDS engagement that you mention in your fourth question. I continue to serve and hold my light and standards high where ever I serve….you can too!

    Your third question. It fits anyway you want it too through the inspiration of the spirit guiding you….I would say, always put the Lord first, then serve in any capacity you would like to help serve Him! “We are Enlisted ’til the Conflict is Over!

  7. ReTx
    October 17, 2017 at 10:50 pm

    This is totally off topic, but I read the following and it really hit a nerve: “I know how spiritual growth and progress toward engagement with the church at an adult level works.”

    I can see that ‘engagement with the church’ is all about hitting specific church created milestones. But that hitting these milestones determines spiritual growth (engagement with God himself) just rubs me all kinds of wrong. Which goes along with something I overheard in conversation at church recently. That Bishops use check-off reports to make sure members are ‘progressing’ in the gospel. Again, that seems just awful. Do members of the church really think this way? Do we no longer care about the inside of a person, and only care that they’ve checked the proper boxes?

  8. Travis
    October 17, 2017 at 10:53 pm

    I know you asked specifically about enlisted servicemembers, not commissioned, but I’ll throw my own experience in for what it’s worth. My pattern tracked pretty closely with the typical LDS milestones: college, mission, finish college, law school, get married. Then I commissioned as a JAG—so my military career began at the point a career would in the typical LDS pattern. While maybe the minority situation, I suspect the officer-to-enlisted ration is higher among LDS servicemembers than in the rest of the military.

    The military life is not for everyone, but it probably offers a good fit for many more people than consider it. It offers job security, good benefits, a very wide range of career tracks, the opportunity to do meaningful work, and a community of support. Two cautions: First, no matter what you do in the military, there will be sacrifices, and it won’t always be easy on families. Second, don’t think that “military service” is one uniform experience, and base an opinion on the experience of one person or media portrayal. It will be vastly different from one career and branch of the service to the next, and from one generation to the next.

  9. Travis
    October 17, 2017 at 10:54 pm

    officer-to-enlisted *ratio*…

  10. Taylor
    October 18, 2017 at 11:56 pm

    Thanks for posting this. I’m commissioning into the Army as a JAG officer in January, and I’ve passed the normal church milestones expected of a person my age. Unfortunately, I’m not yet married, so I’m a bit apprehensive about marriage opportunities if I’m stationed in an area with very few members. Beyond that, however, I’m looking forward to living outside of Utah and being of service to the at-risk demographic you identify in your post.

  11. October 20, 2017 at 2:45 pm

    Thanks for the helpful comments and suggestions. What’s striking to me, though, is any response from people who have enlisted in the military more recently. I feel like I understand the timing, preparation, and career path of officers, as it usually follows a college degree. But I’m starting to wonder if my own blind spot about enlisted military personnel is part of a wider issue. That’s a lot of young LDS people whose lives aren’t intersecting with our own in some important ways where there should be more overlap.

  12. Tim
    October 22, 2017 at 4:34 am

    David – congrats. Loved reading your story.

  13. Northern Virginia
    October 24, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    There really are a ton of LDS officers in comparison to enlisted, especially in the professional jobs (I happened to be one of them fro several). I found officer life, specifically Air Force officer life, to be quite compatible with Church service and standards. I will say, though, that the prohibition on drinking can have a bit of an off-putting effect, especially if you’re not careful to have other camaraderie-building interactions. That said, there are many, many high-ranking LDS officers.

    Jonathan, you’re not the only one who feels that way. While I didn’t enlist, I distinctly recall most people assuming that a young man or woman who enlisted, especially out of high school, would invariably wind up inactive and never serve a full-time mission. For those reasons, I can’t recall anyone in my ward growing up actively encouraging us to enlist. When a couple of kids from the ward enlisted, members of the ward were not wholly approving of the decision but proud of the decision to serve, nonetheless. I liken it a bit to a teenager expressing a desire to attend a trade school. Everyone agrees we need skilled craftsmen, but none of our parents teachers ever talked about a skilled trade as an option. It was essentially college or bust.

  14. Jerry Schmidt
    October 27, 2017 at 1:50 pm

    Dale, your comment doesn’t need my validation, but it has my attention and my respect, as do all those who serve in the US military. This has become a cliche, but I can’t imagine myself in a job that would require me to put my life on the line, so I have to respect anyone working in the military, particularly the US military, even if they only do kitchen duty. To add on top of that a serious engagement as a disciple of Christ puts such individuals in Moroni territory for me. But despite individual conviction, social engagement is necessary for social beings such as humans, and out of my obvious ignorance I hope the LDS church does provide this necessary social engagement. This would necessarily include efforts from church members, as myself, to socially engage with other church members who are actively serving in the military, regardless of which nation we are in.

Charitable Comments Welcome