By Joe Conway
ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Churches have the potential to assist U.S. Army veterans who may find themselves retired prematurely. The executive director for Southern Baptist chaplaincy says resources are available to aid churches as they assist new veterans caught in a planned Army troop reduction.
In a July 9 briefing at the Pentagon, Brig. Gen. Randy George, director of force management for the Army, made the announcement. The reduction may affect 40,000 troops by the end of 2017, the Army News Service reported.
“These are incredibly difficult choices,” said George. “The Army followed a long and deliberate process … to determine the best construct for the Army, based on the threats we face and the current fiscal environment we must operate in.” George said the Army hopes to draw down the active force gradually to “minimize the turbulence we have with soldiers and their families.”
Minimizing that turbulence is where churches can step in, said Doug Carver, Chaplain (Major General) United States Army, Retired, and Executive Director of Chaplaincy for the North American Mission Board (NAMB). Churches can be an integral part of re-entry into civilian life, said Carver.
“Military members are our neighbors,” said Carver. “Over 85 percent of our military members, veterans and their families live in our communities. Many of them are unchurched and remain unreached by local churches. Arguably, the military community represents one of the nation’s largest unreached people groups.”
Carver said NAMB’s chaplaincy team has tools and resources available at the NAMB website to assist churches in reaching out to veterans, honoring them and serving them. Awareness is the first step, Carver said.
“We must recognize the significant number of veterans living in the United States,” said Carver. “Members of the armed services–active, Reserve/National Guard and retired–are comprised of over 23 million Americans. Approximately 18 percent of this number is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention or other gospel partners.
“Our veterans and their families have a growing need for a cure to their wounds of war that can only be found in the gospel. A recent study by Baylor University concluded that ‘clergy and the church–not psychologists or other mental health experts—are the most common source of help sought (by our troops) in times of psychological distress.’”
Carver said there are practical steps churches can take to assist veterans, including:
- Maintain an awareness of the needs and sacrifices of our veterans and their families
- Create an environment of acceptance for those recovering from their war wounds and other associated trauma
- Provide pastoral care to deployed troops, veterans and their families
- Establish reintegration ministry for those returning from a deployment or retiring from the military
- Initiate an intentional trauma ministry strategy for military families
NAMB President Kevin Ezell echoed Carver’s suggestions and concern.
“This is an important time for churches to be aware of the needs of our military families,” said Ezell. “These transitions might also mean that many military members can play a greater role in ministry within our churches where their leadership and experience is much needed.”
By the close of fiscal year 2018, the Army expects to have reduced in size from 490,000 to 450,000, according to the Army News Service. The Army also plans to cut 17,000 civilian employees. The reductions will come from some 30 Army installations.
To discover more about how your church can assist veterans or learn about Southern Baptist chaplaincy, visit namb.net/chaplaincy.
Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board.
Published September 16, 2015