“A Conversation about Military Relations,” Ensign, Oct. 1988, 78–79
Young LDS men and women entering military service have specific needs and face singular challenges. The Church recognizes this and offers orientation programs and literature to help members stay close to the Church and live gospel principles while serving their country.
To learn more about these military orientation programs, the Ensign spoke with Robert Crawford, executive secretary to the Military Relations Committee.
Q: What counsel does the Church give to young people about to enter military service?
A: For the past seventeen years, a preservice Church orientation program has been offered for Latter-day Saints preparing for military service. This orientation has been presented primarily in the United States and Canada, and it is also used in England, Australia, and New Zealand. Throughout the world, there are approximately thirty thousand members serving in the military at any one time. About 90 percent are serving in the U.S. military.
The goal of this orientation is to help young people, especially, maintain Church activity and gospel standards and be an appropriate example to others while they are in the service.
Q: How does the orientation work?
A: Regional representatives are responsible for encouraging stakes to carry out all phases of the military relations program. Orientation instruction kits are distributed to Church regions throughout the United States and are made available in the countries mentioned.
When a member is about to enter military service, he or she should attend a preservice Church orientation class. The two-hour session covers several subjects, including how to serve one’s country and be an active Church member at the same time.
The orientation shows how to locate the ward or branch nearest one’s assigned military base and stresses the importance of keeping in touch with those at home. Servicemen and women are also advised to take advantage of Church publications by having them sent to their duty stations.
Members are warned of the temptations they will be exposed to in the service and given counsel to help avoid or overcome them. The orientation discusses the wearing of temple garments in the military and appropriate ways members can share the gospel with those with whom they serve. The importance of observing Church standards, including living the Word of Wisdom and avoiding profanity, is stressed.
The instructor also offers advice regarding the constructive use of leisure time and the wisdom of delaying marriage until the early stages of military duty have been completed.
During the orientation, members are given a pocket-sized set of Church publications, including the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price; Principles of the Gospel, which contains explanations of gospel subjects and selected hymns; several pamphlets; and a Church identity tag to wear with the military identification tags.
Q: How do members about to enter military service take advantage of this program?
A: A young person about to enlist for military duty can notify his or her bishop directly or through the home teachers, quorum leader, or parents. The bishop then makes an appointment for the enlistee with the preservice Church orientation instructor.
Although the program is being carried out faithfully in many areas, we’re not getting a hundred percent participation. Many young men and women still enter the military without the benefit of this important orientation. We encourage stake presidents and bishops to make a special effort to see that the program is available to their young people who anticipate military service.
Once a member is in basic training, he or she is given the opportunity to attend a second, expanded LDS orientation session, which is conducted by the stake or unit serving the military base. If this orientation isn’t being offered in the basic training center the member is assigned to, he or she may contact the Military Relations Committee at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City.
Q: What other aids are offered?
A: We maintain a list of LDS units for those in the military in non–English-speaking missions. Many parents and grandparents call to ask where their servicemen and women can attend church. We’re happy to provide this information.
Q: How many LDS chaplains are available to serve members in uniform?
A: Right now we have sixteen chaplains on active duty in the U.S. Air Force, thirty-one in the Army, and twelve in the Navy. There are also sixty-four chaplains serving in the military reserves. Because of the differing chaplain structure in the military services of other countries, only U.S. forces have LDS chaplains.