23rd Army chief of chaplains advocates spiritual strength, resiliency
The Fort Gordon and Central Savannah River Area community joined in a time honored tradition of gathering over breakfast to pray as a nation during the installation National Prayer Breakfast held Feb. 26 at the Gordon Conference and Catering Center.
According to Chaplain (Col.) James Watson the origin of the National Prayer Breakfast can be traced as far back as 1942. During the height of World War II a handful of U.S. senators and congressmen sought each other out for spiritual support through praying together. For 10 years they did this until a special invitation from the White House arrived for one of the senators.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower invited Senator Frank Carlson from Kansas to the White House and he confided in him that he found the White House to be the loneliest place he had ever known. The president asked him, “What can I do about it?”
As a result of that conversation, Eisenhower attended the first combined Prayer and Breakfast for both houses of congress at the invitation of Carlson in 1953.
“It has since become known as the annual National Prayer Breakfast.” said Watson.
“Spiritually Strong for God and Country” was the theme for this year’s Fort Gordon National Prayer Breakfast. Prior to the serving of the buffet breakfast the 434th U.S. Army Signal Corps Band as well as the Fort Gordon Navy Choir filled the North Ballroom with uplifting patriot songs.
Marine Gunnery Sgt. Angel Dejesus, the administration chief for the U.S. Marine Corps Detachment, gave the Prayer of the Nation, Sgt. 1st Class Lakisha Randolph, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the installation Religious Support Office, shared the Prayer for the Armed Forces, and Spc. Eric Rodriguez of Fort Gordon said the Prayer for the Community before a crowd of 442 attendees.
Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Pritchard of the 447th Signal Battalion played the song, “Stand!” on his specially made German saxophone. The song’s title and lyrics are a call for its listeners to “stand up” for themselves, their communities, and what they believe in.
Following the buffet breakfast, Watson introduced the guest speaker, Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Donald L. Rutherford, the Army’s 23rd chief of chaplains. According to Watson, Rutherford started his military career as an Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadet in 1973 and went on to serve in various conflicts during his long career.
During his presentation, Rutherford discussed General George Washington’s decision to bring chaplains on board to serve in the Army to deal with times of public distress and troubling times during the colonial period of our country’s history.
The Kinderbook, N.Y. native indicated we may be going through similar times of public distress and troubling times. He advocated “calm leadership.”
“We need to create space for God,” Rutherford encouraged all in attendance.
He pointed out the anxiety and fear created by the current reduction in force our military services now face. The Roman Catholic priest pointed out the anxiety service members face during retention and promotion boards and the stress children of military members experience at a new school following a permanent change of station move.
“We are living in an anxious culture,” said the alumnus of the State University of New York in Albany. “Think about the commercials we view on television. The ones that are telling us we have bad breath or body odors and encourage us to buy a product which will eliminate these problems.”
The general talked about a young captain, a chaplain, who along with his men were taken prisoners during the Korean Conflict in 1950 and forced to march 75 miles. Although their superior officers ordered the Soldiers to help carry the wounded, many of the injured were left to die in ditches. “Morale had broken down,” he said.
“The Army chaplain had a choice to make,” Rutherford added. “He could choose to be bitter and focus on the negative things that were happening or he could focus on the positive and all the things that were right.”
“That officer elected to stay connected to all those around him – his Soldiers,” he explained. “He demonstrated great resiliency and he encouraged and challenged his men. He chose to live.”
Rutherford said not to worry during anxious times, but to pray.
“Let God know your concerns,” he said. “In difficult situations in one’s life choose to be grateful and strive to minimize the negatives. Learn to cope with whatever comes and make the best of the worst of times.”
The chaplain left the podium with a challenge.
“I encourage all of you to practice “calm leadership.”