Churches have the potential to assist U.S. Army veterans who may find themselves retired prematurely within two years.
A reduction in force was announced by Brig. Gen. Randy George, the Army’s director of force management, at the Pentagon in a July 9 briefing. The downsizing may affect 40,000 troops by the end of 2017, the Army News Service reported.
“These are incredibly difficult choices,” George said. “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, a retired major general who served as the Army Chief of Chaplains and now is executive director of chaplaincy for the North American Mission Board (NAMB). Churches can be an integral part of re-entry into civilian life, he said.
“Military members are our neighbors,” Carver said. “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.”
Awareness is the first step, Carver said.
“We must recognize the significant number of veterans living in the United States,” he said. “Members of the armed services — active, Reserve/National Guard and retired — are comprised of over 23 million Americans.
“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 churches can take practical steps 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.
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,” Ezell, president of NAMB said. “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.
There are resources available to assist churches in reaching out to veterans, honoring them and serving them.
by Joe Conway