April 8, 2003
FORT LEONARD WOOD – Two veteran Southern Baptist officers stationed at Fort Leonard Wood say they can sense a spiritual awakening among soldiers at the nation’s largest military training base.
"It’s something I have noticed recently," said Col. Chester White, a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Army. "I have seen a real Christian movement among the military here at Fort Leonard Wood."
White, who is assigned to the 35th Engineer Brigade, thinks the revival is a result of the growing number of Christians in leadership positions and the knowledge among soldiers that they could be facing danger if deployed to the Middle East.
"Everybody has a tendency, I think, to stop and pray a little longer – especially if there’s a chance they’ll be going into harm’s way," White said.
Major Jeffrey Bruns, a Southern Baptist chaplain, said he saw something similar during the Gulf War 12 years ago.
"I went to the Gulf and I also saw it when I went into Bosnia," Bruns said. "When those situations come along and when soldiers are confronted with the possibility of death and the unknown of what will happen to us after death, it causes people to reflect on the spiritual side," Bruns said.
"I, too, am seeing some kind of movement back to God. And I’m also seeing it among family members who are looking for another lifeline to hold onto."
Bruns said it’s not a matter of pushing the soldiers into a relationship with God.
"We don’t have to push," he said. "They are searching. They’re hungry for some kind of hope. Many of them are turning to God because they know there is someone who has a greater power than what man has."
Bruns, a second-generation chaplain, doubles as an instructor in the chemical school at Fort Wood and also teaches a class on ethical leadership to officers. His chaplain duties include ministry activities on post such as leading a weekly youth service and conducting youth retreats for children in soldiers’ families.
According to White, there is a noticeable change in the behavior of soldiers.
"This started happening even before we got into Iraq," White said. "Soldiers today are much brighter, much quicker, better trained and better equipped. I don’t see some of the abhorrent behavior I saw 25 years ago. I’monfident it’s an outpouring of the Holy Sprit.
"And the leaders here at Fort Wood are not afraid to come out and say I’m a born again Christian. And that includes Gen. Antwerp, the base commander. They’re setting tremendous examples for the soldiers. They’re not afraid to come out in public and say, ‘Here are my morals. I don’t participate and I don’t condone some things.’ Soldiers are always hungry for good leaders and positive role models.
"If we have to send young men and women to war, I think we all want those Christian beliefs embedded for obvious reasons."
White said it’s these Christian beliefs that separate the American army from many other armies in the world. "Conflict can bring out the best and the worst," he said. "When Christian morals or ideals are embedded, you will not see the atrocities that are committed by other armies in the world."
Bruns said information reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer recently is indicative of what is happening at Fort Leonard Wood. The newspaper reported that 40 U.S. Marines were baptized by two Southern Baptist chaplains in a makeshift baptistery fashioned from sandbags, a plastic liner and 130 gallons of water.
The baptisms were held outside a mess tent that had doubled as a revival hall before hand. More than 200 Marines had attended the earlier service, sitting on the floor in their desert camouflage fatigues, with gas masks and rifles at their sides. Some brought Bibles. Others were handed a "rapid deployment kit" containing a camouflage-covered New Testament.
"I thought to myself no matter how many sandbags you have, no matter how many bunkers you have, there’s always going to be a weapon you can’t stop," Pfc. Jason Trehan told the newspaper. "The Lord’s weapon will."