Fort Bragg’s National Prayer Breakfast took place at the Iron Mike Conference Center, Feb. 21. The annual affair mirrors an event by the same name held in Washington, D.C., on the first Thursday in February, which began in 1953.
Soldiers of all faiths from units and commands across the installation came together to break bread, eggs and bacon and pray.
Brig. Gen. Xavier T. Brunson, chief of staff, XVIII Airborne Corps, explained that the event was about more than the individuals attending.
“It’s about our nation coming together,” said Brunson. “Collectively, we might come together, take a pause and pray.”
Chaplains from the XVIII Abn. Corps, U.S. Army Special Operations Command, and the 82nd Airborne Division read scripture and said prayers for the military and the nation during the event.
“God, help us be an example to the world of what right looks like,” said Chap. (Col.) Keith Croom, USASOC, during his prayer for the nation.
The 82nd Abn. Div. All American Chorus performed “Amazing Grace” before the keynote speaker, Chap. (Col.) Bobby Whitlock, U.S. Army Forces Command, took the podium.
“He is a transformative leader … he leads with integrity, respect, compassion and confidence. He is a great leader,” said Chap. (Col.) David Lockhart, garrison chaplain, as he introduced Whitlock to the audience.
Whitlock drew the audience back to May of 1940, to Dunkirk. The 365,000 Allied Forces soldiers were trapped, and massacre seemed imminent. A British naval officer cabled just three words to London. Those three words ignited the country and 950 civilian vessels set sail and rescue trapped forces. The expectation had been one day to retrieve 45,000 soldiers, instead over nine days they saved 382,226 troops.
“Based on three simple words, ‘But if not,’” said Whitlock.
This statement, found in Daniel 3:17-18, is made by Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who choose to face destruction rather than disobey God’s Commandments. This statement represents their refusal to give up regardless of the consequences.
“What is it that fortifies a person to look pending death straight in the face and reply ‘But if not’?” asked Whitlock.
Whitlock shared stories of Soldiers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice defending their comrades and country regardless of the consequences.
He spoke of Medal of Honor recipient, Sgt. 1st Class Paul Smith, 2nd Platoon, Company B, 11th Engineers, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.
In 2005, at Camp Victory in Iraq, Smith manned an armored personnel carrier .50 caliber gun. Smith reloaded the weapon three times before succombing to his wounds. Fifteen rounds pierced Smith’s armor before the final, fatal shot. Smith stood his ground to protect an aid station.
“Paul Smith saved their lives,” said Whitlock.
Whitlock lauded the training, equipment, strength and capabilities of today’s Army and the focus on healing the post-war Soldier.
“But, as proud as I am and as we should be, something is not quite right. I still believe we are missing something,” said Whitlock.
Despite the gratitude, support and thanks of the nation, Soldiers fall to a variety of ailments. Whitlock listed suicide, divorce, risky behavior and alcohol and drug abuse as the culprits.
“We have turned them into warriors who know all about the warrior ethos and the army values … but here is the key question, ‘What are we standing on’?” asked Whitlock.
“No matter what you build you cannot stand for long unless it is built on the right foundation,” he said.
The foundation needed is faith and certainty, said Whitlock.
Whitlock told the audience that all Soldiers and their Families have the right to believe in what they choose to believe, even if it is nothing.
“I’ll fight for that right for them,” said Whitlock.
Whitlock called for chaplains to share their passion and faith with others. Not force their beliefs on those around them, but to share their life with those in their care.
“I submit to you that God has called to you for just such a time as this,” he said. “Literally, give yourself away to those you have been called to serve. That God is able to deliver you, but if not, do it anyway, because you know it is the right thing to do.”
Whitlock’s final statement met with a standing ovation. Lockhart presented him with a gift at the close over the event, in thanks for his participation.