Music, prayer, and the aroma of bacon filled the Iron Mike Conference Center as the Fort Bragg community attended the installation’s annual National Prayer Breakfast Feb. 5.

Nearly 500 Soldiers, Family and members of all religions from the Fort Bragg community came together to break bread and join together in fellowship.

The National Prayer Breakfast, which was known as the Presidential Prayer Breakfast until 1970, is a tradition dating back to 1953 and the Eisenhower Administration.

“Serving our nation in uniform is inherently dangerous and difficult. We ask our Soldiers to sacrifice an awful lot, potentially lay down their lives for mission or for their fellow Soldiers,” said Maj. Gen. Brian McKiernan, XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg deputy commanding general and host of this year’s prayer breakfast.

“The purpose of the National Prayer Breakfast is to give our service members the opportunity to pause, reflect and recommit themselves to their core values, the things that are important to them and tend to their spiritual needs with others to realize they’re not alone.”

The theme for this year’s breakfast was Investing in Hope: Transforming our Nation through Prayer!

“I think our speaker did a great job with delivering that message,” said McKiernan. “He’s somebody who didn’t have a strong sense of faith or spirituality, and he found himself drifting away from life on this earth. Recommitted now, he has a vision and something to guide him through life.”

Following prayers for the nation and the military, Chaplain (Col.) Randy Griffin, the garrison chaplain, introduced the guest speaker, retired Sgt. Gary Beikirch, Medal of Honor recipient.

“Sgt. Beikirch is a man of faith and vision. His dependence on God has driven him to become the nation’s spokesman that he is today,” said Griffin.

Beikirch received the Medal of Honor on Oct. 15, 1973 for his courageous actions as a Special Forces combat medic assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group from Fort Bragg, during the Vietnam War.

Beikirch’s bravery and commitment to his mission and his comrades was displayed on Apr. 1, 1970 when he risked his own life to rescue wounded Soldiers during an attack by the North Vietnamese on Camp Dak Seang, KonTum Province, Vietnam.

Throughout his own spiritual anecdotes, Beikirch shared a life lesson with the audience, the importance of having a vision. “When I talk about a vision, I am not talking about a dream, I’m not talking about a personal goal you established for yourself. The vision I am talking about is formed when you go through the battles of life,” said Beikirch.

Beikirch mentioned how over the years he learned the importance of needing a vision, because “in life, what you see is what you get.”

Early in his life, Beikirch said he thought his vision was to become a Green Beret and serve in Vietnam. “My vision at the time did not include getting shot three times, it did not include being surrounded for 30 days by 10,000 enemies, it did not include fire fights and air strikes. I learned that life is not as it seems.”

Laying in a hospital bed, 24-year-old Beikirch asked himself, “how did I get here? This is not my vision, this is not what I was after, this is not what I was expecting,” he said.

The greatest battle for Beikirch was not fighting 10,000 enemies but rather it was fighting death. Beikirch said he used every weapon and every talent he had learned during his training for Special Forces to fight the “hand-to-hand combat he shared with death.”

“I would go to that place inside me where I used to go to find the strength, will power and the endurance to go one more mile, one more step, but it was empty. I couldn’t find it anymore. It died at the hands of death. I had nothing to face the reality,” said Beikirch.

One day, things changed for Beikirch and transformed Beikirch’s vision. The touch of someone’s hand on his shoulder woke Beikirch from his sleep. When he opened his eyes, he saw the chaplain who told Beikirch that he prayed over him every day while he slept.

The chaplain asked Beikirch to pray with him. Even though Beikirch didn’t know how to pray or who to pray to, the chaplain assured him that God knows how to listen.

“With all that was left of me, which wasn’t much, I made this simple prayer to God, ‘God if you’re real, I need you, I have nothing left,’” said Beikirch.

Something happened with that simple prayer, something that would change Beikirch’s life. “My courage failed, but my faith was born. It was real and it was more real and more powerful than the death I was battling.”

He concluded with a simple prayer for the audience. “On this day of prayer, it is my prayer that God will be your vision and the knowledge of His love for you will be your strength and your comfort. No matter where life takes you, no matter what battles you may face, you will be able to possess a vision that will strengthen you and guide you through the battles that you may face and through the storms that will undoubtedly come your way.”