By Mr. Patrick Buffett (IMCOM)February 12, 2014
FORT LEE, Va. (Feb. 12, 2014) -- Faith is among the most common denominators among deployed military personnel, according to Chaplain (Col.) Charles Egert, Combined Arms Support Command and senior U.S. Army Garrison Fort Lee chaplain.
"My conclusion after 29 years of active duty," he said, "is that of all people, Soldiers are the most religious. They may cuss God when they're in a fire-fight for allowing such violence and wickedness, but usually, they're asking Him to be with their family if they don't make it home. They're praying for their battle buddy on the right or left, and probably most importantly, they're praying for courage to do their duty. Last and I would say this is probably least, they pray for a quick death if this is to be their moment."
Those remarks were made during Egert's keynote address at Fort Lee's National Prayer Breakfast observance on Feb. 6 at the Lee Club. Nearly 300 community members attended the event. Many of the installation's senior leaders were among them.
The program opened with pre-ceremony music by a five-member horn ensemble from the 392nd Army Band. During the morning meal, the Osborne Brothers -- a Christian rock-pop group from Atlanta -- performed.
Egert's keynote address focused on spiritual resiliency, one of the "five pillars of comprehensive Soldier fitness." The other four are physical, emotional, social and family resilience.
"In my five deployments to Somalia, Haiti and Iraq," Egert said, "I have noticed that troops always pray downrange. They pray before they go on a mission, and they pray that they will make it back from a mission. … They may not show up at chapel, but I have never seen a Soldier turn down prayer from a chaplain."
The National Prayer Breakfast observance has become a highly valued tradition "from the halls of Congress and the Pentagon, to the 50 state capitals and all over the military," he said.
"There are several reasons why we gather for times like this. (It is an opportunity for) leaders to acknowledge their dependence on God (and) their need for divine wisdom in carrying out their duties," Egert observed.
After speaking briefly on the 60-year history of the observance, the colonel encouraged the audience to not wait for special occasions like a prayer breakfast or church services on Sunday to go to the Lord in prayer. It can serve as a source of strength, he said, and it helps even the most harried individuals find peace in the knowledge that they're not going it alone.
"Let me tell you this morning that your Soldiers -- your Marines, Sailors and Airmen -- are watching you," Egert said. "They're learning from you what leadership is and what character is all about. They know you're human. They know you'll make mistakes. But they expect you to be trustworthy, to have integrity, to be fair and to lead by example. What you do will inspire them day after day and will set them on a path to success. When they see you meet your challenges head on without losing your cool, they'll be motivated to do the same."
There are two great moments in every person's life, Egert also noted. That's the day they were born and the day they find out why they were born. "When Soldiers live with purpose; when they know that their life is the Lord's gift to them and that they are here for a reason, they will think of their duty to God and country. They will remember their families and loved ones. They'll live for a bigger purpose than themselves."
The breakfast concluded with remarks by Maj. Gen. Larry D. Wyche, CASCOM and Fort Lee commanding general. He too encouraged the audience to not underestimate the power of prayer and said that awareness of today's key issues like support of Gold Star Families and suicide awareness and prevention is important to mission success.
"I recently asked (my staff) to get a couple of figures for me … one of them was the number of sustainers we had lost in combat (since the global war on terrorism began)," Wyche said. "I was expecting 200 or 300 but, when they gave me the numbers, I stared at the paper in awe. We have lost 893 sustainers and logisticians. I really didn't know what to say, but my heart poured out to those family members. I'm asking you to continue praying for those individuals. … This is something they'll live with for the rest of their lives."
When Fort Lee loses a military member to suicide or a senseless accident, Wyche also noted, it's a reflection on leadership. "I think we have to look at ourselves in the mirror and say, 'what could I have done to prevent that?'
"One of the things I said in my incoming speech (when he took command of CASCOM) is that we will work hard to make sure Fort Lee is the best place to work and live in our great Army," Wyche said. "And every time we lose a Soldier, spouse or child, I say to myself 'I'm disappointed in the team as the quarterback of the team.' And that bothers me.
"So, I'm asking each and every one of you this morning, let's make a conscientious effort to protect the team. We have to do it together or we'll never get there," the commander said. "The leadership of the organization will work hard to give you the resources and everything you need to protect the team, but we can't do it without being a team. So I ask each and every one of you to reach out and find out what's going on in your areas and let's effect change. I truly believe in my heart that Fort Lee is the best installation in the United States Army because we have the best people in the world to lead it."