By Kari Hawkins, Redstone Rocket StaffNovember 14, 2008
In this time of change for the U.S., post Chaplain (Lt. Col.) James Benson counsels all citizens - particularly Redstone Arsenal Soldiers and civilians - to put their differences aside and pull together to serve their nation and its new president.
Speaking to a small gathering at the Garrison's first quarterly prayer breakfast at the Officers and Civilians Club on Nov. 5, the morning after the presidential election, Benson said all Christians are called to "serve their country and their commander in chief."
"You're all called by the Lord to serve this country. Do so. But also take it to Him in prayer," Benson said.
"We have an enormous challenge in front of us. We are called to support the commander in chief in his mission for our country. Back it, support it, make it work. We are a wonderful, wonderful country. We really are the land of freedom."
Benson said there is no other nation on Earth where a descendent of a once enslaved people can rise in freedom to achieve its highest office.
The nation's people now should pray that President-elect Barack Obama is able to "turn our country around, that we finish this war (Global War on Terrorism) and that we build our country," he said.
Throughout his 23 years as a military chaplain, Benson has tried to live his life and serve as a Soldier according to the words of Matthew, Chapter 28: 19-20, which tells how Jesus Christ commanded his 11 disciples to spread the gospel.
"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen," reads the King James Bible version of the passage in Matthew.
"This verse is quoted often, especially for those in the clergy," Benson said. "The verses center around our calling."
Benson said his early years as an Army chaplain working under two commanders -- first Col. Jeffrey L. Ellis, a Southern Baptist from Louisiana, and second Col. Michael J. Flynn, a Catholic from Massachusetts -- influenced his entire military career.
"The primary role of a military chaplain is to advise the commander," Benson said. "We are charged with telling him the absolute truth with an element of respect ...
"Our primary role as chaplains is to take the word of God and spread the word of God in the best way we know how."
The best way, he said, even if that means cleaning dishes or scrubbing out bathrooms.
Benson has often taken inspiration from the origins of the military's Chaplain Corps.
"Our origins are in the U.S. Constitution, in the first amendment of the Bill of Rights where it says you have the right to exercise your faith as you believe," he said.
After the Civil War, a full-time chaplain corps was established to provide chaplains to Army outposts in the West where there were no towns or church congregations.
"The church had to be brought to the Soldiers because they had the right to exercise their faith," Benson said.
But over the years, military chaplains have taken on numerous roles outside their religious responsibilities in support of Soldiers and the units they've served. Besides preaching, serving the sacraments, counseling, teaching Bible studies, conducting weddings and funerals, and baptizing chaplains have also worked in mess halls, served as unit historians, organized Morale Welfare and Recreation activities, scored rifle practice shootings and served in many other capacities to support Soldiers.
"In their day, chaplains were called on to do and fill needs seen by the chaplain and the commander," Benson said. "Over the years, the chaplain corps has grown and prospered, and we have discovered our role."
The quarterly prayer breakfast was organized by Garrison commander Col. Bob Pastorelli. In years past, the Garrison has sponsored a National Prayer Breakfast. Pastorelli hopes to add to that program by hosting quarterly events.
Although the turnout at the first quarterly prayer breakfast was somewhat disappointing, Pastorelli thanked the 35 Soldiers and civilians in attendance.
"Spirituality of some type is important in everyone's life," he said. "We want to use the quarterly prayer breakfast as a way to bring great folks together. This is an opportunity for us to get to know each other."
Calling Nov. 4 an "historic day for our nation," Pastorelli agreed with Benson that a Soldier's duty is to his country and commander in chief, regardless of whether or not he agrees with the election results.
"I'm a Soldier. I take orders from the commander in chief and I will serve the commander in chief to the best of my ability," he said.