WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 5, 2016) -- "Providing for the free exercise of religion for all of our faith groups has always been part of our mandate as chaplains," said Col. Kenneth Williams, Pentagon chaplain.

The National Day of Prayer, May 5, was observed at the Pentagon as an interfaith activity, capping a week of services for a number of faiths, including Sikh, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish and Christian.

Williams said he and his fellow chaplains are continuing to reach out to more and more service personnel of different faiths, to ensure they are able to practice the free exercise of religion.

REACHING OUT TO ALL

Historically and traditionally, many in the United States come from a Judeo-Christian background, Williams said. But honoring freedom of religion -- all religions -- in this nation has been a hallmark of America's cherished freedoms.

While there are Army chaplains representing many different faiths, at some smaller installations, that may not be the case, he said, referring to minority faith groups.

However, garrison or installation chaplains, "can find someone in that faith group who we can endorse as a lay leader for that faith group," Williams said. That person can be from the local community or even a local service member.

"There are subject-matter experts in various faith groups that we count on to provide us guidance" to military personnel, no matter where they're stationed.

Williams, who is a Protestant chaplain, said he has a great friend of the Muslem faith that he relies on to provide guidance and counseling to people of that faith. "So yes, we have that capability to network."

POSITIVE FEEDBACK

"The feedback we've been receiving from various faith groups of military personnel has been very positive," Williams said. "They've been very appreciative for us having concerns about them, ensuring they are recognized and having all the resources they need to practice their faith."

Williams added that as trained counselors, chaplains -- irrespective of faith -- can also provide non-religious family counseling and other types of counseling to military personnel, depending on the desires of the counselee. "If they are open to receiving counsel or coming to us for support, we'll certainly be glad to do that."

On the other hand, "if they prefer to speak to a chaplain or minister of their own faith group, then we'll facilitate that as well," he added.

THE NATIONAL DAY OF PRAYER

The National Day of Prayer was established by Congress in 1952, encouraging people of all faiths to pray for the nation, Williams said. This interfaith activity is usually the first Thursday in May.