By Ms. Joan B Vasey (Huachuca)May 13, 2016
Fort Huachuca, Arizona - Prayer -- it is said to be an expression of faith that can heal and unite people; give strength, hope and peace; and have many other positive benefits.
On May 8, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed into law Public Law 100-307 the designation of the first Thursday in May as the annual observance for the National Day of Prayer.
Fort Huachuca follows that annual tradition with a prayer breakfast coinciding with the National Day of Prayer. This year's event took place May 5 at the Thunder Mountain Activity Centre. Nearly 300 people of various faiths came together to pray, break bread, hear inspirational music and motivational speeches, and share fellowship.
Deputy Garrison Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Steve Maglio welcomed those in attendance. Everyone stood as Ann Morrison sang the national anthem and Network Enterprise Technology Command Chaplain (Col.) B. Gregory Edison gave the invocation. After attendees passed through the buffet line and shared a meal together, several Fort Huachuca chaplains said separate prayers for the nation, armed forces, Fort Huachuca, Sierra Vista and Family members.
The Kino Gospel Choir, working in concert with their soloist Linda Brown, sang a song based on 2 Chronicles, Chapter 7, Verse 14.
Maglio then introduced the guest speaker, Chad Hennings, a former Air Force veteran and A-10 Thunderbolt pilot who trained in Tucson, Arizona, and flew 45 missions in support of Operation Provide Comfort in northern Iraq. He was also a three-time Super Bowl champion who played professional football for nine years with the Dallas Cowboys. Now a management consultant, minister and author, Hennings is also a motivational speaker who is "a man of God, definitely a leader. He leads by example," Maglio said.
Hennings opened his speech with several anecdotes about his time with the Dallas Cowboys. He then shared his story about his personal struggles and how he arrived at a relationship with God.
"I've had a lot of different experiences in my life either as an Air Force Academy cadet flying A-10s and as a professional football player, but when I retired from the Dallas Cowboys, I asked myself a simple question -- Why? Why do I do what I do? Why did I take the path I did?
"Until that point in time, I was able to do a lot of different things. I was an athlete in high school, I was an all-American trophy winner. I was a combat veteran. I flew 45 missions in Iraq, I was a three-time champion Super Bowl winner with the Dallas Cowboys. It was a major trauma -- the health of my son -- that made me realize there were a lot of times that the things I've accomplished were just that. They were things," Hennings said.
"My whole attitude [up to that point] was based on performance. It was during this time that I read a book that started the whole introspective process with me, Viktor Frankl's book, "Man's Search for Meaning." Frankl was an Austrian Jew and Auschwitz survivor who survived the most horrific, barbaric experiences a human could experience. This was a guy who had everything taken from him. All of his material possessions were stripped, his wife and parents were murdered in the camp. He was left with just the bare essence of what it means to be human. Why?
"As a medical doctor and psychiatrist, Frankl made observations in the camp as to why some people lived and others died. He determined that one of the main reasons a person lived was that those people had a purpose, a meaning to live for. It could be for a religious belief. It could be wanting to live for someone else, a parent, spouse, grandchild, a friend, or it could be for an emotion. The bottom line is that it was something that caused that person to live inside themselves," Hennings explained.
"On the flip side of that, was why people died when they lived in better conditions than that. They had better living conditions, better work conditions, had more food, weren't beaten as much. Maybe the reason why is that they lost their 'why.'
"As the philosopher [Friedrich] Nietzsche said, 'He who has a 'why' to live for can bear almost any 'how.'"
"When I was playing football, it made me wonder what was my 'why?' Why did I do what I did?"
Hennings grew up on a family owned farm in Iowa. "Our family farm has been around for 125 years. My father and my grandfather worked the land. I learned that great American work ethic which was the seeds for [my] performance-based attitude. My whole attitude was based on performance."
It was his performance-based attitude that led to success in school, in the military, and with the Dallas Cowboys. The performance-based mentality spilled over into his approach to his faith.
"What made me a success before was a work ethic. Work hard as I'd been doing since I was a teenager."
He spoke of his time as an A-10 pilot in the military and deployment in the Middle East. When not flying or performing duty assignments, he attended Christian religious services.
"Due to my performance-based Christianity, I knew the Bible inside and out. But I heard stories about Christians in this part of the world being persecuted and it made an impact. We live in the greatest country in the world with the freedom to worship and congregate as we please. We don't have to worry about a Gestapo force busting down the doors because we profess our faith as Christians. So taking my performance-based mindset, I said 'I've got to work harder at my faith.'"
When he rotated to England with his wife, Hennings said, "Instead of going to church just on Sunday, let's go on Wednesdays. Let's join Bible study. Let's get emotional together. Let's pray together."
His life continued to be blessed. When the Army was undergoing a reduction in force, Hennings was able to leave and play for the Dallas Cowboys. Three of his first four years in the NFL were Super Bowl championship victories and he was making a lot of money playing football. He continued attending chapel and Bible studies.
The turning point came on Feb. 16, 1996. That day, his son, Chase, 2 � and an only child, became extremely ill. He developed a high fever and a rash all over his body. Pediatricians assured the couple the illness would go away.
The fever and rashes continued. The boy spent a week in the hospital and there was no diagnosis. He was released after a week with what the doctors called 'a fever of unknown origin.' His temperature continued to climb. Children's aspirin and tepid baths didn't help.
His son looked at Hennings with big eyes and said "Daddy, Daddy, what's the matter with me? Am I going to be OK?"
Hennings described his wife's emotions, and he thought, "Here's the guy who can do it all. I can bench press and lift over 550 pounds. Squat over 750…But I couldn't do anything to help my son. I was hopeless. I was helpless. I can't tell you how many times I cried out, 'God, God, why?'"
He could perform physical activities at peak performance but could not help his son.
"And that's where God really began to speak in my life -- at that point in time," Hennings said.
"Weeks passed. Months passed. A couple years passed. God began to just pour into my heart. It wasn't in an audible voice, but he was telling me, 'Chad, I want you to think about this. I want you to think about that.'"
As Hennings let God truly enter his life, he gradually realized performance-based behavior would not earn God's love. He realized he was not Chad Hennings, Air Force pilot. He was not Chad Hennings, professional football player. That's what Hennings did.
"Your main purpose, your identity, your 'why' is this. It is to serve God. That's what we are called to do," he said.
He also came to realize he needed relationships and to let others into his life. While each person may have many acquaintances, people need friends as well as a few close intimates with whom to share their true identity and help them through troubled times. People also need to form a relationship with God who sent his Son to take away sin and help carry life's burdens, he added.
He described how people may have been victimized in their lives, or done things they are ashamed of, but God takes away that shame. People must become active participants in their faith, he said. It was around that time he founded Wingmen Ministries, a Christian men's group.
"As Christians, we no longer have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines, of being spectators," he said. "Transition takes us all getting our hands dirty. Stand strong and profess a belief in Jesus Christ as your savior. He has called you into life with a specific purpose to fulfill. Allow yourself some quiet time -- to listen.
"Surround yourself with individuals. Anytime I flew in combat, I had a wingman. When you're going on a mission, you're not going solo. You're going with a group of like-minded individuals to accomplish a specific mission," he added.
Hennings closed his presentation with a prayer, thanking God for those at the prayer breakfast, for the opportunities and for the courage to find and accept his faith.