CAMP ZAMA, Japan (May 4, 2021) – Col. Thomas Matelski, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Japan, highlighted the importance of prayer in our nation, the Army and our lives in a speech during the National Day of Prayer Lunch here May 3.
“Prayer builds respect, understanding, teamwork and commitment,” said Matelski, the event’s keynote speaker. “Those are the very things required of each and every one of us to defeat racism and extremism, suicide, sexual harassment and domestic violence in our Army and in our nation.”
Prayer is also crucial during times of trouble, as Matelski noted when he told a story of the time he and two other occupants in his vehicle saw an RPG-7 grenade round heading straight toward them while deployed during Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“I will never be certain of the details of what happened next, but I do remember one thing: Three of us paused momentarily, prayed, and then watched the RPG-7 deflect away from our vehicle and then an [OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter] swoop down and the threat fade away,” Matelski said.
The National Day of Prayer takes place annually on the first Thursday of May, as Chaplain (Maj.) Mark A. Johnston, chaplain for the 38th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, noted in a video played during the event.
In 1952, President Harry S. Truman signed a joint resolution by Congress that declared an annual national day of prayer, Johnston said, and in 1988, President Ronald Reagan amended and signed the law, permanently setting the day.
The theme for this year’s National Day of Prayer is “America: A Beacon of Hope.”
“Religious and cultural diversity reflects the strength of our nation,” Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Florio Pierre, USAG Japan chaplain, said. “Prayer empowers people to overcome various obstacles and prevent harmful behaviors. By calling upon the name of our common Creator, we are drawn to strengthen our bonds of unity, joining together in one voice.”
The lunch, which included COVID-19 mitigation measures such as mask wearing and social distancing, also featured prayers for peace, the Armed Forces, the nation and families.
Erin Nonaka, a leader of Protestant Women of the Chapel, prayed for families; Chaplain (Capt.) Danny Black, chaplain for the 311th Military Intelligence Battalion, prayed for peace; Scott Yeager, USAG Japan religious education director, prayed for the nation; and Chaplain (Capt.) Malcolm Rios, chaplain for the 35th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, prayed for the Armed Forces.
“I pray for the strength of our Armed Forces while we seek peace,” said Rios after quoting Psalm 44:4-8, about the importance of relying on the Lord for victory. “Should diplomacy fail, I pray those who serve fight bravely for our people and for the cities of our nations.”
Matelski thanked the chaplains and other members of the faith community who provided the prayers.
“I believe that it is through prayer, among other things, that we can fight the battle, not only against COVID-19, but more importantly, the corrosives that are eroding the readiness of our Army, our families and our nation,” Matelski said.
In addition, the event featured live music from the U.S. Army Japan Band’s Fuji Winds woodwind quintet, and Johnston led attendees in singing “Amazing Grace.”
Matelski, also a husband and father of five, said prayer has been his personal beacon for 22 years, and he encourages everyone to pray.
“As I start my day and end my day in prayer, my personal hope is that others are doing the same,” Matelski said. “If you haven’t prayed in the past, I would invite you to no matter what your faith background or tradition is. Just start praying. It’s never too late to start.”