By Cheryl Rodewig, The BayonetDecember 11, 2009
FORT BENNING, Ga. - When CPT Charles Parsons graduated from Airborne School in 2005, he had been at Fort Benning only three weeks. With his family out of state, he wasn't expecting anyone at the graduation. So, when some Soldiers he met a few days earlier through the Navigators ministry showed up with their support and congratulations, Parsons was surprised, he said.
"It just made an initial impression on me. Even though it's not the biggest deal in the world, these guys were going out of their way to build a friendship," he said. "It wasn't like I go to Sunday service, and they don't care about seeing me until next Sunday. It was like they invited me into their life."
After that, Parsons knew he had to find out more about the Navigators.
A weekly Bible study, social group and mentorship program, Navigators is a worldwide ministry with a specific focus on the military.
"It's great. It gives you a place to plug in, every post you go to," said Parsons, who participated in Navigators while stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash., before returning to Fort Benning.
"We meet once a week for Bible study. About every other Friday night, we hang out at a friend's house or do some activity, so we get to know each other pretty well. We're really trying to develop a good sense of community," he said.
On post, the Navigators include more than 100 consistent participants - men and women, service members and civilians, married Soldiers and singles. With every individual, the goal is sparking a real connection, said MAJ Jim McKnight, who heads up the ministry.
"That one-on-one individual connection is one of the things we specialize in. That's where our heart is," he said.
"We have a dynamic ministry. We want to help develop our Soldiers in a spiritual sense ... and we're going to give (them) a place to take a break from a demanding Army environment."
The Navigators meets at various locations across post, including the Follow Me Chapel, Sightseeing Chapel and Sand Hill. Their out-of-town activities include Callaway Gardens, Georgia state parks, white water rafting, camping and hiking.
The ministry was active in the '70s and '80s at Fort Benning, but the current group got started in 2003 by MAJ(R) Chuck Wood, then the chaplain for the Ranger Training Brigade, and McKnight.
Since then, it has been touching lives, especially across generations, McKnight said.
"That happened in my own life," he said. "I was stationed here as a platoon leader, and I was trying to figure out my place, and (Wood) spent a lot of time with me. He met with me multiple times during the week and helped me with everything I was going through. He taught me in a way that really helped me in the Army and in my own life. He was like a father to me."
2LT Jon Voss, who moved to Fort Benning seven months ago, said the Navigators have helped him find friends and mentors.
"I think that one-on-one, man-to-man training is the most effective way to learn from people who've been there and learned a few things in their experience," he said. "The same is obviously true spiritually. I know I've learned a tremendous amount from ... my mentor. It's kind of like a pathfinder: it's a lot easier to know the way when somebody shows you."
Voss said the Navigators welcomes individuals of all faiths. They'll always have food at the Bible studies and keep their doors open to others during recreational activities.
For more information on when and where the Navigators meet or how to get involved, e-mail email@example.com. For more about the ministry, visit www.navigators.org/military.