By Bryan Gatchell, Fort Polk Guardian staff writerJuly 20, 2010
FORT POLK, La. -- Fort Polk's 83rd Chemical Battalion held a prayer breakfast at the 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade Dining Facility July 14. Retired Chap. (Col.) Scott McChrystal spoke at the event about stress in the lives of Soldiers. Along with a speech from McChrystal, attendees also received copies of his book "Daily Strength for the Battle: You, God's Word, 5 Minutes."
McChrystal retired from active duty in 2005 after 31 years of service; 10 years as an infantry officer and 21 years as an Army chaplain. The last seven years of his active duty career he was the senior chaplain at the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. From 1990 to 1994 he was a chaplain at Fort Polk.
"We've been gone from Fort Polk for quite a few years," said McChrystal. "It's an amazing place and we're glad to be here. The people here are doing a fantastic job."
Though retired from the military, McChrystal still takes an active role in the Army, acting as the endorser for chaplain candidates belonging to the Assemblies of God, a Christian denomination. In addition to this, McChrystal and his wife Judy travel the country to speak as they did at this prayer breakfast
"We try to do these quarterly," said Chap. (Capt.) Ronald Boyd, 83rd Chem Bn chaplain, who arranged the prayer breakfast. "Emotional well being and spiritual resilience are the reasons we do this. We need to take pause and feed the internal fire so that we can build that atmosphere where people can come and be a better person afterward. That's what we want for all of our Soldiers."
Chap. (Maj.) Zan Sellers, 1st MEB chaplain, spoke of the importance of prayer breakfasts.
"They're a different way to give the Soldiers some added encouragement and maybe words of wisdom," said Sellers, "a way to help our Soldiers."
The book being distributed at the prayer breakfast,"Daily Strength for the Battle", McChrystal and his publisher had designed with the Soldier in mind; its dimensions conform to the breast pocket of the battle dress uniform and its messages are broken into small pieces to be read and understood in a matter of minutes. The idea for this pocket prayer book originated while McChrystal was stationed at Fort Polk.
Unable to adequately reach Soldiers in the training area, he would send out a newsletter attached to a candy bar to the troops in the box. These morsel-sized spiritual lessons provided the template for the scriptures couched in explanation that comprise McChrystal's book.
Each volume of the prayer book contains several weeks worth of lessons, with each week devoted to one aspect of spiritual life such as trials, wisdom and obedience. McChrystal's speech for the breakfast was specifically about stress
"The military is the best I've ever seen it, but it's also been asked to do more with less for a very long time," said McChrystal. "When I look at the cycle of deployments - people deploying and coming back and redeploying - you don't go into a coal mine and come out without coal dust, and this coal dust can be the cumulative stress."
As part of the sermon, McChrystal recounted the Old Testament story of the prophet Elijah who had fled his spiritual duties under the threat of death, also recounting stories from his own active duty experience.
"Most of us use a Biblical base, because that's where we're coming from theologically," said Sellers. "At the same time we make sure it fits everybody. I've had Soldiers that are extremely religious that aren't from the same background as mine, yet I try to tailor everything about the event so they get something out of it as well. It's not specifically Christian, Jewish or Islamic. It may have that as a base, but it should be helpful for anyone."
McChrystal wants to ensure the message reaches everyone.
"I think a person who tries to do everything with just the body and the mind and neglects the spiritual part of their makeup is struggling because they don't have integrity in their life," said McChrystal. "I happen to be Christian, but I've never seen a time in our nation when more people going through more problems are looking for answers beyond themselves and they're asking a lot of spiritual questions. Everybody, as far as I'm concerned, needs to go on their own individual search and journey and try to find answers. The best advice I could give anybody is to know what you believe and why you believe it."