by Craig G. Muehler
Each day, approximately 22 veterans kill themselves. Meanwhile, after decades of continuing armed conflict, the suicide rate among U.S. active-duty service members remains historically high for the fifth year in a row, according to statistics from the Pentagon.
Too many young men and women who have served in our military are taking their own lives, as they struggle with both combat stress and personal issues. Military chaplains are on the front lines — embedded with their troops — to combat this serious, life-ending trend.
Regardless of a service member’s religious faith, or lack thereof, chaplains receive all troops with mercy and compassion. The military recognizes communication between chaplain and service member as being confidential. This gives the chaplain the opportunity and responsibility to engage with all of his personnel in times of personal crises. Chaplains are often the “first responders” for soldiers, airmen, Marines, sailors and Coast guardsmen to come to in their hour of need.
Recently, an LCMS chaplain on the front lines was able to prevent a suicide because of the bond formed with a troubled soldier. For the sake of privacy, no names are used in this account.
This chaplain received a text from a soldier he had previously counseled. When he arrived at the soldier’s barracks, he quickly realized that the soldier was intoxicated and actively talking about committing suicide. He followed the soldier to his barracks room, where the soldier told the chaplain he was going to kill himself with a knife.
As the soldier grabbed a sheathed knife, the chaplain wrestled it from his hands. He wanted the soldier to understand that this was not the answer and that there was help for him. The soldier wasn’t ready to hear it, so he ran into his bedroom and came out with two large machetes. The chaplain continued talking with the soldier and was finally able to defuse the tense situation and get the soldier the help he needed.
This chaplain saved a soldier’s physical life, while also sharing the mercy of God in Jesus Christ. It is not a minor thing that in this soldier’s moment of crisis, he texted a chaplain.
This service member was struggling with personal demons, and the person he reached out to in his darkest hour was his chaplain. Why? In their previous meetings, the soldier saw a person of mercy and compassion in the chaplain, as he conveyed a message of hope to the young man.
LCMS Ministry to the Armed Forces supports and encourages some 170 LCMS chaplains, as they share the Gospel and support military personnel in all kinds of stressful situations around the world.
Learn more: lcms.org/armedforces
Chaplain Craig G. Muehler, U.S. Navy Capt. (Ret.), is director of LCMS Ministry to the Armed Forces.