WASHINGTON --- Wednesday, April 8 has been proclaimed as a day of prayer and fasting for the U.S. Army's 200,000 deployed soldiers and their families by the Army's chief of chaplains.
Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Douglas L. Carver, a Southern Baptist, said the prayer and fasting proclamation coincides with a 120-day "stand down" and unit training period to address the Army's top-priority emphasis on suicide prevention and awareness.
"April 8 is a Wednesday and prayer meeting night for Southern Baptists, so we really encourage not only Baptists but all local churches to pray for the military," Carver told Baptist Press in a phone interview.
The two-star general from Rome, Ga., said the Army noticed a spike in its rate of suicides among soldiers, and that top Army leadership asked its chaplaincy if it could do more to mitigate the suicide rate and take care of affected Army families.
"This has been a long war we've been in -- for eight years since 9/11," Carver said. "The war has been on an up tempo and at an almost unsustainable rate, with fighting on two fronts [Iraq and Afghanistan]. Suicide is something we're now seeing as one of the residuals of this long war.
"So we came up with the idea of having a time of concerted prayer to pray for the Army and its challenges, our soldiers and their families, and our senior leadership making decisions. We also have a new commander-in-chief and his new staff we need to pray for."
Last year the Army marked 140 suicides, the highest number recorded since the early 1980s, Carver said. "Life is difficult right now, with all the chaos in the world, all the challenges, the economy. This is affecting our forces," he said. "Since 2001, the U.S. Army has had all the challenges of multi-deployments. We've got soldiers on their second, third and fourth deployments. Obviously, the stress and strain of constant deployment, rotations, going in and out of combat zones, and trying to keep their families together, have affected our soldiers."
The Army has some 3,500 chaplains in the active Army, the Army Reserves and the National Guard, Carver said. The Army's goal is to have a chaplain in each battalion of 500-600 soldiers and available for their families. Every unit deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan has an assigned chaplain. The Army has 200,000 deployed soldiers in 80 locations around the world.
"By God's grace, we haven't lost any chaplains yet, but we have had some seriously wounded and awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star," Carver said. "We've also had chaplains who have suffered post-traumatic stress and even a few who have also taken their own lives in the last several years.
"One of the greatest things Southern Baptists can do is pray for our soldiers and their families," he said. "We've asked our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen to protect and defend our great land. They're encouraged when they know our local churches are praying for them."
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.