Book Review: “The Faith of the American Soldier” by Stephen Mansfield (2006)

This book was an important addition to my library during my military years, specifically since I was training to be a Chaplain (something that bureaucratic stupidity never allowed to blossom, to which in hindsight I can now say “praise the Lord”). While Mansfield obviously writes in generalities about the spiritual concerns of hundreds of thousands of very different people of various ages and career stages, The Faith of the American Soldier did give me a better understanding of what general issues a Chaplain might encounter as he serves these soldiers both at home and abroad.

The main group Mansfield targets are the young enlistees, called (at the time of publication) “the Millennials.” These were children of the Millennium (like myself) trying to shake off the paganism of their hippie parents (unlike myself). Such youth who would select a career in the military over a shot at higher education are certainly a varied breed, though Mansfield writes that there is a new fervor among those young adults serving in our military for the Bible, for worship, and especially for prayer.

Though 26 at the time of my enlistment and a new student in grad school, I rubbed shoulders and cleaned toilets with a whole platoon of men from all walks of life, and it seemed to me that their reasons for leaving home for the rigors of Basic Training were most generally selfish. Very few of those privates were looking to support their families with a secure career, and I dare say none of them were getting smoked for ten week “for God and Country,” at least in the beginning. As the weeks drew on and life got more difficult, several guys in my bay would ask to pray with me at night (“Preacher” was one nickname I had; “Clark Kent” was another). By week number three, I was even able to form a personal Bible study with my Company in lieu of the grossly watered-down chapel service that particular base offered, and every meeting we had grew until we had 20 attending each week. While my military experience is about as basic as my training, I felt like I got a pretty good grasp of what some soldiers look for spiritually, once they don those ACUs (which apparently are not longer called “ACUs”).

Mansfield writes about the role of the chaplain under the employ of our ever-secularizing government, how that person must hold to his own faith like breath and be a shining light for the darkened searching young soldier’s soul. As a counselor and passing shepherd, he must answer their questions wisely and honestly, giving hope to the hopeless while keeping a sure distinction between church and state (whatever that ridiculous P.C. phrase means at any given moment).

The question I had for my Chaplain at the time was: how can you be wise and honest about a soldier’s problems without mentioning sin, the Bible, or Jesus’ name (unless they bring it up first)? He basically told me, “You follow orders, pray for opportunities, and hope for the best.” My goodness what a tough ministry! And honestly, what a tough set of circumstances to suffer while trying to maintain your own integrity as a Man of God. If this book (and my military experience) taught me anything, it’s that the honest-to-God, born-again Chaplain with a heart to serve Christ in the military needs more prayer than those soldiers for whom he serves, because if he loses heart under the oppression (or if he gets comfortable with the all-inclusive crap that passes as theology these days), then all his little lambs are lost along with him.

©2015 E.T.

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