By / Nov 12

Yesterday was Veterans Day, the official holiday in the United States that honors people who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Because veterans represent less than 10% of the total U.S. adult population, an increasing number of Americans are unfamiliar with veterans and issues related to them. 

Here are some things you should know about military veterans in the U.S.

What is a veteran?

The colloquial use of the term refers to any person who has served in the military. But according to federal law, the term “veteran” refers specifically to a person who served in the active military, naval, air, or space service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable.

What constitutes “active service”?

For the purposes of qualifying as a U.S. veteran, the forms of active service include:

Having served full-time duty in the Armed Forces (the United States Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard, including the reserve components) other than active duty for training. 

Having served full-time duty as a commissioned officer of the Regular or Reserve Corps of the Public Health Service, or as a commissioned officer of the Environmental Science Services Administration, Coast and Geodetic Survey, or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Service as a cadet in the Military, Coast Guard, or Air Force Academy, or as a midshipman at the Naval Academy, including enlisted service members who are reassigned to the Air Force, Military, or Naval Academy without a release from active duty.

Title 32 Full-time National Guard Duty: Order for full-time performance of operational activities (example: assisting with hurricane response efforts).

How long does someone have to serve to officially be considered a veteran?

According to the United States Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), there is no minimum length of service required to be considered a veteran for those who served before Sept. 8, 1980. After that date, service members must have served a minimum of 24 months of active duty to be considered a veteran. If the service member becomes disabled because of their time in the service, there is no minimum length of service to qualify for VA benefits.

What is an “other than dishonorable” discharge?

There are currently five types of discharges issued by the military services: honorable discharge (HD); discharge under honorable conditions (UHC) or general discharge (GD); discharge under other than honorable conditions (UOTHC) or undesirable discharge (UD); bad conduct discharge (BCD); and dishonorable discharge (DD). The statutory definition of veteran does not precisely match those five categories of the discharges, and the VA often determines on a case-by-case basis whether the claimant’s discharge qualifies as under conditions other than dishonorable. 

What is the difference between a wartime and peacetime veteran?

Every service member who meets the active duty requirement is classified as a veteran. But military service is classified as either wartime or peacetime service. Periods considered “wartime” for the purposes of veterans’ benefits are defined in law, and veterans who served during those periods are considered to have “served during wartime” even if the service was not in a combat zone. 

The largest cohort of veterans alive today served during the Vietnam Era (6.4 million), which lasted from 1964 to 1975. The second largest cohort of veterans served during peacetime only (4 million). 

How many veterans are there in the U.S.?

There are an estimated 19,162,515 veterans currently living in the U.S. The number of veterans declined by a third between 2000 and 2018. 

What is the median age of veterans?

The median age of veterans today is 65 years old. By service period, Post-9/11 veterans are the youngest with a median age of about 37, Vietnam Era veterans have a median age of about 71, and World War II veterans are the oldest with a median age of about 93. 

What percentage of veterans are enlisted/officer?

The vast majority of veterans (94%) come from the enlisted ranks, while fewer than 6% were commissioned officers.

What percentage of veterans are women?

Currently, women make up about 9% of veterans, or 1.7 million. By 2040, that number is projected to rise to 17%.

Which states have the highest percentage of veterans?

The top three states with the highest percentage of veterans in 2017 were Alaska, Maine, and Montana, respectively. The top three states (or federal districts) with the highest percentage of veteran women were the District of Columbia, Virginia, and Alaska.

Which cohort of veterans is most likely to have a service-connected disability?

Post-9/11 veterans had a 43% chance of having a service-connected disability (i.e., an injury, disease, or disability that was the result of service in the armed forces). According to the Census Bureau, after accounting for differences in demographic and social characteristics among, Post-9/11 veterans have a significantly higher rate of disability than veterans from other periods.

How do veterans and non-veterans compare demographically?

Based on a survey from 2017, male veterans were older, more likely to be White, non-Hispanic, more likely to be married, less likely to live below poverty, and had higher personal incomes than male non-veterans. Employed male veterans were more likely to work in production or transportation, and more likely to work for local, state, or federal governments than their non-veteran counterparts

Female veterans were more likely to be non-White, non-Hispanic, more likely to be divorced or separated, less likely to live below poverty, and had higher personal incomes than female non-veterans. Employed female veterans were more likely to be in management, business, science, and arts occupations, less likely to be in sales or service occupations, and more likely to work in local, state, or federal government than female non-veterans.

Regardless of gender, full-time, year-round veterans earned about $10,000 more than similar non-veteran counterparts. 

By / Sep 3

Earlier this week, the military completed its mission to evacuate American citizens, third-country nationals, and vulnerable Afghans from Afghanistan. Over the previous few weeks, more than 123,000 civilians were extracted in what was the largest noncombatant evacuation in the U.S. military’s history. Here is what you should know about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Why was the withdrawal and evacuation from Afghanistan conducted so suddenly? 

In February 2020, the Trump administration signed an agreement with the Taliban to withdraw the U.S. military presence by May 29, 2021. President Biden renegotiated that agreement to complete withdrawal from Afghanistan to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. That deadline was moved up by the Biden administration to Aug. 31. 

The military withdrawal was completed on Aug. 30 at 3:20 p.m. EDT, officially ending the 20-year war in Afghanistan. 

How many Americans remain in Afghanistan, and what happens to them now?

In the weeks since the Taliban took control of major cities and the capital of Kabul, roughly 5,500 U.S. citizens were airlifted out of the country. There are between 100 to 200 Americans remaining in the country. President Biden has said that most of those remaining are dual citizens who did not want to leave because of family ties.

Biden has promised to help get out any Americans who still want to be extracted from the country. “For those remaining Americans, there is no deadline,” said Biden. “We remain committed to get them out if they want to come out.” But getting those Americans out will now require diplomatic negotiation with the Taliban.

How many Afghan allies were extracted from the country?

From Aug. 14 to Aug. 31, U.S. military aircraft have evacuated more than 73,500 third-country nationals and Afghan civilians from Hamid Karzai International Airport in the capital city of Kabul. That category includes those with special immigrant visas, consular staff, and at-risk Afghans as well as their families. Regarding those left behind, the ERLC joined other organizations in an Evangelical Immigration Table letter to President Biden and requested that the administration “keep our commitment to those at risk for their service to the United States and to others fleeing a credible fear of persecution globally.”

How many Afghan refugees will be coming to the U.S.?

The U.S. government is currently declining to say how many Afghan refugees have arrived in the U.S. since the evacuation from Kabul began last month. 

How many translators, interpreters, and other workers were extracted from the country?

Afghan nationals who worked for the U.S. government in such roles as translators and interpreters and who feared reprisal from the Taliban were allowed to apply for a special humanitarian visa.

In July 2021, the Emergency Security Supplemental Appropriations Act authorized 8,000 additional Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) for Afghan principal applicants, for a total of 34,500 visas allocated since Dec. 19, 2014. These visas were available to Afghan nationals who meet certain requirements and who were employed in Afghanistan by or on behalf of the U.S. government or by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), or a successor mission, in a capacity that required the applicant to serve as an interpreter or translator for U.S. military personnel while traveling off-base with U.S. military personnel stationed at ISAF or to perform activities for the U.S. military personnel stationed at ISAF. Afghans seeking SIVs must complete a 14-step application process that includes a visa interview and security screening.

An estimated 5,000 SIV applicants have already been evacuated from Afghanistan, according to a report released by the Association of Wartime Allies, a group advocating for SIV applicants in Afghanistan and Iraq.

There is also a SIV program available to persons who worked with the U.S. Armed Forces or under Chief of Mission authority as a translator or interpreter in Iran and Afghanistan. This program offered visas to up to fifty persons a year (plus spouse and children).

The Association of Wartime Allies estimates there are around 65,000 SIV applicants remaining in Afghanistan.

How much military equipment was left behind in Afghanistan?

The U.S. Central Command says that about 170 pieces of equipment were left in Kabul during the evacuation. The equipment left behind included 70 light tactical vehicles, 27 Humvees, and 73 aircraft. All of this equipment was demilitarized (i.e., rendered unusable for military purposes). The only equipment left operable were a couple of fire trucks and forklifts that could be used at the Kabul airport. 

By / Aug 6

The Senate Armed Services Committee included in its version of the annual defense policy bill a provision that would require women to register with the Selective Service System. All 13 Democrats on the committee voted in favor of the provision, as did eight of the 13 Republicans.

Currently, only “male persons” are required to register with Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthday. In order for the Selective Service to be authorized to register women, Congress would have to pass the provision or similar legislation amending the current law.

What is the military draft?

A military draft is a form of conscription in which persons are required to serve in a nation’s military. In ​​the United States, the military draft is officially known as the selective service, and is administered by the Selective Service System.

The Selective Service System is an independent agency within the executive branch of the federal government that is responsible for registering potential draftees and administering the conscription process. The director of Selective Service is appointed by the president of the United States, and the agency is separate from the Department of Defense. Congress authorized the creation of the system and outlined its function in the Military Selective Service Act.

When was the draft used?

The draft has been implemented by the federal government in four conflicts: the Civil War; World War I; World War II; and the Cold War (including the Korean and Vietnam Wars). The draft was also used to fill vacancies in the armed forces from 1940 until 1973, both during times of war and times of peace. The last draft call was on Dec. 7, 1972, and the authority to induct expired on June 30, 1973. The date of the last drawing for the lottery was on March 12, 1975, just prior to the end of the Vietnam War. 

Registration with the Selective Service System was suspended on April 1, 1975, and registrant processing was suspended on Jan. 27, 1976. Registration was resumed in July 1980.

Why aren’t women required to register for the draft?

When draft registration was reimplemented in 1980, President Jimmy Carter asked that women be included. Congress rejected that proposal, saying, “The principle that women should not intentionally and routinely engage in combat is fundamental, and enjoys wide support among our people.”

The next year, a legal challenge to the law was presented in the case of Rostker v. Goldberg. Writing for the the majority, Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist wrote:

[t]he existence of the combat restrictions clearly indicates the basis for Congress’ decision to exempt women from registration. The purpose of registration was to prepare for a draft of combat troops. Since women are excluded from combat, Congress concluded that they would not be needed in the event of a draft, and therefore decided not to register them.”

The law was challenged again in 1992, 1994, and 1998, but rejected each time because the exclusion of women from combat roles remained in place. However, the Defense Department lifted all sex-based restrictions on military service in 2016, which removed the primary legal justification for excluding women.

The Supreme Court recently declined to take up a case challenging the constitutionality of the all-male draft, citing their expectation that Congress would soon directly resolve the issue.

Do transgender individuals have to register for the draft?

Self-identification with a particular gender is currently irrelevant to the military draft. Selective Service bases the registration requirement on gender assigned at birth and not on gender identity or on gender reassignment.

For example, transgender men — biological females who identify as male — do not have to register for the draft. In contrast, transgender women — individuals who are born male and identify as female — are still required to register. 

Why shouldn’t women be included in the draft?

The primary argument against drafting women is that they should not be forced to serve as combatants since it goes against the creational design of God.

“Throughout history, most men and women—and even children—have recognized the wisdom of not sending our mothers, daughters, and sisters to the battlefield,” notes Joe Carter. “The pattern in the Bible is that when combat is necessary it is men, not women, who bear the responsibility to participate in warfare (Gen. 14:14; Num. 31:3, 21, 49; Deut. 20:5–9,13–14; Josh. 1:14–18, 6:3, 7, 9; 8:3; 10:7; 1 Sam. 16:18; 18:5; 2 Sam. 11:1; 17:8; 23:8–39; Ps. 45:3–5; Song 3:7–8; Isa. 42:13).”

Andrew Walker also notes that military conscription of women makes the thwarting of nature mandatory. “Women are nurturers; not warriors,” says Walker. “That women are delicate, and possess, on average, a smaller frame than men indicate their aptness for less rugged activities, not hand to hand combat. That women cannot comparably handle the physical strain of soldiering isn’t to deny their intrinsic worth and dignity, but to actually esteem it as something different, but equal to a man’s.”

“The Apostle Paul tells his Corinthians listeners to ‘act like men,’” adds Walker, “which assumes that if men are to act like men, there’s a standard for which manliness is measured (1 Corinthians 16:13). This is why in the Bible, the same Bible which provided America with a rich moral ethos, it is considered cowardly, shameful, and embarrassing for men to allow women to engage in a sphere that men are best suited for (Judges 4:9).”

By / Feb 19

You have probably heard that veteran suicide is alarmingly high. The oft-cited statistic which has become a rallying cry to end veteran suicide is that 22 veterans take their lives each day. While some have helpfully chimed in to bring context to this number, suggesting that the number is probably much lower, the reasoning behind why veteran suicide is so high has remained unchanged.

The misconception 

As it is understood, the commonly held belief for why veteran suicide is so high is typically distilled into this line of thought: 

  1. Our troops are deployed to situations wherein they see and do terrible and perhaps even horrific things in combat.
  2. Exposure to abnormal and traumatizing experiences is what brings about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  3. PTSD is nearly impossible to cope with which eventually leads to suicide.

In short form, this line of reasoning makes sense and, for the most part, it has been the accepted narrative as to why things are the way they are. But there’s more than ample evidence that this narrative, this combat-PTSD-suicide chain, is mistaken. What’s more, if we assume suicide is mostly related to combat and PTSD, we may fail to help those most in need.

Breaking the combat-PTSD-suicide chain

In a paper published in 2015 by the Annals of Epidemiology, it was demonstrated that veteran suicide is substantially higher than their civilian counter parts. The unsettling finding of the study, however, was that among military personnel, suicide was higher among noncombat roles suggesting causes beyond combat exposure. The conclusions drawn from the study stated, “Veterans exhibit significantly higher suicide risk compared with the US general population. However, deployment to the Iraq or Afghanistan war, by itself, was not associated with the excess suicide risk.” This measured conclusion could be strengthened. If someone did not see combat, then the suicide could not have been because of PTSD derived from combat exposure. 

In 2019, The Air Force Times, likewise, published its discontent with the increase among its ranks for suicide. At the time, a mandatory stand-down was ordered for all personnel across the branch to focus on suicide prevention in this “resilience tactical pause.” Suicide for that year was significantly higher than the previous year jumping from 50 in 2018 to 78 in 2019.

This increase in deaths deserves more attention. The Air Force, though it possesses some MOS’s (military occupational specialty; one’s job) that do experience combat, is predominately non-combative in its roles; they are not a branch of the military that comes to mind with the combat-PTSD-suicide narrative. Yet disturbingly and tragically, they too, are witnessing an increase in suicide.

Finally, the past year has brought about new challenges. Suicide in the military has seen yet another wave of increases, rising 20% from the previous year. What was different from 2019 to 2020 that would significantly affect the rate of suicide? COVID-19. Many are reserved in giving an answer and avoiding labeling the correlation of COVID-19 and added stress to be the causation behind recent deaths. When looking at the pattern of evidence, though, it seems to suggest that combat-PTSD-suicide is not necessarily the dominant reason behind veteran suicide. Likewise, the increased isolation that lock-downs and prolonged quarantines have brought about are worthy of a closer look.


PTSD itself is a bit of a quagmire. It is almost inescapably tied to the belief that only someone who experiences combat can unwittingly acquire this diagnosis. This is false. Many may see combat and never experience a single symptom. Cited in an article appearing in Task & Purpose, the Pentagon’s Inspector General put forth a report that shows sexual assault is “[M]ore likely to result in post-traumatic stress disorder than going into combat.” Combat is not a necessary link to PTSD nor the only way to experience its effects. But in the commonly held belief and discussions around veteran suicide, PTSD from combat sucks the air out of the room.

Though PTSD is a serious problem that has been connected to increased rates in suicide among veterans, there are at least two studies, one published by the Archives of General Psychiatry in 2009, and the other by the National Center for PTSD in 2017, that suggest the link is not as definitive as most believe. PTSD simply does not account for enough deaths to satisfactorily answer the unsettling questions behind why veterans are taking their lives. In light of this line of evidence, where should we be looking for why suicide is so high among veterans?

The complicated truth

A more complete answer as to why veteran suicide is so high nests more neatly under the heading of sociological factors. Stated differently, it has more to do with culture, isolation, and lack of shared experiences and values when comparing a veteran population to their civilian counterparts than combat and PTSD. Those who serve in the military are grafted into a subculture with its language, communities, duties, judicial system, boundaries and contours of honor and shame. The sum of these differences and experiences is something that is unshared by the majority of the population. The second world war had approximately 9% of the population serving directly in the military. The rest of the country, while not wearing the uniform, was still aiding in the war efforts in ways that the whole of society was oriented toward. Today, less than 1% of people serve on active duty.

Serving in the military brings about experiences that will never be shared by the majority of the nation. This lack of shared experience and values isolates and exacerbates the problems our society is already plagued with in the veteran’s personal life.

It isn’t only that sharing a relationship with a service member is now less likely, but also that our relationships look drastically different than they did a generation ago. The average Facebook user has 338 friends. Contrast this with the fact that some research indicates that 75% of people are not friends with their neighbors, 26% of people don’t know their neighbors, and social gatherings with neighbors before COVID-19 were already relatively rare. If we are desiring to find a place we need to dig deeper as to why veteran suicide is high, community disconnect is a prominent factor that demands further investigation.

We are already detached from community more than we consider. Geographically, we live in one place, work in another, shop on one side of town, go to church on the other, and pursue our weekend hobbies and recreation in someplace different than the rest. This description of our disparate lives is not an anomaly, but the norm for many. The only thing we have in common with neighbors is that we live next to them. Other than that, we are different people with different lives who rarely intersect.

Exacerbating our own problems

New York Times bestselling author Sebastian Junger struck a chord with many in his recent book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging. Junger provocatively suggested that the problem of PTSD was not a matter of “what’s wrong with them,” referring to our troops, but rather, “what’s wrong with us”, referring to our culture outside of the military. While there are areas in which Junger does not fully deliver on his thesis, his impulse is correct: the issues our culture and society has are no different than what the military possesses. Serving in the military brings about experiences that will never be shared by the majority of the nation. This lack of shared experience and values isolates and exacerbates the problems our society is already plagued with in the veteran’s personal life.

For every specialty and niche interest that exists today, community options abound. But this menu list of choices has not brought people together, it’s divided, subdivided, and distanced people into communities based on hobbies, shopping preferences, media consumption, and even our places of worship. Yet we do not need more of the same, we need more of each other. Where we would once pursue relationships with those in our communities, we now seek the friendships of others through social media. Where personal friendships could serve as a kind of “general practice” for struggles with anxiety or depression, veterans are now outsourced to experts when what they need is not another visit to a therapist or a prescription refill, but authentic relationships that are abiding, meaningful, and faithfully attended to. If one believes the problem with veteran suicide is something that only a trauma specialist can address, they will disqualify themselves from any sort of help they can give through genuine friendships.

Suicide and the mission of the church

The trends of suicide in the United States reveal some alarming trajectories. Before the prolonged isolation and social restrictions that COVID-19 has added, suicides in the U.S. had increased 33% from 1999-2017. If the factors listed above are truly more decisive in suicide than combat or PTSD, then we should expect suicide to continue to increase. Moreover, veteran suicide will also continue this trend based on the expectations of our non-communal and increasingly isolated society. If this can be stated differently, veteran suicide is a sneak peak at where we are headed as a culture as a whole. If we desire to combat suicide, the place to do it is within community that seeks to disrupt isolation by loving one’s neighbor. The vehicle that is best equipped with a mission and purpose for reaching communities across our country is the church armed with the good news of Jesus Christ.

By / Aug 31

Arizona Senator John McCain died on Saturday, August 25, at the age of 81. Here are five facts you should know about the long-serving American statesman:

1. John Sidney McCain III was born in 1936 at a U.S. naval air station in the Panama Canal Zone, an area that was then controlled by the United States. As the son and grandson of the first father-son pair to achieve four-star admiral rank in the U.S. Navy (John S. McCain Sr. and John S. McCain Jr.), McCain knew he was destined to follow his family’s lead by attending the U.S. Naval Academy—even if it was not his choice. While in high school, he attempted to sabotage his chances for admission, and while at the academy, he was a rebel who barely graduated (his class ranking was fifth from the bottom of 899 students). Yet despite his lack of effort, McCain’s fellow students recognized him as a charismatic, natural-born leader.

2. After graduating from the Naval Academy in 1958, McCain became a naval aviator. Still cocky and a bit reckless, he crashed a T-2 trainer jet in Virginia, an AD-6 Skyraider in Texas, and another Skyraider while “clowning” around in southern Spain (where he flew into electrical wires, causing a blackout). After McCain was sent to Vietnam in 1967, another of his planes was destroyed in an explosion on the deck of an aircraft carrier. A missile from another aircraft on the ship’s deck accidentally fired, slamming into the fuel tank of McCain's plane. He escaped the burning wreckage and helped another pilot escape the fire that killed 134 of his fellow sailors. Three months later, he was shot down during a bombing mission over Hanoi and taken prisoner. He was not faulted in either of those latter cases. During his career as a pilot in Vietnam, McCain earned several commendations, including a Distinguished Flying Cross and a Bronze Star Medal with a combat “V” and two gold stars.

3. On October 26, 1967, while flying his 23rd bombing mission over North Vietnam, McCain’s plan was struck by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile. The ejection from the plane broke McCain’s right leg around the knee, his left arm, and his right arm in three places. When the North Vietnamese captured him, they shattered his right shoulder with a blow from a rifle and bayoneted him in the foot and groin. These injuries led to a six-week stay in a Vietnamese hospital, after which he was taken to a prison camp known as The Plantation. In 1968, the North Vietnamese offered McCain early release because his father was an important U.S. military figure. When he refused, they tortured him until he offered a false confession. The torture sessions would continue, often several times a week, for the next year. In 1969, he was moved to the Hỏa Lò Prison, nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton.” He was moved back to the Plantation just months before his final release as a prisoner of war on March 14, 1973.

4. McCain retired from the Navy on April 1, 1981, with the rank of captain. A year later he began his political career by running for an open seat in Arizona's 1st congressional district. He would serve two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives before being elected to the Senate in 1986, taking the seat formerly held by Barry Goldwater. McCain served six terms in the Senate, during which he twice ran for president. In the 2000 race, McCain lost the Republican nomination to George W. Bush. In 2008, McCain beat out several candidates—including Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Rudy Giuliani—to win the nomination, though he would go on to lose the general election to Barack Obama.

5. Although he was raised an Episcopalian, McCain spent the last 25 years of his life attending North Phoenix Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist church. McCain was never baptized in the church, though his wife and two of their children were. In an interview in 2007, he said, “I didn't find it necessary to do so for my spiritual needs.” At the time he also told reporters, “I'm not Episcopalian. I'm Baptist.” On Thursday, thousands of people attended the memorial service held for McCain at North Phoenix Baptist Church. A viewing is also being held at the U.S. Capitol today, and on Saturday his casket will be moved by members of the Armed Forces to a motorcade, which takes him to the Washington National Cathedral for a final private funeral.

By / Aug 10

An investigation by the U.S. Army recommends that a Southern Baptist chaplain be charged with "dereliction of duty" for failing to accommodate a homosexual couple in a marriage retreat.

Earlier this year a lesbian soldier filed a complaint against Major Scott Squires, claiming he discriminated against her and her spouse by not helping facilitate their attendance at the retreat he was hosting.

According to the First Liberty Institute, the organization representing Squires in the legal proceedings, even though Squires ensured the soldier was placed in the next available retreat, the investigator concluded the chaplain’s conduct was discriminatory, and recommended he receive administrative or non-judicial punishment.

Squires’ chaplain assistant, SSG Kacie Griffin, was also included in the investigation for simply informing the chaplain of the couple’s application, and letting the couple know that Chaplain Squires would want to speak with them about the event. Griffin now faces the prospect of losing her opportunity to receive an officer’s commission and a full ride college scholarship because “one general’s intentional indecision,” says First Liberty.

“The United States Army, acting under the command of Major General Sonntag, is threatening to punish one of its chaplains because he followed the rules,” stated Mike Berry, Deputy General Counsel and Director of Military Affairs to First Liberty. “The Army, or Congress, must hold Major General Sonntag accountable for allowing this aggressive anti-religious hostility against its military chaplains to occur under his command.”

Squires says he could not conduct a marriage retreat with same-sex couples due to the requirements of his chaplain-endorsing agency, the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (NAMB). The investigation admits, “CH Squires is protected by the ‘shield’ of the 1st Amendment from being compelled to act in violation of his religious rules and beliefs.” But the Army investigator then adds, “However, the ‘shield’ that is afforded CH Squires does not permit CH Squires, or any Soldier, to use the ‘shield’ as a ‘sword’ to cut off the rights of another.”

Earlier this week Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) released a statement regarding the ongoing investigation.

‘Americans’ right to freedom of conscience is Constitutional and non-negotiable. With that in view, the law requires each chaplain to fulfill their duties without violating their conscience or the tenets of the specific faith-group that endorses their chaplaincy,” said Collins, who is himself a Southern Baptist chaplain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, and the only military chaplain serving in Congress. “Unfortunately, Chaplain Scott Squires is being subjected to a meandering investigation that could set a precedent for stripping all chaplains of their fundamental legal protections.’

Collins says the Army’s most recent report comes from the same officer who authored the original account of the case, and that this newest chapter is “riddled with language that seems inconsistent and potentially biased against the faith community.” The congressman says it further prolongs an investigative process that suffers from a “woeful lack of transparency, even though religious liberty, as Constitutional law, is legally paramount.”

“The case of Chaplain Scott Squires highlights how imperative it is that we protect freedom of conscience for every individual in the U.S. military—including the chaplains who minister to them as they carry out the military’s mission together,” adds Collins. “The process surrounding this investigation remains extremely concerning, and Army officials now have the opportunity to deliver a swift, fair resolution after months of prolonging the case.

By / Nov 10

“Daddy, when are you coming home?” My kids often ask this question whenever I have a chance to call home. I reluctantly tell them, “By Christmas,” but the reality is, there’s no guarantee that we’ll leave our current location in time to make it before my kids open their presents. I’m on deployment, and since leaving, I’ve missed birthdays, holidays, family vacations, my son’s T-ball games, and more—“normal” activities that I’d forgotten to cherish while I was home.

While this deployment has been difficult, it has also allowed my kids to mature and take on extra responsibilities—especially serving one another. Our oldest child is seven years old and has learned to wake up early nearly every day to serve our family by making breakfast for his four younger sisters. Just recently, he taught his five-year-old sister to ride her bike without training wheels—something I would’ve done if I’d been there.  

Being gone has also caused me to love my wife more. Throughout our marriage, she’s always been self-sacrificing, but that’s become even more evident. She’s the one who takes our kids to church, piano lessons, birthday parties, and other activities. She reads to them, prays with them, and tucks them in bed. She pays the bills, calls the exterminator, and cuts the heads off snakes when they try to crawl into our house (true story!). She wakes up early and goes to bed late, cooks and cleans—all by herself—and has yet to complain about any of this.

As we celebrate Veterans Day, here are five practical ways that you and your church can serve deployed soldiers like me and their families:   

1. Pray. Praying for one another is not only commanded in Scripture but is also one of the first things we learn to do as Christians. We pray for one another—not simply because there’s nothing else to do—but because we desire to see growth and God’s goodness in each other’s lives. Through prayer, we are trusting that all good things come from God’s generous hands and that he is kind and gracious and loves to answer our prayers.

2. Care packages. One of the highlights of deployments is receiving care packages. These often include snacks, hygiene items, books, magazines, and personal letters of thanks. These care packages are often a little “taste of home.” Churches or Sunday School classes can easily put together these packages, and soldiers will love them. But don’t be disappointed when they don’t send you a thank you card. Postage stamps can be hard to come by, and what few stamps a soldier has, he’s probably planning to use for his family.   

Churches or Sunday School classes can easily put together care packages for deployed soldiers.

3. Gift cards. When National Guard and Reservist Soldiers deploy, they often take a reduction in pay from their civilian careers, as well as take on extra expenses. You can help alleviate those costs by sending Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play gift cards. As a National Guard chaplain, my church wanted to support my ministry here and sent me $4,000 in Amazon gift cards to give away. I’ve been able to help host numerous game nights—basketball, softball, volleyball, dodgeball—as well as set up televisions to watch college football. Each week, I give away these gift cards, and Soldiers are stunned that my church would provide these.

4. Help with home. Another great way to help a veteran is to step in and help his or her family. Our church family has been an enormous help. Every week, men stop by to mow the grass and edge our yard. They’ve fixed our fence, automobiles, and a ton of other things that have helped us financially. The ladies from our church volunteer to watch our five kids, giving my wife a much-needed and well-deserved break. They’ve helped with laundry, house cleaning, and are often bringing homemade food over to help alleviate the burden this deployment has placed upon my wife. One Sunday School class even took up a collection, bought groceries, and filled our pantry, refrigerator, and freezer with the types of foods my family enjoys. If you really want to help a veteran, serve his family like this while he’s deployed.  

5. Help when he or she returns. A soldier will be eager spend time with his kids when he returns home, but he’ll also need time to reconnect with his wife. You can offer to watch their kids and pay for their date. Surprise them with a gift card to a restaurant, movie theatre, or their favorite coffee shop. Yes, the soldier will want to see you, but make sure you give him plenty of time to reconnect with his family first.

While I’m away, my wife has been intentional to tell our kids that their daddy is a hero, that I’m providing for our family, and that both husbands and wives make sacrifices as they do the hard work to which God calls them. She’s teaching them that this life is more than about seeking our own comfort and happiness; it’s about furthering the Kingdom of Christ and trusting that one day, he will reward a hundredfold all that we’ve given up to accomplish that mission. Let’s uphold and support deployed Soldiers and their families in this calling by using our gifts and resources to serve the body of Christ.

By / Jun 6

Today is the 73rd anniversary of the D-Day invasion. Here are five facts you should know about the battle that changed not only the outcome of World War II but the course of human history:

1. On June 6, 1944, American, British, and Canadian military forces launched Operation Overlord, the codename for the largest amphibious invasion in world history. This first day of the invasion—known as D-Day—began the Battle of Normandy on five separate beachheads in Normandy, France. The successful attack marked the beginning of the end of World War II. By August, the Allied forces had liberated northern France and began to move into Germany where they met Soviet forces and ended Nazi rule.

2. In January 1944, General Dwight Eisenhower was appointed commander of Operation Overlord. Eisenhower and his troops spent months in careful preparation before giving the battle order for the invasion:

Shortly after the invasion British Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave a speech in which he said,

“So far the Commanders who are engaged report that everything is proceeding according to plan. And what a plan! This vast operation is undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever taken place. It involves tides, wind, waves, visibility, both from the air and the sea standpoint, and the combined employment of land, air and sea forces in the highest degree of intimacy and in contact with conditions which could not and cannot be fully foreseen.”

3. The battle began after midnight as more than 2,200 allied bombers conducted a mostly ineffective air bombardment of the beaches and inland. This wave was followed by another 1,2000 aircraft and 24,000 airborne assault troops (i.e., paratroopers). Within the next few hours the Allies landed more than 160,000 troops at Normandy, which included 73,000 Americans.

4. By the end of D-Day, Allied casualties have been estimated at 10,000 killed, wounded, and missing in action: 6,603 Americans, 2,700 British, and 946 Canadians. From D-day through August 21, the Allies landed more than two million men in northern France and suffered more than 226,386 casualties: 72,911 killed/missing and 153,475 wounded.  German losses included over 240,000 casualties and 200,000 captured.  Between 13,000 and 20,000 French civilians died, and many more were seriously wounded.

5. What does the “D” in D-Day mean? Military historians still disagree about exactly what the letter means. Some claim it merely stands for Day and that the coded designation “D-Day” was used for the day of any important invasion or military operation. Others sources, however, claim that when someone wrote to General Eisenhower in 1964 asking for an explanation, his executive assistant Brigadier General Robert Schultz answered: “General Eisenhower asked me to respond to your letter. Be advised that any amphibious operation has a ‘departed date’; therefore the shortened term ‘D-Day’ is used.”

By / Nov 11

In my family, you’re practically born into an appreciation and love for the the military. Both of my grandfathers were Air Force pilots, one of which was a prisoner of war in World War II. “Papa,” as I called him, lost most of his teeth and, we later found out, endured a heart attack while in prison. As a little kid, I thought it was cool that he could remove his teeth every night.

He was taken prisoner after his plane was shot down over Asia. So, from the other side of the world, while my Grandma watched and waited, my Papa was considered missing for six months. Though his life was spared, he watched many of his comrades suffer and die.

“Grandpa,” my dad’s dad, almost lost his life in a operational mission from Georgia to Germany. He was flying his jet off of Greenland and, due to a malfunction, had a slow decompression in the cockpit. This resulted in something called "the bends," or nitrogen bubbles in the blood and brain. As a result, he temporarily lost his vision. Flying! The first resort would have been to bail out, but the water temperature would've killed him within a minute or so.

His wingman, Tom, was in the right place at the right time. He flew beside my Grandpa and talked to him about direction, altitude, airspeed and probably helped keep him calm all the way back to the runway's final approach. From there, the tower control talked him down to a landing. My dad recently found an article about this incident and got to visit Tom! I have the article printed out and framed in one of my bedrooms as a reminder of my family’s history and God’s protection.

My uncle was also an Air Force pilot with intriguing stories of negative g’s, throwing up and passing out. My dad went the route of the Navy. He attended the Naval Academy and became a P-3 pilot—very Top Gun-esque, aviators and all. Both men continued in civil service as civilian defense contractors after retirement from the military.

None of these men are perfect or without flaws, so I don’t have an idealistic vision of our military as a whole or those who serve. The point is, they were willing to lay down their lives for something greater. So, because of their example, I have a hard time seeing an older man in a “vet” hat or hearing Lee Greenwood’s song without tearing up. And who can handle those videos of military members surprising their loved ones?

I’m often moved to tears because I have seen firsthand and have heard stories about the price that’s paid in the service of our country. Whether it’s a man like my Papa, whose physical and mental health took an untold hit while in a wartime prison, or men and women like my dad who spent months away from their families, it’s not without a sacrifice of some sort—and it’s often thankless or met with very public dissent.

We have witnessed a tumultuous political season that might inflame this dissent. It has exposed disappointing and terrible things about our country. Yet, that shouldn’t diminish the appreciation we have for the good—for this American experiment and the men and women who make it their life’s work to defend and maintain the liberties we have. And in our appreciation, let’s serve them in these small ways:

Pray for our veterans. Pray that they would be healthy—spiritually, physically and emotionally. Ask the Lord to heal any familial wounds. Pray for their encouragement, as many of them disagree with things that are happening in the country they love and wonder if their sacrifice meant anything.

Encourage our veterans. When we see one of those “vet” hats, let’s stop and say, “Thank you.” Let’s shake their hands and pay tribute. At a friend’s direction recently, I was able to donate a wreath at Arlington Cemetery and have it laid on my Papa and Grandma’s grave. He doesn’t know it’s there, but the loved ones who visit the graves and walk the aisles of marble see them and know that someone remembers and care.

Pray for our active duty military. Pray that God would protect them and send godly chaplains to share the good news of Jesus—and that he would be their ultimate Commander. Let’s ask that their families would flourish—that no man would put asunder what God has joined together. Let’s pray that they would have a bigger vision for our country that would compel them when they are discouraged by what’s happening politically.

Encourage our active duty military. There are plenty of programs that allow you to write to a military member, send care packages or adopt a member during the holidays. Say, “Thank you,” when you see men and women in uniform. Shake their hands. We’d probably be surprised by how infrequently this happens.

Pray for our government leaders. Pray that they would give our military members something noble worth defending—and, if necessary, worth laying down their lives for. Let’s ask God to give them wisdom and give us better than we deserve. Let’s pray that human dignity, religious liberty, and stability would be the aim of our government.

Ultimately, as Christians, we know and believe that the government of the whole universe is on perfect shoulders. It seems appropriate, especially now, that our calendar celebration of Christmas is right around the corner. The baby laid in a manger is the one we trust, the one we worship, the one we look to and the one we ask for all of these things. Through him, a day is coming when wars and rumors of wars will cease, when militaries around the world are no more, and when true and lasting peace is the lay of the land forevermore.  

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6

By / Dec 3

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Father Christmas issues weapons to the Pevensie children. Peter receives a sword and a shield, Susan receives a bow and arrow and a magical horn that will summon help whenever it’s blown, and Lucy receives a dagger and a magic vial that restores the health of anyone injured. Later, before the White Witch’s army, Father Christmas tells the sisters that he has given them these weapons only so that the girls can defend themselves “in great need . . . for I do not mean you to fight in the battle.” Lucy is offended, believing her bravery is being questioned, but he tells her, “That is not the point . . . battles are ugly when women fight.”

Throughout history, most men and women—and even children—have recognized the wisdom of not sending our mothers, daughters, and sisters to the battlefield. But that is no longer true in America.

Earlier today, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced he would lift the military’s ban on women serving in combat, a move that allows hundreds of thousands of women to serve in front-line positions during wartime.  “This means that as long as they qualify and meet the standards, women will now be able to contribute to our mission in ways they could not before. They'll be able to drive tanks, give orders, lead infantry soldiers into combat,” Secretary Carter said at a news conference.

The decision was made over the public objections by the Marine Corps. A recent Marine Corps study found that all-male squads are more effective in combat and less likely to be injured than integrated groups. Secretary Carter acknowledged the Marines' reluctance and dismissed it with a wave of his hand: “We are a joint force, and I've decided to make a decision that applies to the entire force,” Carter said.

This decision was probably inevitable. The lines distinguishing between combat and non-combat jobs had become increasingly blurrier over the past twenty years. But opening combat arms jobs—infantry, tanks, artillery—is still an unprecedented change. (Even in Israel, where women are drafted into service along with men, women do not engage directly in ground combat.

The arguments against allowing women in combat have, for decades, been made with force and vigor, but to no avail. Because the rational common sense of the arguments cannot be effectively rebutted, they are dismissed and ignored. Instead, it is frequently pointed out that since a handful of highly athletic females can meet the standards usually met by the low fitness males, it would be unfair to deny women combat roles.

Being able to endure the stresses of training, however, is not the same as being physically prepared for combat. The physiological differences between men and women are simply too great. And no amount of “gender norming” can hide the distinctions on the battlefield. As retired Gunnery Sergeant Jessie Jane Duff explains,

Many women will find out in the long haul that combat entails unprecedented physical stress. As it is now, many women have greater duress on their bodies than men with the physical requirements and are discharged at higher rates from the duress on knees, hips, ankles, and joints. That reality will only be exacerbated in combat. Will physical performance standards be adjusted (that is, made less stringent) to accommodate women?

And then there’s the emotional duress that troops in combat endure. I’ve seen many women in the Marines who chose not to reenlist due to the extreme emotional hardships of service. It isn't an easy culture to handle.

It goes beyond physical limitations—the object of military culture is to defeat the enemy and kill anything that is a threat. There is a constant mode of aggression; I’ve seen too many women who enlisted and completed training, but soon learned they simply couldn’t face that dark reality on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, concerns about the safety of women and the security of our nation are not primary in this debate. Long ago, we made equality our end, and allowing women in combat was the inevitable next stop on our long march. If that requires the sacrifice of our sisters and daughters, say the egalitarians, then so be it.

Not surprisingly, the debate is defended on egalitarian grounds but framed in the language of “choice.” The Obama administration, we are told, is “opening” combat roles for women who would “choose” to serve in them. We know, though, that eighteen-year-old girls will soon have to join their brothers and boyfriends in registering for the Selective Service. We know that when the standards are lowered to accommodate women (as they must be, since few women are physically qualified for combat), almost all healthy young women will be eligible to pick up a rifle and go off to war.

Of course when the government begins to draft our daughters for combat roles—and that day will certainly come—the children and grandchildren of the egalitarian elite will be the ones to get deferrals. Most of the men and women championing a woman’s right to choose combat have never served in the military and would certainly not want their own daughters to join the infantry. They are concerned only with choice and equality in the pristine abstract, rather than in the bloody, concrete world of warfare. What they favor is an equality in which our daughters get to join our sons in marching off to war.

Unfortunately, many men will be more than willing to allow women in combat if it will lessen their chances of having to defend their country in wartime. One of the harsh realities we face is that American society is filled with men who are anti-woman cowards. As pastor-theologian John Piper has said,

If I were the last man on the planet to think so, I would want the honor of saying no woman should go before me into combat to defend my country. A man who endorses women in combat is not pro-woman; he’s a wimp. He should be ashamed. For most of history, in most cultures, he would have been utterly scorned as a coward to promote such an idea. Part of the meaning of manhood as God created us is the sense of responsibility for the safety and welfare of our women.

Piper’s statement is hopelessly out of touch with modern America’s views on gender roles. My views are too, I’m afraid. Even many of my fellow believers will disagree since they believe that such distinctions, even about combat, are based on more on cultural expectations rather than creational norms. Still, I suspect there are others, both men and women, who think that when the Creator made us “male and female” he meant for there to be some distinctions in roles both within the church, the family, and in society.

Men, for example, were created to be self-sacrificial protectors of the family, and by extension, of the nation. Forcing women into that role will not lead to more freedom but rather to less equality, more violence toward women, and a general degradation of humanity. As Lewis said, battles are ugly when women fight. But societies that send their women off to war are even uglier.