More than 170 Soldiers, civilians and family members attended the Fort Benning observance of the National Prayer Breakfast Feb. 17 at the Benning Conference Center. The event coincided with Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, a 40-day period preceding Easter that many Christians observe as a time of prayer and abstinence.
The celebration was open to all faiths and included prayers by Muslim imam Dawud Salahuddin Bin Pearson and Jewish Chaplain (MAJ) Carlos Huerta, 30th Adjutant General Battalion (Reception).
“I think it (is) very unique that we can all come together to observe our different faiths,” said CPT Vladimir Sotosanchez, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 11th Engineer Battalion, who attended the post observance for the first time. “This country was founded on freedom of religion. The first pilgrims who arrived — that was one of their main focuses. (We’re) paying homage to one of the founding principles of our country.”SSG(R) John Toland, a brainwave technician for Martin Army Community Hospital, said he attended the annual prayer breakfast whenever possible to support the chaplains and all the Soldiers.
“They defend our freedom to worship how we want to,” Toland said. “That’s one of the tenants of the Constitution: freedom of religion. You have Protestants … Catholics … Muslims … Jews … Buddhists. Even though I don’t believe in (many) of those other faiths, I’ll support their right to worship. It’s what this country is about.”
Never miss a local story.
National leaders seeking divine guidance is an American institution that dates back to General George Washington, who prayed in the snow one winter at Valley Forge, said Chaplain (COL) Richard Pace, U.S. Army Central Command chaplain and keynote speaker for the event.
The tradition of the annual prayer breakfast, originally called the Presidential Prayer Breakfast, officially began in 1953. Each year, it includes members of the Cabinet, Congress, the Supreme Court and the military.
“It’s a time when we come together from our various faiths and we acknowledge as a nation that we need God’s help, we need God’s strength, we need God’s blessing,” Pace said. “And we all in our own way call out to him in prayer and ask for that.”
Pace said his prayer was for others — especially Soldiers — to find courage, confidence and character.These traits are especially applicable in the Army, said Pace, who drew real-world examples from Infantry basic training, Airborne School and the Ranger Training Brigade.
It takes courage to finish one-station unit training, confidence to plunge from a jump tower with only a parachute attached and character to undergo the rigors of the mountain phase of Ranger School, he said.
“You don’t develop character in easy times with easy tasks — with things you can do without any stress or strength,” Pace said. “Developing character requires facing challenges, and it’s through challenges that God develops within us the character he wants us to have.”The prayer breakfast was “wonderful,” said World War II veteran MSG(R) Frank Kawalek.
That freedom of religious expression is what Soldiers have fought for, said Kawalek, who recalls Army chaplains in 1944 leading prayer during the Battle of the Bulge. “I know we did.”