Considering the Vocation of Military Service

Kay Maiwald

A boy sat on the floor of his bedroom, building an SH-60B helicopter out of LEGOs, dreaming of the day he could become a Navy pilot.

A teenager carefully wrote his name next to "USMC SEMPER FI" in the wet concrete at the base of a flagpole his family was installing.

You already have many vocations: son, daughter, brother, sister, friend, student, cousin, aunt, uncle, Sunday School teacher, employee. Our vocations in life are many, and are always changing. If you are in high school or even a bit younger, you are probably thinking about what you want to do for the rest of your life.

Perhaps you are like these boys, and have known for many years that you want to be a Marine, sailor, soldier, airman, or Coast Guardsman. Or maybe it's something that has become of interest to you more recently. It's possible that you hadn't even thought of such a thing until you turned to this article.

Many questions may come to mind as you consider this decision, and the people around you will also have things to ask you.

Why do you want to join the military?

Lots of people are going to ask you why you want to serve, and why you are willing to do a job like that, while earning a salary that can make daily life challenging. That's not always easy to answer. You may feel strongly about serving your country, protecting and defending the rights we have when they are threatened. Some join because they want to be part of something big. Others see that military training will give them discipline, certain specialized skills, and growth as an individual, while allowing them to serve their neighbor. You might simply want to play with cool toys and do amazing things! Still others feel that the military vocation is something they are simply drawn to for reasons they can't explain.

What will you DO in the military?

There are many jobs within the military. If you want to be an officer, you'll need a four-year college degree, and will probably want to attend one of the military academies, or go through the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program at a university. Choosing the enlisted route can mean heading for basic training right after high school. A recruiter can help you work through the lists of jobs that interest you and let you know whether they are open to officers or those who enlist. There are choices in every area, from aircraft to communications to medical, and dozens of things in between.

You are a Christian. How can you even think of doing this?

Should a Lutheran even consider joining the military? In his writing, "Whether Soldiers, Too, Can be Saved," Martin Luther had a few things to say about whether a Christian could, in good conscience, wield the sword in such service. He points out that God desires peace and obedience, and has given government the sword because wrong and evil need to be punished in our world so that good order can exist. He assures us that a soldier who goes to war desiring to work towards peace and obedience can do so in good conscience, under the authority God has placed over him. "Therefore," Luther writes, "when they fight, they do it not for themselves or on their own account, but as a service and act of obedience to the rulers under whom they are, as St. Paul writes to Titus, ‘They shall obey the rulers.'"

Well, that's great but I hope I don't get deployed or ever have to face any danger.

Ah, now we're really getting down to it. If you join the military, you might be put in harm's way. You might get injured. You might die. Don't fool yourself about that. And there will be plenty of people who want to support your goals but don't want you to ever actually do your job. People like your parents will probably experience a mix of pride and worry. So if you are talking to friends or relatives, how do you answer their concern in the most loving way possible? By saying this: "I am baptized!" You can remind them that whether you die tomorrow in combat or in your bed when you're 95, you know to Whom you belong and you know the end of the story. It's a chance to say that, because of the faith given to you in the waters of Baptism, you know that you are righteous in the sight of God because of the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, delivered to you in Word and Sacrament. And you can tell them that because of this certainty, you can serve your neighbor and your country in this vocation without fear or worry, because you know that whatever happens to you in this life, you will spend eternity with your Savior.

I have never been in the military. I look with great respect upon those who have chosen this vocation in order to defend and protect people like me. If I see someone who is serving or has served, I try to shake his or her hand and offer my thanks. I understand the horrors of war only second- or third-hand, because of those who have died to keep it away from our shores in my lifetime.

So what happened to those boys I mentioned at the beginning of the article? The boy playing with his LEGOs went to college on a Navy ROTC scholarship. He's an Ensign in the Navy and is in flight school. The other young man left for Parris Island shortly after high school and is a Lance Corporal in the Marine Corps. Their dad and I couldn't be more proud. But much more important than that is the fact that they are both baptized children of God, and so we confidently know the end of the story.

Kay Maiwald is a proud military mom and has helped with various jobs within Higher Things. She and her husband, Eric, who serves on the HT Board of Directors, are members of St. Paul Lutheran Church, in Hancock, Maryland, where Kay also serves as organist.