A Utah paper highlighted the service of local Mormons with the Utah National Guard, which includes arrangements allowing teenagers to enlist, go to boot camp — and then take a two year break for their mission:
“A lot of people told me I couldn’t be both a Marine and a missionary,” [LCpl Brady] Knowles said before he left for the LDS Church’s Indianapolis Mission last year. “But when I talked to the Marine recruiters and told them I was going to serve a mission, they told me it could be worked out. And it was.”
Upon graduating from high school, Knowles enlisted and went through his basic military training and his assignment-specific communications training. The Marines granted him a two-year leave of absence for his mission, after which he will return to complete his four-year military commitment.
The Utah National Guard recruiting battalion commander sees the mission trips as a positive:
We see missionary service as an asset. When I watch these kids come back from missions, they are a great addition to our force. They tend to be more stable and mature.” There is no denying that “returned missionaries tend to be better soldiers.”
In some respects, that may simply reflect two years of maturity lacking in many teenagers today.
The article notes the US military academies allow Mormons to go on their missions as well. A few years ago, they were able to take advantage of “stop out” at the Air Force Academy, which was essentially a “break” from Academy life. Once that program ended, Mormons were required to resign and reapply once they returned. While not guaranteed,
“As long as the cadet met the military, academic and conduct standards prior to his departure, re-admission is usually not a problem,” said John Van Winkle of the Air Force Academy’s Public Affairs office.
Like other faiths and denominations, Mormons also have a network of support upon which they can call, with former military members serving as local support around the globe:
There are also 64 retired military couples serving as senior missionaries at U.S. military bases around the world. Purdy said these couples assist local church leaders in serving and encouraging LDS service men and women.
Also like troops of other faiths, they face many of the same unusual situations:
“It’s always a different experience to sit in ‘church’ with a loaded weapon, while guys carrying weapons bless and pass the sacrament.”
Many faiths have expressions or exercise unique to their practice, and it is admirable that the US military takes steps to accommodate Mormons’ religious exercise to the extent the mission allows. As is shown in most cases, the military generally makes a good faith effort in supporting the religious freedom of its troops, demonstrating its respect for their faith while protecting their Constitutionally protected right to practice it.