Denny Behr knows what it’s like to be shoulder to shoulder serving his nation. Drafted in 1965 during the Vietnam era, he served in the Navy throughout the Cold War and continued serving until his retirement in 1999. “My military career in the Navy totally changed my life forever,” he says. “It taught me followership, mentorship, leadership, teamwork, and how to accomplish missions. It took me from cultivating corn on that small Minnesota farm to flying open ocean patrols all over the world chasing Russian submarines!”
Since his retirement, Behr, a member at Faith, Oregon, Wis., has divided his time serving his two great loves—the church and veterans. A recently formed organization, the Lutheran Military Support Group (LMSG), is now giving him the chance to serve those two loves at the same time.
Run by a board of ELS and WELS veterans from around the country, the LMSG is working to strengthen the church’s ministry to the military.
“We are a national level organization designed to have national reach, but local impact,” says Philip Mowry, LMSG president. “We are designed to be both an auxiliary to WELS Military Services in their support of active duty service members as well as an independent organization supporting the needs of our military veterans and our military families of both active duty members and veterans.”
Behr is excited that WELS and the ELS are joining forces to tackle this important ministry. “As a small synod, we don’t have a lot of resources at this point [for ministering to the military],” says Behr, an LMSG board member. “That’s why it is so promising to be partnering with WELS in forming this new organization.”
He continues, “Working with the newly forming LMSG team has totally re-energized me to help carry out this important military ministry,” he says. “To work shoulder to shoulder with these brothers and sisters all over our nation and beyond—most of whom I’ve never met before but we share the powerful bond of having have worn our nation’s cloth—this is truly a humbling and rewarding experience.”
The Lutheran Military Support Group is focusing on several national priorities:
• Providing logistical, financial, and educational support to WELS Military Services as it ministers to active duty military members. “As current and former military people, we bring a host of skills, relationships, and perspectives not generally found among civilian church leadership,” says Mowry, who served during the Gulf War.
• Helping address post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans.
• Supporting military families. The group is looking to start an annual synodwide recognition day for those families as well as to help active military families in remote locations stay connected through, for example, catechism and Bible classes.
The LSMG is also working to create awareness and activity in local congregations. Its goal is to have a liaison—either an active military person, a veteran, or a military family member—in every ELS and WELS congregation who can help educate and encourage members. “We want our congregations through their liaisons to open their eyes and look around their congregations and community and say, ‘This is a mission opportunity we haven’t thought of before,’ ” says Mowry. “We’re driving awareness, which will stimulate individual congregational activity.”
That awareness is important to Behr, who notes that supporting and recognizing active military members, veterans, and their families is his personal mission as a retired military veteran. “Just as our synods reach out to people and cultures throughout the world carrying out God’s Great Commission, our military and veterans have unique experiences and challenges that need God’s Word. We owe them and their families our support and our thanks, and we need to share our Christian love to help bring them back into our society through our church family.”
Discover more about the Lutheran Military Support Group, how to get involved, and tips on ministering to military members in your community at the group’s website, www.lutheranmilitary.org.
-Julie Wietzke is managing editor of the WELS magazine Forward in Christ.
This article appears in the November-December issue of the Lutheran Sentinel.