For the last month, members of the Wisconsin National Guard 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team have been at Fort Bliss preparing to deploy to the Middle East. While it is not unusual for Ft Bliss to have units like this preparing to mobilize, it has been a somewhat unique opportunity for us, since we were told there may be dozens of WELS members serving in this unit.
For a few months now I have been working with the WELS Military Services committee to do what we could to serve these troops while they were training at Bliss. We thought we might have a communion service on post for them. We did receive permission from the installation chaplain's office for such a service, but logistics made that planning difficult, since the different companies are on different schedules and are working at different areas (Fort Bliss is a really big place—1700 square miles big).
However, this hasn't been much of a problem since several of the soldiers were able to get time off and transportation to come to our services at Trinity. They arrived in as many as three 15-passenger vans. Most of them were WELS members from Wisconsin (and a couple from Minnesota), but not all of them were. I never really did get a good count, but we have had approximately 20–25 troops here on a Sunday.
Even though we live in a military town and it is completely normal to see soldiers in uniform pretty much every day (even though my boys, especially Andrew, still tends to shout, "Soldier!" whenever he spots one), it is not all that common to see that many ACUs in church. And still more—well, I'm not sure what word to use—to have a table at the Lord's Supper with a dozen brothers and sisters who are here (in our church) because it's a WELS church just like theirs back home, but who are here (Fort Bliss) because they have committed to serve us. I guess I just consider it a privilege to serve them.
Some of them are already leaving this week. Others will have a 4 day pass next weekend. We are hoping that as many as possible will make it next Sunday, when we'll have Pastor Paul Ziemer, the WELS national civilian chaplain, fly in to talk about WELS military services and to preach and to meet some of these men and women.
The picture in this post is from Easter Sunday morning, a shot I snapped from the back of church just before the service started.