FORT Lee, Va. -- Packing a powerful message about selfless service, the National Prayer Breakfast observance here Feb. 22 was attended by well over 300 installation leaders, Soldiers and community guests.
Col. Hollie J. Martin, Fort Lee garrison commander, established the significance of the event in her opening remarks. Citing highlights from the NPB’s 90-year history, the colonel noted how it has served as an “enduring reminder” of America’s religious freedoms and the shared belief that unified communities can overcome any adversity.
“Today, our National Prayer Breakfast remains an inclusive event where we can all renew our trust and confidence in the nation, acknowledge the importance of freedoms we hold so dear and unite with one another in our commitment to service,” Martin said.
The morning meal served by the attentive Lee Club staff was accented by music from a 392nd Army Band woodwind quintet and a solo performance of “My Country Tis of Thee,” sung by Naomi Baccich, spouse of Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Edward Baccich, deputy garrison chaplain.
Featured speaker Chaplain (Col.) Gregory B. Walker, senior command chaplain for the 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield, Ga., said he never gets used to seeing his bio in event programs and name in post newspapers.
“I don’t think of myself as someone all that special,” he admitted with a brief pause to gather his emotions. “My rank, my family and the opportunity to serve are all blessings I am extremely grateful for, and will never take for granted.”
Introducing his wife, Roxanne, and son, Caleb – an Army private first class who serves as a medic at Kenner’s Troop Medical Clinic 1 – Walker focused the audience’s attention on the overarching theme of the morning, “Selflessly Serving God and Country.”
“What does it mean to be selfless?” Walker posed. “I’m a simple guy, so I went straight to Webster on this one. It is to be concerned more for the needs and wishes of others than one’s own.
“I believe … people are naturally selfish,” he continued. “You may not agree with me, but trust me, they are. I’ve been doing the chaplain thing for a long time with a customer service job before that, so I’m speaking from experience.
“This behavior is in our wiring as part of the survival instinct. A baby’s first thoughts and words are food, change me, I’m tired, ‘no’ and ‘mine,’” Walker said as the audience chuckled in agreement. “Many of you would agree a similar thought process continues through the teen years and maybe a bit beyond.”
Adults have a tendency to overinflate their importance, he further observed. Work and community sacrifices are typically met with the thought, “what’s in it for me?” It’s that societally ingrained perspective that necessitates the Army’s emphasis on the seven personal values expected of its Soldiers – selfless service being among them.
“During my upbringing, it took some serious parental training, time and maturity to realize that, unless you’re a ruthless dictator, you’re going to be a servant for someone no matter what kind of job you have,” Walker said. “That’s a point I make often when meeting with the unit ministry teams under our command … I remind them I’m the highest paid servant in the room. My rank is a blessing that I never use to benefit myself. I use it to empower, support and benefit others.
“My rank and position requires that I not only serve others but I put their well-being before myself. That’s important, and I don’t think any of us should forget that,” he observed.
Quality of service also matters. Customers desire the absolute best in product and the manner in which it’s provided, Walker emphasized as he referenced a passage in the Bible (John 13, verses 1-5) that talks about Jesus washing the disciple’s feet, a menial task he did not see as beneath his stature or pass off as someone else’s responsibility.
“I discovered one of the greatest examples of selfless service while I was preparing a speech back in 1986,” Walker recalled. “The topic was courage, and I found numerous Medal of Honor recipient citations but one stood out to me in particular. A young man and combat veteran by the name of (Cpl.) Desmond Doss.
“The citation describes how he lowered 77 men down the side of a cliff on the southern end of Okinawa, Japan. What I didn’t know until I saw the movie (‘Heartbreak Ridge,’ released in 2016) was the details of his life in the military (after refusing to fight as a conscientious objector). He was belittled. He was harassed. He was beaten. He was outcast because of his belief.
“Yet he was there when his fellow Soldiers needed him most,” Walker recounted. “One of the greatest scenes in that movie is when he stayed on that ridge to lower those men down, each time praying, ‘Lord, give me one more.’ He said, ‘God give me one more each time.’
“We selflessly serve our nation and our communities when we put others before ourselves and inwardly proclaim, ‘God, just give me one more,’” the chaplain emphasized. “We selflessly serve God as we show love and kindness to others; when we put our care for other’s personal and spiritual well-being into action. … We have to love, truly love, our fellow man as much as ourselves.”