Because its personnel are removed from normal community life, where the local church functions, the United States military establishment is a mission field. Life in the military is often temporary, service is filled with frequent relocations, ie, about 3 years, unusual, and impersonal. There is loss of identity and privacy with resultant loneliness. Irregular duty hours make involvement in church and community life difficult, and boredom makes it easy to participate in drinking, drugs, gambling, and prostitution. Defense Department surveys indicate that 7 percent of those in the army regularly use marijuana and other narcotics. A greater number use and abuse alcohol as a form of cheap entertainment.
Uncle Sam, since 1981, has allowed military casinos to be opened on 94 overseas bases, where military personnel and employees spend a billion dollars annually gambling on base. It is considered a safe alternative to off base gambling, even though Pentagon studies show that at least two percent of service persons ‘possess indicators of probable pathological gambling’. [p.36 US News and World Report, May 2002]
Since our country has been inundated with internationals who have brought with them their non-Christian religions and our government has adopted the concept that all religions are equal, the military chaplaincy now may include members of each of the non-Christian religions. The latest addition to ‘chaplaincy personnel’ is that of a ‘pagan resource person’ to minister to soldiers who are “Wiccans, Odinists or followers of other Earth-centered belief systems.”
Gaylord Chizum, director of Servicemen's New Life Center, observes that the military is a most neglected mission field. Even with godly chaplains and sound local pastors, most servicemen go through military service and the nearby community without encountering a definite, personal witness for the Lord Jesus Christ.
American military personnel in 2016 numbered 1.3 million, including 180,000 women, half of whom are Blacks and 10% are Hispanic. Around the bases other thousands of military families live temporarily, thereby creating a potential mission field of 3,000,000. Military installations are to be found in every state. Some of the bases were originally forts established during the early founding years of the nation. The army [466,000, navy [319,000], and marines [137,000] were created by the Continental Congress in 1775. The Air Force [290,000] was added in 1926. Reserves # 800,000.
Half of the women in the service are married, with most of them married to civilian husbands. Seventy three percent of the married women have children. Twelve percent of service personnel are married with both spouses in the service. Career service is twenty years, but most only stay in for 10 years. About 2.5% of military are gay or lesbian.
Every state has a National Guard. The guardsmen are reservists that trace their history back to the militia of 1636; therefore, they are the oldest military force. They can be activated by the governor of the state or in national emergency by the president. The Guard includes both the Army [6,700]and Air National Guard [1,400].
In addition to the regulars of each branch of the service, there are reservists [.8 million]. It is necessary to add to those the Coast Guard [39,000], which was inaugurated in 1790. In a disaster, even the Civil Air Patrol can be activated. Most American military personnel are stationed on bases stateside, for only 255,000 are assigned overseas in 148 nations including 43,000 at sea on one of the Navy's 200 active combatant vessels. The opportunity for missionary activity is large and widespread in every state.
The United States government provides 2,800 chaplains for its servicemen stationed on a hundred bases. If the chaplains were evenly distributed, each would have a parish of 700 military personnel, in addition to 1,000 military dependents living nearby. But some chaplains are responsible for as many as 3,000 men and their dependents. [2014 military considering doing away with Chaplains Corp?].
The government recruits chaplains through the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces, which represents 249 recognized religious groups, including Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Moslems, Pagans and cults. Each representative group can recommend a number of chaplains commensurate with the percentage of the general populace the group holds. Islam for instance has a dozen Muslim military chaplains, serving 4200 Muslims on active duty serving in the military, mostly blacks, Indonesians, Pakistanis, Arabs and Caucasians. In 2003, it was discovered that these Muslim chaplains were too often militant and involved in subversive activity. Chaplains are being chosen from the Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam, versus the moderate Shiite.
Chaplains work under serious limitations. They must minister to men of different faiths. Facilities are often limited. Work schedules are hectic. They are often rotated every two years and usually move with the outfit wherever it goes.
Some local churches near military bases have developed visitation programs on the bases and provide transportation from the base to the church. Church families often invite personnel home for Sunday dinner and fellowship in the afternoon.
Christian Servicemen's Centers began in 1941 in Illinois as a Christian counterpart of the United Service Organization (USO) centers. The USO organization is a federation of six volunteer agencies that mobilizes civilians to serve the needs of servicemen. The Christian Servicemen's Centers are established by missionaries who are concerned to win servicemen to Christ and train them as witnesses to win their buddies. The centers also function as homes away from home by providing a place for servicemen to go when they have free time.
There are sixty centers in the United States listed in the worldwide Directory of Christian Servicemen's Centers. The centers are located in twenty-two states and function under different names, such as the Salt Cellar and Fisherman's Wharf. In some instances there is a chain of centers with the same name, such as Christian Servicemen's Centers and Missions to the Military. Keith Davey of Missions to the Military observes that a servicemen's center affords today's military man the best opportunity available for the help and encouragement he needs.
In 1933 Dawson Trotman, stationed aboard the battleship West Virginia, began a ministry known as Navigators. He led servicemen to Christ and then trained them in the Word of God to disciple others after the admonition of 2 Timothy 2:2. By the time of World War II, there were 1,000 Navigators serving on ships and on shore. In 1949 the ministry became international in scope. Today, in the United States alone, 153 Navigator staffs serve on 111 military bases as well as on 160 college campuses and 75 cities in various community ministries.
Within the services are two fellowships of Christian servicemen. The Officer's Christian Fellowship  is an organization of 3,300 Christian officers who desire to present the gospel to 250,000 men in the officers corp. The sister organization is the Christian Military Fellowship, which promotes Christian outreach to military personnel who are not officers.
Within the U.S. Navy a group of concerned Christian men collect the names and addresses of Christian personnel and distribute them in a publication entitled Link-Up. By means of this information Christians can find others in their command. Information can be obtained from Navy Christian Link-Up, P.O. Box 9635, Norfolk, VA 23505.
Preaching to military is often butone among many programs of the ministering organization. Baptist Mid-Missions sustains a military ministry. The Prison Mission Association has a servicemen's division. Pacific Garden Mission caters to the military as well as to alcoholics. The Gideons, although not a mission organization, presents free Bibles to members of the military. The Christian Businessmen's Committee, along with its many ministries, sponsors servicemen's centers.
The missionary to the military will face several challenging circumstances. If there is a chaplain on the base he may not welcome the ministry or the missionary. The missionary may have difficulty gaining access to the base. He will have to adjust to constantly changing military schedules. He will face the unique problems experienced by uprooted singles and families constantly in transition.
The average age of all military personnel is 26. Fourteen percent of service persons are black, which is three percentage points above the national average. Women now constitute 8 percent of the military. All those factors influence the ministry of a missionary.
The American military services are a responsive mission field according to Charles Cassety, a veteran now serving as a regional representative of Philadelphia College of the Bible. Their unique circumstances provide the alert believer with unlimited opportunities for witness and discipleship.
Directory of Christian Servicemen's Centers available from: Cadence International, P.O. Box 1268, Englewood, Colorado 80150 PH 303-762-1400
Officer’s Christian Fellowship, P O Box 1177, Englewood, CO 80150 PH 303-761-1984
1. Baptist International Missions, Inc.
2. Baptist Mid-Missions
3. BCM International, PRES
4. Campus Crusade for Christ
5. CBMC Servicemen's Center
6. Christian Servicemen's Centers, Inc
7. GI's for Christ, Illinois
8. The Living Word Ministries, Inc.
9. Maranatha Baptist Mission
10. Missions to the Military, Inc. (3 locations)
11. Navigators (111 installations)
12. Cadence International, 1954 (4 U.S. centers)
13. Pacific Garden Mission
14. Prison Mission Association, Servicemen's Divisio\n
15. Seamen's International Christian Association (U.S. ports)
16. Servicemen for Christ, Baptist Mission (2 locations)