Bishop Francis L. Dougherty, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, presides over the Hinesville Ward, where 90 percent of the 480 members are military or family of military personnel stationed here.
Bishop Dougherty explained how thin the priesthood population has become in the ward, which is part of the Savannah Georgia Stake, now that the United States is at war in the Persian Gulf: "Our elders quorum president is left without counselors, 25 of the 35 elders and nearly all of the 100 prospective elders have been deployed. The entire Young Men presidency has gone, so the bishopric is filling in as the presidency."The Relief Society and the Primary are the ward's strongest organizations. "The Young Women president's two counselors moved away to be with their families, so she is left without counselors," he said. "Two Relief Society sisters were deployed.
"The soldiers deployed from here are ground forces. The biggest reaction we're seeing now is that a lot of the men who were less-active are writing back, bearing their testimonies, and encouraging their wives to be active in the Church.
"This is a time when everybody is taken out of everyday life. The faithful, active members have never been much of the world anyway, but the less-active members whose priorities have been off are now drawing closer to Heavenly Father. Fox hole conversions are real."
Bishop Dougherty said he sees the effects of the Persian Gulf situation on LDS and non-LDS families. "Active members of the Church are far more calm, far more prepared for these kinds of things. This has been rough on the families in the general population, but there are far fewer problems in the ward. I've had none of the major problems that I see outside the Church. Most members, especially the sisters, have become stronger. They help and take care of each other. Some have been doing little things that make a big difference, like teaching each other how to change the oil in the car, or to change a tire, or replace spark plugs."
He said he can't imagine an organization better than the Church to help people cope with a crisis. "Even when husbands are gone, the priesthood is here for the families left behind.
"This kind of situation reminds us how important it is to live the commandments, to be well prepared, to have a good relationship with our Heavenly Father. If we do these things, it doesn't matter what happens. We learn to deal with and face each challenge as we get to it. We can actually find peace and feel good about ourselves and our families. We maintain our eternal perspective. Trivial things aren't so important any more. We concentrate on things that really matter.
"As I see people ship out, I hope we've prepared them well, and that they do what we've taught them. If they do their best and as they're trained, as many as possible will come back.
"Sometimes I think I have a glimpse of how Heavenly Father must feel. I see these people leaving. I just hope they do what is right and that they come back."