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Service groups offer hope, unity

LDS military personnel have found unity and spiritual clarity amid the recent fog of war.

Church service member groups have gathered for worship along the cusp of combat during the ongoing conflict in Iraq, continuing a long tradition of member fellowship during times of war. For some, worship services are held inside sparsely furnished military tents. Others may study scriptures and administer the sacrament in a quiet corner of a battleship.

"Regardless of the circumstances, many experience tremendous growth in testimony as they seek comfort, reassurance and safety through daily scripture study and prayer," wrote Bradford K. Nelson, a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and bishop of the Copperas Cave 1st Ward, Killeen Texas Stake. "Whether the pages of their scriptures are illuminated by the light of the noonday sun or by a small flashlight in a darkened tent, inspiration flows in those quiet hours of meditation."

During times of looming conflict, stake presidents call selected priesthood holders designated for deployment to be service group leaders. Once set apart, group leaders can organize and conduct Church services whenever possible in the field or at sea. Service groups give Church members a chance to worship together, study Sunday School lessons, partake of the sacrament and enjoy the fellowship of one another during a highly stressful period of their lives.

U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Mitch Madsen found comfort in his service member group in Kuwait prior to action in Iraq. Lance Cpl. Madsen and his fellow LDS Marines met in a dirt-floored tent, replete with wood and cardboard trays and a simple white cloth used to support the sacrament trays.

"I wonder why it should matter to me if the meeting is in a tent or a chapel," he wrote to friends in California. "The Spirit was a sweet reminder of what is important, quiet and warm. My life here is relaxed and calm. I don't fear what lies ahead."

Lance Cpl. Madsen's mother, Ester Madsen, also appreciates the spiritual support offered to her son.

"He's talked about how it's a source of strength knowing there are LDS people with him there," said Sister Madsen of Springville, Utah. Mitch's brother, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Mark Madsen, is also serving in the Middle East.

Dan Krum has been in the U.S. Navy for almost 27 years and served as a service group leader during the first Gulf War. Now a master chief petty officer aboard the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier, Brother Krum belongs to a service group with about a dozen members that meets each Sunday in the ship's chapel.

"Just having a chapel on a ship is a luxury," Brother Krum said. "We also have a nightly scripture reading where we average around three in attendance. Our mission is not done in the sand in country — however, we play an important part, and life is no picnic when you are cooped up for months. Our little group is an outlet for us, if even we get together and just chat."

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