Department of Foundations & Interdisciplinary Studies Faculty Member
Colonel Guy Hollingsworth returned last summer from a 400-day deployment to Afghanistan, where he served as the Department of Defense Lead for the Afghanistan Threat Finance Cell. Five years ago he completed another 400-day combat tour to Iraq, where he was involved in training soldiers. He is a veteran of both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. He is an Army Reserve Brigade Commander in Norfolk, VA. He has been a member of the National Guard or Army Reserve for nearly 40 years, and is the recipient of several outstanding awards, including the Bronze Star.
Dr. Hollingsworth holds a bachelor's degree and two master's degrees in various disciplines, and a PhD in Education. Formerly an Associate Academic Vice President at BYU-Idaho, he is now a full time faculty member, specifically teaching and revising courses on Pakistan and the Middle East.
Brother Hollingsworth grew up in Preston, Idaho and served as a full time missionary in the New Mexico Albuquerque mission. In 2009, he was the president of the Baghdad Iraq Military District, and last year was the president of the Bagram Afghanistan Branch. Brother Hollingsworth and his wife, Chris, are the parents of two children and have one grandchild.
Good afternoon my brothers and sisters. It is my privilege to be with you today. I thank you for coming, because I was fearful that you wouldn't, and even though you being here adds to my nervousness, I have prayed and fasted that the Lord will bless me and you during the short time we have together this afternoon. On this 4th of July week, I would be remise as a soldier if I didn't say something about the United States of America and about freedom in general (recognizing certainly that some of you come from other great nations as well).
I want you to know that I was as proud to put my uniform on today as I was nearly 40 years ago when I put it on for the first time on my 17thbirthday. I have added up all the time I have been away from my wife due to military duty in our 33 years of marriage—and that separation totals a little over 14 years. I don't mention that statistic for you to feel sorry for me or for my sweetheart, (many other seasoned military personnel would have a similar statistic), but to remind you to thank a soldier, or sailor, or airman, or Marine when you see them in uniform—many who have sacrificed much, as have their families. I say that also recognizing the courageous veterans who came before me.
Freedom is hard to come by and even harder to hold on to. A University of Illinois report some time ago stated:
"National constitutions [around the world] have lasted an average of only 16 years since 1789. The U.S. Constitution has lasted over 225 years. They are fragile organisms at best."1
Ours, brothers and sisters, is considered the longest surviving constitution in the world.
President Ezra Taft Benson once said (and I am paraphrasing) that if you added up all the people who have ever lived on this earth, you would find that less than one half of one percent enjoy the freedoms you and I enjoy today.2 Be grateful for that freedom that allows you and me to be here this afternoon.
Coming from a combat veteran perspective, I'd like to now speak a bit to the principle of preparation, and to borrow a military term, address in a personal manner "Your Own Soldiers Call to Duty" as you and I continue to serve in the Lord's Army and look to live the gospel in a more disciplined approach. In doing so this day you must know that I make no attempt to sound impressive or imply that I am a hero—for I am neither—but simply attempt to strengthen your commitment to the gospel and testimony of the Savior.
"Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ."3
We indeed are all certainly trying to be good soldiers for the Savior.
A few months ago I ran a half marathon, one that I had prepared for diligently for many months prior to the event. The start line is always an exciting time for me and as the first few miles unfolded that day, I made an attempt as I always do on staying mentally focused. At about the 10-mile mark, as often is the case, I found myself settled in with a group of runners who had about the same pace I did at that stage of the run.
One particular young lady at that point (she was probably half my age), touched me on the shoulder and asked me how I was doing (I must have looked in rough shape to her). I pulled out one of my earbuds and reassured her I was doing alright and felt good with about three miles to go. I returned the question and asked her how she was doing, to which she replied; "Great, I want to finish strong, and my goal at this point is to finish ahead of you!" I chuckled and said, "Well that shouldn't be difficult, as I am old, slow, and fat." She laughed at my comment, and then I added this statement as we continued running along the course, "But remember this young lady, keep in mind, that if you are running close to me with a quarter mile to go before the finish line, I have a nasty kick that will come into play." She laughed again and I put the earbud with music back in my ear.
As I continued to lumber along, I thought about her challenge to finish ahead of me and about my preparation for the race. I had run over 3,000 miles the previous year in Afghanistan virtually all on a treadmill—but at that time for a different reason—to keep up with the rigor of my military assignment in a combat zone. I thought about the endless hours of running I'd done since returning home leading up to this race where I had strapped on the running shoes and hit the pavement to pay the price leading up to this event. I thought about my commitment to be consistent and my effort to improve along the way. I thought about the days I didn't feel like running or working out, but forced myself to do so anyway, because I knew it would help me succeed in the end. I thought about the promise I made to myself to progress in earnest as the day of the run approached. I knew I had paid the price to succeed.
That said, sure enough at the final turn which indeed left about a quarter mile to the finish line, this young lady was still running next to me, and I asked her at that point if she was ready for my final kick, and she assured me that she was. I then turned on that nasty kick that I spoke of and by the time I crossed the finish line, she was about 100 meters in my rearview mirror.
My point with this story now as it relates to things spiritual, is the need for each one of us to look at our daily preparation to serve the Lord. Do we pay the price and prepare for callings regardless of how big or small, despite the inconvenience of trying to line up with our busy schedules each day? Or do we think that we can or will accept that calling during the next phase of our lives when it is more convenient? Do we look at being ready to serve as a seasonal issue, if you will, and let preparation lag behind for the time being? The word "prepare" is noted over 470 times in the scriptures. There is a reason for that I believe.
By the way, I had a quick visit with the young lady when she finished a few seconds after me in the race and I gloated over my little victory for about 30 seconds—until I was reminded by a friend that there were over 2,000 runners who finished ahead of me—a lesson in staying humble and a talk for another day—but let me shift gears.
In the summer of 1977, I waited anxiously for my mission call. Most of my friends and classmates had already left on their missions, and that summer was a lesson on patience for me. Leading up to that event in my life I had prayed on a regular basis that my Heavenly Father would send me on a foreign mission. After years of fervently praying for such to take place, I was confident the Lord would answer my prayers with an exotic location to spend my two years as a fulltime missionary.
The call finally came on a hot afternoon while I was working for a local plumber. My younger brother brought me the large envelope that so many of you have received. I'm not sure why I didn't wait to open the call later that night with my family, but it simply wasn't something we did back then it seemed. I wiped the sweat and dirt from my brow and wiped my hands off on my already muddy pants, and tore the big envelope open. From looking at a number of mission calls over the previous months, I knew right where to look in the letter for those wonderful words telling where I would serve, (first paragraph—third line). My eyes quickly tried to focus on the print through the sweat, and for an instant I was sure the Lord indeed had been good and kind to me, and had answered my repeated prayers. I was sure my first glance comprehended the words "Acapulco Mexico," and then as I looked with more intent, I realized the actual words on the paper read "Albuquerque, New Mexico." I suddenly became breathless, as if someone had punched me in the stomach. How could it be so? I stood there for a moment in disbelief, then became angry, threw the mission call to the ground, left that muddy ditch, and drove home. I went directly to my room, threw myself on the bed, and wept like a little child. How could this be so after years of what I thought were fervent prayers? Later that night, when the anger subsided to some degree, I offered a half-hearted prayer to the heavens. I asked in a bit of subdued rage as it were, "Surely Heavenly Father, there is no one better prepared than me to serve a foreign mission?" The following scripture applied to my situation that day.
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord."4
Now—you must know—that I still have my mission call letter, and it still has mud on it. I indeed served two years in the Albuquerque New Mexico mission—two wonderful years—and my prayers now are such that I might be blessed to go back there with my good wife someday and serve again. I had a tremendous experience there and it truly was and I'm sure still is the best mission in the Church. But—that day—my heart was not in the right place, and I learned a valuable lesson, that satisfying my plans to serve where and when in the Church was not the right approach to find out what my Heavenly Father had in store for me. That day taught me the deeper concept of obedience, the necessity for submission, and in my case, the sting of humility in one fell swoop.
Over 30 years after that humbling missionary call experience, I got a very different call—this one from the Pentagon. After the officer on the phone confirmed with me that I was indeed the COL Guy Hollingsworth she had been ordered to contact, I was told that I was being deployed to Iraq for 400 days with a particular assignment in mind. After listening to the assignment and being somewhat stunned by what I was hearing, I asked the Pentagon officer something similar to what I had asked my Heavenly Father in an angry prayer over three decades earlier, although I switched up the words a bit this time. I said, "Surely Ma'am, there is someone better than me prepared to serve in this Middle East assignment." Then I asked myself when I hung up the phone, "Had I prepared properly for such an assignment in a dangerous combat zone?" Deep down inside I realized the years of training had put me in a position to serve the Army, and although scared on one side of the coin, I pushed forward with all my might to succeed from a military standpoint over that next year.
A couple months after I arrived in country, I got another call while in the Green Zone in downtown Baghdad—this one came in the form of a Skype call—from Elder Paul Pieper of the First Quorum of the Seventy. After some initial discussion, he told me the Brethren felt it was time to establish the Baghdad Iraq Military District and create a number of branches in country. My next challenging service at that point for the Lord would come in the form of District President for the remainder of my time in theater. This time—although I didn't say it to Elder Pieper—I asked my Heavenly Father silently the same thing I asked the officer from the Pentagon; "Surely there is someone better prepared than me for this assignment?" However, as is the case with most callings, there was not time to tell Elder Pieper that the calling sounded fine, but could he give me a few more weeks to prepare to serve in that capacity. At that moment I could only look back at my preparation. Did I prepare well spiritually the day before, the week before, or before being deployed to Iraq? What was my spiritual preparation like the year before, or the decade before? This was not the time to dither in the service of the Lord in a calling to oversee 1,300 members of the Church in a place called Iraq. My Heavenly Father needed me right then—not after the fact. The Lord taught me again the value of preparation for a calling not of my choosing—in a place where I did not expect.
Four years later a similar call came from United States Central Command Headquarters, to serve another 400 days in a different combat zone—this time in Afghanistan. I answered the call, feeling inadequate initially, but in the end realizing that my preparation was comprehensive and consistent enough over the previous months and years to serve the Army as needed. After arriving in country and going about my assignment in this different combat zone, I again received a call to serve in the Church, this time as a Branch President at Bagram Air Base—Afghanistan. And again, I asked myself those familiar questions; "Was I prepared to serve in this capacity, had I been worthy the day before, the year before, the decade before?"
As with so many other occasions, there was no time to delay for a few weeks when it came to accepting the call to allow me to get "more ready" if you will. The Lord needed me to serve worthily then and there. While in that assignment, some good Church members deployed in that combat zone suffered from intense depression due to loneliness, and the constant grind of being put in harm's way—the overall trappings of war if you will, and often asked for a blessing of comfort and healing. There was no time to tell them that I wasn't quite ready to assist where needed, and to give me a few days to prepare myself to administer help. When a Marine was worried beyond measure of an upcoming combat operation and needed reassurance that all would be well, there was no time to ask for a reprieve to prepare the right spiritual thoughts he needed. When a wounded soldier struggled for his life after a suicide bomber took a number of other lives, and nearly took his during an ugly firefight, there was not a later time to prepare that priesthood blessing to keep him alive.
Whether a calling or assignment for you comes to help the many or the one, the time to serve is now, and the preparation that is needed for such a calling is often past. I ask you, what did you do to prepare to serve the Lord this morning, or yesterday, or last year? Have you built your testimony and preparation line upon line, so that when the Lord calls on you, in the form of a spotty Middle East Skype call, or in the comfort of your home Bishop's office, will you have paid the price for that call to duty—regardless of where and what it might be. Will you be prepared to serve like the sons of Mosiah—regardless of when and where it may take you?
Those sons of Mosiah:
"...had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.
But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God."5
I ask you again brothers and sisters—can you—will you—sustain that kind of preparation—at least to some degree in your life—regardless if that service is down the road with people you have known your whole life, or halfway across the world with good people you have never seen before.
I want you to know that one of the most difficult things I ever had to do during my recent deployment to Afghanistan was not weathering incoming rocket fire several times a week, nor was it my involvement with special operations which often put a number of great American serviceman's lives in danger. The greatest difficulty for me came in the confines of my little commander's office in a quiet setting in one-on-one conversations.
It was my responsibility to often review the applications of those who would become members of my interagency team. Nearly every applicant I looked at on paper was a seasoned warrior and a veteran of multiple campaigns with a track record of leadership and courageousness. They were great Americans by any account and wanted to continue to serve in a combat zone—nearly all of them with impressive and particular skill sets. My challenge was to pick the individuals who would make the best fit, because each applicant was more than qualified on paper for the task at hand.
Once a decision had been made and that individual arrived in country, I watched him or her closely for a number of weeks to ensure what I had read on paper matched up with what I was seeing in the field.
However, on a couple occasions after careful observance and thoughtful consideration—from two inches behind my belt buckle if you will, I had to bring a new team member into that little office, thank that individual for his or her service, remind the person that indeed he or she was a great American, and simply mention to that individual that their efforts did not meet the intent of our team nor the ongoing mission at hand. I had to painfully state that I simply could not trust their actions, and that despite a stellar resume that brought that individual halfway across the world for that particular assignment, I could not further endanger the lives of my team and the mission at hand with what I saw. I wished them well, and told the individual to be on the next available flight home. In those few cases, their actions simply did not match up with their resume. I then had to begin a new search for the right person to join the team.
With that story in mind, I again ask each one of you:
Does your spiritual resume match up with your daily thoughts and actions—scripture study, daily prayer, serving others, staying worthy, keeping the commandments? Does your preparation that others see on paper if you will, match up with what the Lord really expects in whatever calling comes your way? Will He have to send you away from a potential assignment at hand? Or will you be able to deliver for Him on a moment's notice today, tomorrow, next year, or 30 years from now? To answer yes on all accounts, you must truly take on a genuine and ongoing spiritual sense of urgency and a righteous call to duty.
Shortly after I arrived at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, I found this ancient Cicero statement on a cement T-Wall barrier which proclaimed, "Live as brave men and if fortune is adverse, front its blows with brave hearts." The gospel will require your brave hearts—both men and women—now and decades from now—in locations that you cannot comprehend at this stage in your lives.
I close with a WWI story from a book by Lucy Gertsch Thomson:
"After fighting in a bitter battle, a soldier pleaded with his commanding officer to let him go out on the battlefield to search for his missing companion. The commander said it was of no use, for no one could have lived through the hours of constant fire. The soldier insisted and was finally granted permission. Sometime later he returned with the limp body of his dead comrade. "I told you it was useless," commented the commander. "But you're wrong sir" the soldier said. "I got there just in time to hear him whisper, 'I knew you'd come.'"6
At the Last Supper the Savior taught his Apostles, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you..." 7
As some of the chosen few, may each one of you continue to prepare yourselves to fulfill your assignment in the Lord's mighty Army, in whatever capacity he requires of you, regardless of how small or big or where or when that assignment may be. May we all prepare spiritually with a sense of urgency today, tonight, in the morning, and the day after for those callings that most likely will come years from now—maybe decades—so that others can truly say in gratitude someday—"I knew you'd come."
May your spiritual resume truly reflect what the Lord requires of you, regardless of when and where that assignment may take you—whether your challenges keep you in the city of Rexburg or on to Albuquerque, or take you to foreign places like the city of Baghdad, Iraq or Kabul, Afghanistan. For what you are and for what you will become—wherever the Lord takes you on your journey—whether it be in a comfortable primary class setting—or an unpleasant ride in a Blackhawk Helicopter—I salute you—for your commitment to be better—now and forever.
President Monson and President Hinckley before him have called you the finest generation of men and women in the history of the Church.
Brothers and Sisters, I have traveled much of the world and have seen to some degree the best and worst of mankind—and I assure you that you are the best. Despite the fact that Satan knows the assignments that await you, may you continue to fight the good fight, may you have the righteous kick to finish each aspect of this race called mortal life, may you take on each day with a sense of urgency and fulfill your own spiritual call to duty. I know that your Heavenly Father will bless you and me as we do so—is my prayer and message this day—in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1. Ginsberg, Thomas, Elkins, Zachary, and Melton, James. (Spring 2009). "The Lifespan of Written Constitutions." The University of Chicago Law School Alumni Magazine, http://www.law.uchicago.edu/alumni/magazine/lifespan2. Benson, Ezra Taft. (September 1987). "The Constitution—A Glorious Standard." The Ensign https://www.lds.org/ensign/1987/09/the-constitution-a-glorious-standard?lang=eng3. 2 Timothy 2:34. Isaiah 55:85. Alma 17:2-36. Thomson, Lucy Gertsch. (1975). Stories that Strengthen. Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft.7. John 15:16