Covenant Keepers Makes Real Men out of the Military

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Steve Wood, author of Christian Fatherhood, understands the unique problems that military men can face.

Enlisted in the Naval Reserves during the Vietnam War, Wood encountered temptations as well. “Marijuana,” said Wood, “was almost as common as Marlboros.”

He also understands the power of supportive friends to overcome such temptations. While his ship was home-ported in Norfolk, Va., a colleague introduced him to Christ and urged him to read the Bible. This started Wood on his journey from evangelical Protestantism to become a Presbyterian minister and, later, to become a Catholic.

When Wood founded the St. Joseph's Covenant Keepers apostolate, which supports Christian men in their responsibilities as husbands and fathers, he didn't forget his experience in the military.

“I try not to treat them like boys,” he said of his attitude toward the men he works with at his Fort Charlotte, Fla., headquarters and in the many conferences he gives nationwide.

“When the military has a tough job to do they do not flower it up,” he said. They say, ‘This is what we have to do and this is how we will do it.’ So, I tell them what Christ expects of them as husbands and fathers. It works extremely well with military men because they like a challenge. The straighter it is the better they like it.”

Wood says that men frequently come up to him after a conference to say, “Thanks for treating me like a man.”

“We try to help those in the military, but the military also helps us,” said Wood. “One of our first supporters was the military chaplaincy in Virginia Beach. At a recent conference in Denver, two chaplain-cies contacted us. Chaplains see the need for our materials and request them all the time.”

Wood says that Covenant Keepers supports more than 40,000 families in 46 different countries.

“Friends gladly share materials with friends. Our material has been used on aircraft carriers and at U.S. military bases in places such as Germany and Hawaii.”

In addition, the group makes its electronic newsletter available free to military personnel everywhere in the world. Wood says he has also received several requests to do conferences at bases overseas. “We could easily use someone full-time to put on conferences at military bases worldwide.”

Wood provides the example of Marine Capt. Hugh Williamson as someone who has demonstrated how Marine leadership traits can be incorporated in following the Christian virtues.

Williamson, who is now a special agent with the FBI, says that the military and the work force in general, sets up the potential for competing loyalties.

“You are asked to be the best officer, or the best doctor, or the best businessman. Oftentimes, your relationship to God, wife and family take back seat,” he said. “It's a misplaced loyalty.”

Williamson sees the organization's eight commitments as the key to its strength.

“The commitments are something that military men can understand.” He compares the commitments to what the Marine Corps calls Standing Operating Procedure — and, military-style, abbreviates both.

“A SOP outlines your mission. The mission for a Christian husband and father is to protect and lead their family to heaven. SJCK provides Christian men with an SOP for how to be a loving leader and head of the family.”

Williamson, a husband and father of three, converted to Evangelical Protestantism while on active duty, and then converted to the Catholic faith in 1994. He is not alone in finding St. Joseph's Covenant Keepers helpful. Covenant Keepers' literature includes similar comments from military personnel such as Navy Cmdr. Robert “Mac” McCloskey, Navy Capt. Steve Beal and Marine Lt. Col. Bob Stephenson.

McCloskey says he shares the apostolate's materials and newsletters with his shipmates on board the USS George Washington.

“I'd recommend SJCK to any Catholic male. It has helped me grasp and hold on to faith.”

Joseph Foundation

Another organization working to support men both within and outside the military is the Joseph Foundation (www.thejosephfoundation.com) based in Red Bluff, Calif. The Joseph Foundation uses technology and the Internet to keep men who are overseas in touch with others back home.

The foundation's Web site features a news service, a men and marriage discussion list, libraries of Catholic documents and Web sites, and a men's-only e-mail discussion list.

“When it comes to faith and family, men in the military are more homogenous in their needs than the general overall population,” said Joseph Foundation President Jim Prusa, himself a U.S. Navy officer during the Vietnam War.

Prusa estimates that the Joseph Foundation serves approximately 25-50 active duty personnel through its men-only discussion group, Catholicmen.com. In addition, the Joseph Foundation hosted its first conference last fall and hopes to continue hosting conferences biannually.

“There has also been an exodus from the ranks of middle and upper level officers, along with an attempt to politicize the military. It's become a social test tube and is subjected to a lot of attitudes that run counter to the family and Christianity,” Prusa added. “Men in the services have seen their values attacked. That's very demoralizing. They need our support.”

Tim Drake can be reached at [email protected]

The Eight Commitments of the St. Joseph's Covenant Keepers:

l Affirm Christ's Lordship over our families

l Follow St. Joseph, the loving leader and head of the Holy Family

l Love our wives all our lives.

l Turn our hearts toward our children.

l Educate our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord

l Protect our families

l Provide for our families

l Build our marriages and families on the Rock