The Buzz

Onward, Christian Soldiers

Evangelical Christians appear to view military barracks as fertile recruiting grounds. One group recently received improper endorsements from seven Air Force officers, according to the Defense Department inspector general. The IG rapped the officers, including four generals, for appearing in a 2004 video promoting Christian Embassy, an evangelical group that has reached out to political, military and diplomatic leaders in Washington for more than 30 years. The officers violated Defense prohibitions on providing or appearing to provide government endorsement of nonofficial activities, according to the IG.

Here, from the 10-minute video, is how the group describes its Pentagon mission: "There are over 25,000 Department of Defense leaders working in the rings and corridors of the Pentagon. Through Bible studies, discipleship, prayer breakfasts and outreach events, Christian Embassy is mustering these men and women into an intentional relationship with Jesus Christ." Some of the group's Bible study guides used at the Pentagon have this motto emblazoned across the top: "Our mission: to win, build and send Department of Defense leaders to live for Jesus Christ."

On its Web site, Christian Embassy claims to be nonpolitical and multidenominational and to have been founded by Washington officials, concerned business leaders and Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ International. It focuses on people who work on Capitol Hill, am-bassadors, presidential appointees and Pentagon employees. The group holds regular events at the Pentagon, including senior executive fellowship at 6:30 a.m. on Thursdays, 7 a.m. Wednesday prayer breakfasts and flag officer fellowship at 6:15 a.m. on Thursdays.

Meanwhile, another evangelical group, The Master's Mission, is recruiting Christians in the armed forces and their families to become missionaries after leaving the military services. Here from the Active Duty Missionary Web site is the group's pitch: "There is no organization on earth more focused on creating and developing leaders than the U.S. military. You have been instilled with the very ideals that are critical to a successful missionary family."

The mission has a 1,500-acre training center in the North Carolina mountains, where, for $17,675 for families, or $12,010 for singles, people will be prepared to go abroad and live in different cultures doing sustainable development work. Men receive training in mechanics, construction, mill work, and community planning and management; women in missionary life, home and family, and "being a godly woman and in raising her children biblically. Emphasis is given to aiding the candidate in learning to set the proper atmosphere for the Christian home amidst the many changes and inconveniences encountered on the mission field."

The group believes in the literal account of creation and that the Bible is the literal word of God.

Diplomatic Deficits

Short on diplomats and language skills, the State Department is scraping to fill its hardship posts-many in the most volatile countries in the world. As the United States struggles with insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, the diplomatic corps' Arabic skills are lagging. In emerging giant China, American Foreign Service officers don't speak the language well enough to do their jobs.

Jess Ford, director of international affairs and trade at the Government Accountability Office, told legislators in August that at embassies in the Middle East, 37 percent of jobs requiring language skills were held by people without those skills. Lack of fluency is crippling the department's highly touted public diplomacy campaign, Ford testified, because officers at many posts, especially in the Muslim world, cannot communicate with foreign audiences.

Despite hiring more than 1,000 additional employees between 2002 and 2004 under the Diplomatic Readiness Initiative, the department estimates it again needs at least as large an infusion. The DRI was intended to bulk up language capacity and to create a reserve crew of Foreign Service officers who could rotate to embassies, allowing other officers to attend training. Instead, demand for staff in Iraq and Afghanistan sucked up the added slots. State has begun offering extra pay to those who serve longer than normal tours at critical hardship posts and allowing employees to negotiate shorter tours in order to address staff shortages.

About two-thirds of State's 20,000 American employees serve overseas and 68 percent of those serve in hardship posts. About 45 percent of overseas Foreign Service posts require proficiency in one or more of about 68 languages.

Life Savers

The Coast Guard celebrated its 217th birthday on Aug. 4 with an announcement that it has saved more than 1 million lives since its inception.

The sea service dates its birth to Aug. 4, 1790, when the first Congress ordered 10 ships be built to enforce tariff and trade laws, prevent smuggling and protect tax collectors. The service was officially named Coast Guard in 1915 when the Revenue Cutter Service merged with the U.S. Life-Saving Service.

To come up with the tally of lives saved, the Coast Guard historian's office culled records from the two parent services plus the Lighthouse Service and others that were merged into the Coast Guard. The historian also compiled a list of the top 10 rescues. The service's dramatic performance after Hurricane Katrina-saving 24,135 people, often from rooftops, and evacuating more than 9,000 patients from hospitals-won a spot on the list. First place for the most people rescued went to an earlier Mississippi River disaster, the flood of 1937, when the can-do service was credited with saving 45,835 people along with 11,313 head of livestock.

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