DRAPER — Calling men and women in military uniform "the pick and flower of the United States," President Dieter F. Uchtdorf on Sunday addressed U.S. military personnel and their families gathered in a local Mormon chapel and — via the Internet — in Iraq.
President Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was the featured speaker at a special military fireside held in the church's Draper Utah Stake Center. The event drew members of four branches of the military. In addition to the chapel congregation of more than 1,000, some two dozen personnel deployed in Iraq — where it was 3:30 a.m. — viewed the fireside proceedings live via the Skype service over the Internet. A live scene of those gathered in Iraq was displayed on a screen in the chapel throughout the meeting.
"Please know that we love and appreciate you and that we pray for you, and that we send our blessings for your safe return," President Uchtdorf told them. "This connection by Internet shows in some ways once more how much good the Internet can do."
U.S. military men and women "help people and nations find their way into the democratic society of the global family of nations," President Uchtdorf said.
"Perhaps the most important lessons you will be able to teach as you are among foreign people, in dangerous locations, are support courage to do what is right, advance independent thinking and create a desire to stand up for moral values and freedom of religion that will transcend local traditions and nations' history."
Noting that members of the armed forces reach out to many countries and encounter those that are friendly or hostile, the church leader admonished: "Remember, wherever you go, you always go as brothers and sisters to those whom you are going to meet. All human beings on this beautiful planet Earth are spirit children of the same Father in Heaven."
A west German military and commercial jet pilot by profession, President Uchtdorf told of being on a flight of a Utah National Guard tanker some time ago for a refueling mission and spoke of the delicacy of the procedure.
"The aircraft approach each other with the right speed; they have to focus completely on the other plane; they have to have courage and trust, and then they are connected," he said. "Tanker and fighter unite in a combined effort for a higher common goal."
Likewise, the soldier in the field and the family at home have different places of action but a common goal, he said. "By supporting each other through daily prayer and through your faithfulness wherever you are, through your love for each other, you provide a spiritual lifeline and a source of strength for each other."
President Uchtdorf said commitment to service, in war and peace, are hallmarks to members of the U.S. military. "You are people who render service. I honor you for your service."
He said God chose two soldiers, Mormon and Moroni, to prepare centuries of records now contained in the Book of Mormon.
"They were soldiers because they had to be, because their people needed them, because it was the right thing to do," he said. "Each of you may have the same sweet assurance that the Lord knows of your service and your motives."
"Of the soldier Moroni, it is said in the scriptures: 'If all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto him, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children' (Alma 48:17)."
As told in the book, that soldier rallied his people in the cause of freedom by raising a banner called the Title of Liberty. Prior to his address, President Uchtdorf was presented with a representation of the Title of Liberty by Richard and Shannon Kramer, parents of army Sgt. Aaron Kramer who was killed Sept. 16 while serving combat duty in Afghanistan. The item was prepared for the presentation by Leslie Ison of Salt Lake City.
Speaking earlier to the congregation, Richard Kramer said his son felt awkward when people would see him in uniform and thank him for his service to the country. "He said, 'I haven't done anything. It's the ones who are over there that have died for their country that they should be thanking.' "
A combined quartet from the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines performed "America the Beautiful."
"Sometimes we see a competition between the different branches of the armed forces, but this combined quartet showed how unity creates harmony," President Uchtdorf said.
Lt. Col. Mark L. Allison, state chaplain of the Utah National Guard, who organized the fireside, said after the meeting, "These are lions of liberty and defenders of light. I wanted us to all get together and rub shoulders and be counseled by a prophet of the Lord."