By Mary Stewart
More than 21 missionaries were called home from missionary service to serve their country in Iraq.
According to a recent statement by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, current missionaries who are called to active duty must return home.
“The church does expect its missionaries who have made an obligation to military service to respect that obligation if that point in time comes up,” said Coke Newell, church media relations officer. “They respond to the guard unit to which they”ve assigned themselves.”
Garrett Hess returned home from his mission in Columbus, Ohio, on May 25 and leaves this week to serve the United States in Iraq.
Hess told the Associated Press that he and 21 other guardsmen in his brigade returned home from missions to serve in the Idaho National Guard.
Hess did not expect to be called home, although he is a private first class with the National Guard”s 116th Cavalry Brigade.
“I thought it was a joke,” Hess told the AP. “But my mission president pulled me aside, and said I might be sent home.”
The Idaho National Guard chooses to pull LDS missionaries from their missions if needed, but each state individually decides whether or not to interrupt current LDS missionaries who are guardsmen.
However, Utah”s National Guard chooses to let the missionaries remain on their missions.
“We determined at the beginning of this, 18 months ago, that we have a lot of soldiers on LDS missions who are a part of MI (military intelligence) units and unless it was critical or emergency-type situations, we wouldn”t pull them back,” Lt. Col. Brad Blackner of the Utah National Guard told the AP.
According to the Idaho National Guard, spokesman Lt. Col. Tim Marsano told the AP the Idaho Guard does not differentiate between its members.
“If the organization is called to active duty, members of that organization should be ready to take the call,” said Marsano.
Hess told the AP he knew of no other time when missionaries were sent home for service orders.
Newell said although he doesn”t have exact numbers, calling home missionaries for service orders has happened in most of the recent wars in which the United States has been engaged.
The LDS Church hopes that every missionary has the opportunity to complete his or her full term of missionary service.
However, according to Newell, “It”s an obligation in which they”ve placed themselves … those who do have that obligation are expected to honor that obligation to their country.”