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Above left: Chaplain (Col.) Khallid Shabazz, U.S. Army Central Command chaplain, addresses the audience during the National Day of Prayer luncheon May 6 at the Commons. Shabazz spoke about the importance of taking care of one another. Above right: Sally Myers, a worship leader for the weekly Chapel Next service at Fort Drum, sings “Blessings” by Laura Story during the National Day of Prayer luncheon (Photos by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)


Community observes National Day of Prayer


Mike Strasser

Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs


FORT DRUM, N.Y. (May 7, 2021) – Fort Drum community members gathered inside the Commons ballroom May 6, to pause, reflect and pray at the 70th annual National Day of Prayer luncheon.

The annual observance was established by a joint resolution in Congress and signed into law by President Harry Truman in 1952. In 1988, President Bill Clinton signed a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer.

Col. Jeffery Lucas, Fort Drum garrison commander, noted that installations across the Army recognize this as a nonpartisan observance, which does not endorse one religion or service but invites people of all faith to pray in their own tradition.  

“I think there is an interesting dichotomy in that we are all coming together, but to pray in our own tradition,” he said. “So while we recognize everyone’s individuality, the thing that makes each of us unique is also one of those things that binds us all together.”

Chaplain (Col.) Khallid Shabazz, U.S. Army Central Command chaplain, served as guest speaker at the luncheon, and he talked about the importance of taking care of one another. He used his life story as an example of how leaders should recognize Soldiers in their formations who are in need of guidance and mentorship.

While his biography printed in the luncheon program lists numerous accomplishments – two doctorate degrees, four master’s degrees, author of three books, professor, father of three and grandfather of four – Shabazz said it doesn’t tell the full story.

“It doesn’t tell you about the pain, the trauma, the poor self-esteem or the poor self-worth that I experienced all of my life because of the dysfunction that I grew up in,” he said.

Shabazz said that he was molested by a family friend at the age of 10, which put him on a self-destructive path. Despite failing grades, he said his athleticism and physicality allowed him to graduate high school and attend college. He turned to alcohol to cope with that childhood trauma, and he bullied others for no reason.

“You see, one night the bullying came to a head,” he said. “I was jumped by five guys, beat with a shovel, shot in the back and airlifted out to the medical center, where I almost lost my life. I kept on saying as I was being airlifted, ‘Am I going to die at 21 years old – a drunk, a womanizer, an uneducated imbecile?’”

His life didn’t improve after that. Shabazz said he was expelled from college, spent some time in jail and worked as a department store janitor. He enlisted in the Army in 1991, but he was almost removed from service the following year after receiving two Article 15s.

“I want you to listen, leaders, because I am a Soldier in your formation,” he said. “Your leadership is a sermon; be careful how you preach it. I reported to the commander’s office, and he told me how worthless I was.”

After growing up in a dysfunctional environment, Shabazz said that being told that the Army would be better without him was not the worst thing he had ever heard.

“The worst thing was he was my leader,” Shabazz said. “I believed in him. I used to go home at night, and look in the mirror and pray to God that I could be like him.”

Shabazz said he walked out of the commander’s office that day and headed home. He could only wave to his children from across the street, and then he left.

“Since I was a horrible father, a drunk and an even worse husband, I decided to take my life,” he said. “I decided because no one cared for me, nobody took the time to invest in me … I decided to take my life. You see, I was a Soldier in your formation. I was an hour away from suicide.”

That’s when his sergeant major appeared.

“As a 27-year-old man, nobody had ever spoken to me like this,” Shabazz said. “He said, ‘I believe in you.’ He said, ‘I am going to mentor you.’ And he did.”

The senior noncommissioned officer coached Shabazz through 10 failed board appearances but never gave up on him.

“He nurtured me,” Shabazz said. “He cared for me. He made me see the value in me. Leaders, what a responsibility we have. We are in charge of human beings. They are looking to us as examples of what functional leadership does. We shouldn’t make arbitrary decisions about people’s lives.”

Shabazz made a promise that if he ever became a leader, he would spend his life taking care of people. He didn’t expect that calling would be answered through the Army Chaplain Corps. 

“For the first time in my life, it seemed like life opened up for me, and I found a way that I could help other human beings,” Shabazz said.

Shabazz concluded his speech with some advice given to him by his mentor.

“If you’re ship doesn’t come in, then swim out to meet it,” he said. “There’s no excuses; it’s your life. Take it into your hands.”