The Sunday service was over. Cadets and guests of the U.S. Air Force Academy had just heard a sermon about life, graduation and mothers, and were now filing out of the Cadet Chapel on the "hill" when the LDS Cadet Choir began singing. They had already sung three hymns during the service and were now closing with "God Be With You."
Civilians and cadets stopped. The quality of singing and the message of the music blended in such a way as to draw the attention of the congregation."Everyone stopped and listened until the choir completed all four verses," said John Hasler, director of the institute of religion at Colorado Springs, who has responsibility for the Air Force Academy cadets.
This performance on Mother's Day was the first public appearance of the choir, which had been organized last February at the encouragement of Chaplain Col. Robert Gilman, staff chaplain at the academy.
The invitation for the choir to sing, explained Brother Hasler, "represents the emerging influence of the Latter-day Saint cadets on campus, an amazing about-face from three years ago."
In May 1994, cadet members of the Church were requested to discontinue any institute classes on campus.
Restoring the program was a process of re-establishing trust and understanding, said Brother Hasler. Permission was granted nine months later in February 1995. Cadets at the institute have always "made a significant contribution to the academy, and after being reinstated were able to take an even higher profile role."
The idea to create an LDS Cadet Choir came after Chaplain Gilman visited the institute one evening and heard a class of cadets singing.
"Chaplain Gilman brought me into his office and suggested we organize a choir," said LDS Chaplain Steve Merrill, who serves as Chief of Cadet Group Ministries and is the first LDS chaplain to serve at any of the nation's armed forces academies.
The 60-voice LDS Cadet Choir has been asked to sing one week each month during Protestant services next year, and to represent the academy at performances around the country.
There are 127 LDS cadets at the academy, including 112 male and 15 female, explained Brother Hasler. The institute program boosts an enrollment of 110. Out of those cadets, 38 are returned missionaries. Two returned missionaries serve as squadron commanders over 1,000 cadets, and one is a vice wing commander (second in command over all cadets.) Last year's top graduate and this year's top student are returned missionaries.
"If there is a Mormon Tabernacle Choir," asked Chaplain Gilman a year ago, "why isn't there a Mormon Cadet Choir? What better way to get your message out than to have all these bright, young shining faces represent your church."