U.S. Salvation Army to Install First Black Nat'l Commander

NEW YORK – Following over 40 years of service with The Salvation Army, Commissioners Israel L. Gaither and his wife Eva D. Gaither will be installed Friday night as national commander and national president of women's ministries, respectively, announced the evangelical organization today.

Gaither is the first African American to hold the position in the history of the Army as he was the first of many other accomplishments. He and his wife have impacted The Salvation Army's work in 111 countries, especially Africa, England and the United States, and are dedicated to the mission of the 126-year-old organization. Both assumed their leadership assignments on May 1.

"America loves The Salvation Army," said Israel Gaither in a released statement. "There is strong confidence in who we are and what we do. But there's more to be done. This position is an honor and I intend to lead with total dependence on God and in partnership with territorial leaders to effectively impact those on the margins of American society. All that we do is ‘for the mission.

Eva Gaither called her new leadership role a "sacred responsibility and privilege."

"The Army is well known around the world for its empowering of women,” she said, “and I come to this responsibility with that same deep feeling for women in the USA who are and will be touched by this aspect of the Army’s mission."

As national commander, Gaither heads an Army of 3,661 officers, 112,513 soldiers, 422,543 members, 60,642 employees and nearly 3.5 million volunteers, who serve more than 31 million people annually. His is also the Army's chief spokesperson in the U.S. and the coordinator for matters of national concern to its mission.

"Commissioner Gaither is a model of spiritual leadership," said Shaw Clifton, General of The Salvation Army, according to the news release. "His experience in South Africa and London give him a world-view of the challenges facing the Army today, while retaining the historical mission of the Army rooted in biblical truth and values."

Leading the national women's ministries, Eva Gaither focuses on systematic abuse, victimization and abandonment in women's lives among other common issues affecting women throughout the nation.

The installation ceremony at the Centennial Memorial Temple in New York City tonight comes in the midst of several projects the Army is moving its mission forward with. This includes the site selection and building of Community Centers in line with the $1.5 billion gift from the estate of Joan B. Kroc; continuing the $363 million community recovery services for Hurricane Katrina survivors, while preparing emergency response plans for potential new disasters; continuing the iconic annual “Red Kettle” Christmas Campaign to help the needy during the holidays; and strengthening the voice of The Salvation Army in the United States in accordance with its evangelical roots, according to the organization. Social services ministering to children and senior citizens are also in line for the Army's mission.

The Gaithers graduated from The Salvation Army's School for Officers Training in June 1964 when they were ordained as ministers and commissioned as Salvation Army officers (clergy). Their marriage in 1967 marked the first racially integrated marriage of Salvation Army Officers in the USA.