Army chaplains receive war zone stress training
June 15, 2009
Army chaplains and their assistants who have deployed downrange received some guidance themselves to help deal with the stresses of working in a war zone and giving the troops a shoulder to lean on.
The chaplains got that help during last week’s Resiliency Training Conference in Mannheim, Germany. Similar training has been done in the States, but Col. Doug Kinder, Installation Management Command-Europe’s top chaplain, said he believes this is the first time it has been done overseas. The training was conducted by the San Antonio-based U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School.
"They talked about being able to bounce back during difficult times," said Chaplain (Maj.) Greg Edison, who is with the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. "Personally, it definitely is a tool that I can add to my spiritual toolbox."
Edison, who is based at U.S. Army Garrison Brussels, said sharing deployment stories and experiences with other chaplains goes a long way in helping them deal with the deaths they saw downrange. He said the training was kind of like having a chaplain for the chaplains to turn to.
"The purpose is to help us. We go through the same things the soldiers go through," said Capt. George Okoth, a Catholic chaplain in Ansbach, Germany. "For me as a person, I thought it was very helpful.
"Some of the things I learned is to be positive and see life as changing, dynamic and filled with opportunities."
U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School resiliency training could be especially helpful for chaplains dealing with the emotional rigors of the job, such as the one who was recently deployed and tasked with recovering personal belongings from troops killed in action, Binder said.
"It’s therapeutic to get some of these things out. Some of our guys may be suffering from [post-traumatic stress disorder]," Binder said. "Some of these guys haven’t talked to anyone about it, not even their spouse."
Binder said the training, which included exercises that partnered chaplains to share their experiences, was a good way to combat "compassion fatigue."
Army Chaplain Maj. Kelly Porter called the resiliency training a good experience. He went through it when he returned from a deployment to Iraq in early 2006. This time, Porter said, he was more objective about it, and still thought it was valuable.
Porter said the training reinforces the need to become detached from soldiers’ problems, yet still show empathy. A chaplain must remain objective to give them sound advice, Porter said.
"Some folks get a little caught up (in soldiers’ problems) and they forget to stay removed … that is a challenge," Porter said.