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Chaplain (Capt.) Artie Maxwell of the 1st Battalion, 35th Armor Regiment based in Baumholder, Germany, talks with Staff Sgt. Jarrod Charles from the 2nd Infantry Division at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center on Wednesday.
Chaplain (Capt.) Artie Maxwell of the 1st Battalion, 35th Armor Regiment based in Baumholder, Germany, talks with Staff Sgt. Jarrod Charles from the 2nd Infantry Division at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center on Wednesday. (Ben Murray / S&S)

LANDSTUHL, Germany — Faced with the difficult task of ministering to wounded troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, a group of 10 Army, Air Force and Reserve chaplains have taken an extra step to provide better care for America’s fighting men and women.

On Friday, the chaplains graduated from a two-week course in combat and emergency medical ministry, offered for the first time in Europe at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

Designed to teach chaplains how to better counsel troops with recent wounds and trauma from their injuries, the classes expose participants to some of the harsh realities of military ministry.

“The whole idea is to battle-proof the unit ministry teams,” said Chaplain (Maj.) David Bowerman, deputy staff chaplain at the hospital and the coordinator for the classes.

The Army has offered the courses for years, but only at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, according to instructor Chaplain (Lt. Col.) George Bearden, a training manager for the Department of Pastoral Ministry at the U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School there.

But with U.S. causalities returning from Iraq and Afghanistan crossing paths with chaplains in Germany, it made more sense to take the course to the hospital than to send people to Texas, Bowerman said.

To facilitate the classes, two teachers were flown over from Fort Sam Houston and two former instructors stationed in Germany were tapped to lead a condensed version of the ministry classes, Bowerman said.

Emergency medical ministry is intended to introduce new chaplains to the specifics of counseling troops returning from battle, Bearden said, while the “combat” course is a more advanced class.

Melded together for the Landstuhl sessions, the classes use coursework, lectures and roundtable discussions to teach chaplains how to improve their spiritual support.

“They brought in some pretty shocking slides,” Bowerman said. “You know, blood and guts.”

There is also a practical side to the classes, Bearden said. Beginning students performed daily rounds at Landstuhl as part of the curriculum, visiting soldiers and acclimatizing themselves to the hospital environment. All participants were also required to rotate on-call shifts to greet patients arriving at the facility from downrange.

As the military’s medical hub in Europe, Landstuhl has had no shortage of troops for chaplains to talk to: close to 21,000 have been treated at the hospital since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Spc. Eddie Mejia, a chaplain’s assistant with the 173rd Airborne Brigade out of Vicenza, Italy, is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in coming weeks.

He said the program has been a good first step in being prepared to minister to battle casualties, if he does encounter them. He hopes it will reduce the shock of the experience.

Bearden added that, though that kind of preparation is central to the combat and emergency medical ministry classes, the overall goal is to improve chaplains’ counseling abilities overall.

“The purpose for us being here is because we want to do the best we can for our soldiers and our Marines,” he said.

A second offering of the condensed classes is being planned for April, he said, but dates are not confirmed.

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