Combat boots and prayer
November 5, 2013
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - The soldiers file into the room and take seats behind large hand drums placed by each chair, which have been situated into a circle. The instructor advises them to take up the drums and get ready to play. The soldiers sheepishly grab hold of the drums in front of them and begin following the instructor's lead.
A few minutes later, the sound of beating drums loudly bounce off the walls. Smiles and laughter, and at times, flailing of arms and dancing can be observed as the soldiers get more comfortable with what they are doing.
This was just one part of the training chaplains and chaplain's assistants from the Arizona Army National Guard recently received during a recent spiritual exercise held at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale.
The first-ever training entitled, "A Time for Renewal, A Time for Growth, A Time to Connect," was designed to help chaplains, candidates and chaplain's assistants reconnect with the chaplain corps.
"Any practice that broadens the corps' understanding of spiritual disciplines strengthens us in our individual callings and binds us more readily together as a religious support team," said Capt. Brad Walgren, a chaplain assigned to the 158th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade and the officer in charge of this event. "One of the greatest outcomes of the exercise was the Unit Ministry Teams now all know each other personally and have worshipped together as one."
The training not only included learning about spiritual resiliency, but also included various prayerful techniques, which entailed activities such as lectio divina, centering prayer and the healing drum circle, provided by a range of community resources.
"The training here was designed to not only add new spiritual practices to our tool kits, but also broaden our community resources to provide for our soldiers who are of various backgrounds and faiths," Walgren said.
During the training, discussions and planning for better ways to maintain soldier readiness were held as well, which helped re-establish their soldier responsibilities.
"We want to escape from this stigma that the chaplain or his assistant are just the guys who stand on the sidelines waiting to provide spiritual help," said Col. John Morris, staff chaplain from the National Guard Bureau. "We are soldiers, too, and our first duty as soldiers is to maintain our own readiness and uphold the Warrior Ethos."
It's become a growing trend that within the chaplain corps it is acceptable practice to not ensure we are mission-ready as well- and it's typically because we are so busy helping others, Morris points out.
"Guard members are twice the soldier because they've got a home game and away game - every drill is crucial training, because they must be ready for local incidents, as well as global deployments," Morris said. "The days of a sleepy Army Guard back when I joined in 1984 - those days are gone. Not being mission-ready will get someone hurt, or worse."
Across the state, the chaplains and chaplain assistants rarely get to train together, as they are all individually-assigned to units, so this was a unique chance for them to work together on a common level of training.
"We don't get an opportunity like this where we can all come together and train, so it's helpful to get everyone from all across the state and motivate them to see that there is a chaplain corps, and can bring camaraderie and fellowship to the table," said Col. Elmon Krupnik, the state chaplain for the Arizona Army National Guard.
According to Walgren, the chaplain corps provides and performs worship services, rites, sacraments, ordinances, pastoral and spiritual care and religious education to nurture the living, care for the dying, and honor the dead.
The event helped the spiritual leaders "re-energize," as Krupnik put it, so they can re-engage with their duties as chaplains and chaplain's assistants, and to get to know all the community resources Arizona has to offer to service members.
"My hope is that they take the information and training received today and apply it personally," Krupnik said. "I believe that a lot of personal decisions we make tend to affect the professional ones we make, so really if we are making good personal decisions, then it will reflect professionally as well."