Chaplains train to meet spiritual needs of trauma patients
September 30, 2008
TEMPLE, Texas -- In a time of war, chaplains are expected to do more than hold religious services and listen to Soldiers talk about their problems. Chaplains are expected to be prepared to face combat and to bring their faith into places like the emergency room and trauma wards. This is exactly what chaplains from various units around the 1st Cavalry Division were training for at Temple College Sept. 26 in preparation for an upcoming deployment to Iraq. It was a chance for the chaplains to practice their personal pastoral skills, bedside manor and how to administer to patients in the ER, said Racine, Wis. native, Maj. Kenneth Sorenson, the family life chaplain for the 1st Cavalry Division. "It's a time for them to get away and go through the mechanics," said Sorenson. The staff at the Temple College recreated a scene that might ring close to home for many soldiers. A truck on a convey gets lost, it then suffers an improvised explosive device attack. There are multiple injured and the chaplains aren't given much information and don't know what to expect. This all helps replicate the anxiety of going into a trauma room, said Sorenson. The chaplains, along with their assistants, visited four different mannequins with varying injuries that might be sustained during an IED attack. The chaplains were asked to suspend their disbelief upon entering the trauma room, said Sorenson. This was not a hard feat to accomplish when faced with the barrage of buzzes and the beeps from the real medical equipment hooked up to each mannequin. The mannequins themselves were all capable of breathing, moaning and gasping for air, depending on what type of injury they had sustained. The chaplains and their assistants then practiced ministering to the wounded and dying. Each chaplain accomplished this differently. Some chaplains prayed, some read Bible passages, and others anointed the victim with oil. The chaplain's role is to pastor to the patient, said Texarkana, Texas native, Capt. John Gabriel, a chaplain for the 1st Brigade Special Troops Battalion. Chaplains are there to provide immediate encouragement and bring hope to those who need it. "We reassure them that God is there, although we cannot see him," said Gabriel. "We show them they do not have to fear death if they believe in God." The chaplain's assistants also play an important role in this scenario. The assistants are expected to interact with the staff while the chaplains interact more with the patient, said Dale City, Va. native Maj. Gale Cotton, a chaplain for the 1st Brigade Combat Team. They notice the little details that might be overlooked. "There is only one chaplain to go around," said Merced, Calif. native, Pvt. David Byrd, a chaplain's assistant for the 1st Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment. The chaplain's assistants provide a helping hand and are there to provide comfort to the staff and others who might not have suffered physical damage but are emotionally hurting after an attack, said Byrd. The chaplains and their assistants were coached after each room. They were given ideas on how they could improve their performance and also complemented on what they did right. As the training wrapped up, an opportunity to practice their pastoral skills appeared in the form of Phil Haebe, a Santa Cruz, Calif. native and former Army specialist, now a premedical student at the Temple College. Haebe, who had been a flight engineer for the 101st Airborne Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom I, had been playing the convoy commander for the scenario. After watching the chaplains minister to each patient, memories began to surface from his time in Iraq. The chaplains listened and consoled as Haebe recounted his pains and losses during OIF. This gave the chaplains an unexpected chance to get away from mannequins for a while and get back to what they are truly good at, healing hurting Soldiers.