Event helps local clergy understand military Family issues
November 1, 2012
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (November 1, 2012) -- Clergy from around the Wiregrass visited Fort Rucker's Wings Chapel Oct. 25 for the annual Clergy Appreciation Day to get training from Army chaplains.
The program also honored local pastors who provide religious support to Fort Rucker Soldiers, Families, retirees and civilians, said Frances E. Turner, religious support office.
"The event gives information regarding the Army's Survivor Outreach Assistance, Mother of Preschoolers program, the role of the military chaplain and a few other things," she said.
A free breakfast and lunch were provided to the attendees and Col. Stuart J. McRae, Fort Rucker garrison commander, spoke to the participants before the meeting began.
"We don't often get the opportunity to have a gathering like this. We are so thankful that you decided to participate today. I want you to realize that when Soldiers sign up to serve this country they write a blank check to the government, and it's worth up to and including their lives," he said. "And then Uncle Sam keeps a ledger of their service, no matter how long they are in. Things that are in that ledger include missed birthdays, the cost of having to leave on a special date and cost of a leg that was lost.
"At the end, everyone has to pay a bill of some sort. When our Soldiers are out there participating in your services I would hope that you keep that in mind. I know that you guys are the ones that are supporting those Family members, because it's not just the Soldier that is paying that bill, it is the Families as well," he said.
Chaplain (Col.) Dennis Newton, garrison and U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence chaplain, explained to the participating members what roles the military and local clergy need to play in order to best support Family members in the case of a casualty.
"Fort Rucker has a unique culture because it is the only Aviation training center in the Army and it has the only warrant officer college in the Army. If there is a training accident everyone needs to know just what to do to best support the Family," he said.
The meeting focused on the process of casualty notifications, memorials and funerals.
"Eighty percent of our Soldiers live off base, they go to your churches and you are the ones who are in contact with them. I don't see that many of them, you do," said Newton. "I am here today to serve you. I want you to understand a little about what you can do when a Soldier dies and how you can help with the Families, because they are your members."
A member from the Fort Rucker Casualty Assistance Office spoke at the meeting to touch on important issues that the ministers could take back to their respective places of worship.
Tina Lewis, the casualty assistance office casualty benefits coordinator, went through the steps of notifying a Family and the do's and don'ts of speaking to a Family member.
"We need to make sure that the proper notifications are being made when someone dies. So we always have a chaplain go with every notification. We realize that you are the ones who are going to live with them later and are going to really be the ones helping them," she said.
The meeting touched on issues such as social media sites prematurely notifying Family members, protocol when speaking with a Family member and how the support of military Families is different from civilian Families.
"Our office covers more than 20 Alabama counties and several Florida counties. We take care of Families. We do what we do because it is necessary, but you as the local clergy are our partners in this task," said Lewis.
The meeting was deemed a success by Newton, who said that it wasn't about who was in the congregation, but who is in the churches' neighborhoods.
"We wanted to address the fact that we are one team, we have to work together with the civilian chaplains. It is important that they understand the notification process to support the Families that are left behind," said Newton.
Making sure that the clergy know they have a place to get some advice if they need it, are adequately equipped and know how to take care of Soldiers and Family member's needs was the most important aspect of Clergy Appreciation Day, according to Newton.
"It's about the message of saying that we care and we are here. We care that the pastors are out there taking care of our Soldiers and we want them to realize that we are a part of their team," said Newton.
The pastors fellowshipped together during the lunch hour, and discussed the ideas and issues that were brought up during the presentations.
"I am always eager to hear and have respected what the chaplains can share with us on the civilian side. Understanding the process of notifying a Family is priceless information. The partnership is great because the civilian pastors have specialties that we can share with the chaplains, and they as well have specialties that they can share with us," said Stewart Marshall, pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Ozark.