Lt. Col. David Bowerman, U.S. Army Public Health Command chaplain, organized a trip to the National Museum of Civil War Medicine and the Monocacy Battlefield in Frederick, Maryland for the command's employees Friday, July 10. The ride was centered on the theme of "Moral Injury and Spiritual Resiliency."
The ride was funded by the Aberdeen Proving Ground Chapel tithes and offerings Fund as Soldier ministry.
When asked what compelled him to organize a trip like this, Bowerman responded that a book called This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust and a PBS film called American Experience: Death and the Civil War were very shocking and sobering explanations that delved deeper into the costs of the American Civil War both physically and spiritually. He wanted the staff and Soldiers to see such hardships for themselves and apply spiritual resiliency to their own lives.
As quoted from the spiritual health page on the Army website: "Spirituality is often defined as a sense of connection that gives meaning and purpose to a person's life. Spirituality is unique to each individual, and refers to the deepest part of you."
To elaborate on this subject, Bowerman gave a 30-minute presentation on the bus ride to Frederick on what life was like in Civil War times for the common Soldier and how the deeds they had to commit sometimes made them feel religiously or even just spiritually compromised. These "moral injuries" were just as detrimental as physical wounds and needed prompt attention.
"Spiritual health is so important because it's what keeps us going, just like we need food and sleep," said Bowerman. "Regardless of people's different faiths and religions, what everyone has in common is the need to be sustained morally and spiritually."
Cherith Ostini, a 23-year-old new Soldier who attended the staff ride, said that even if you do not have a religion, your morals affect the way you see the world and how you function.
"In the Civil War when they were fighting each other, they must have had a fighting crisis of faith inside themselves too," she added.
The first stop of the trip was at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, where a tour guide led the group through the museum and told real stories of how medical procedures were done in the Civil War era, expounding on artifacts and displays from surgeons' personal diaries and medical kits with bone saws to exhibits of makeshift barn hospitals and authentic tents from the medics' campsites.
"The displays were impressive and really brought you back in time," said Deanna Harkins, a physician and civilian who also attended the staff ride. "It was interesting to see how much the medical field came together in a time with so much death and suffering."
The second half of the day was spent touring Monocacy Battlefield with another tour guide, who relayed significant events that occurred on multiple different grounds such as fields, homes and plantations.
"It's important to learn about our history," said Ostini, who originated from California and now is taking advantage of all the historical sites the East Coast has to offer, "because these stories aren't just stories, they happened in real life."
All in all, many attendees, including the chaplain himself, expressed how much they enjoyed the staff ride by not only getting out of the office but by learning and walking in the footsteps of Civil War history.
"It's so great that the Army is putting more focus on moral injury and spiritual health nowadays," said Harkins. "It's significant to me because of my own faith, and it's important for everyone to know the principles behind coping and healing."
She was grateful that the staff ride was open for civilians to embark on as well, and that it offered something special for everybody, Soldiers and civilians alike.
Bowerman summed up the idea of spiritual health emphasized on the trip.
"Even though we have events in life that make us question our faith, our spiritual resiliency can carry us through."