By Capt. Rebecca Murga (USARC)May 18, 2010
SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- It was around January of 2008, about halfway through my deployment, when my chaplain (a great guy who was known for occasionally smoking a pipe and 'accidently' cursing when he played sports), came up to me and asked that quintessential "chaplain question" that they always seem to ask at just the right time:
" Are you ok'"
The crazy thing was, I wasn't ok... and he knew it.
That's the funny thing about chaplains. They always seem to know when to ask just the right question.
I have had the opportunity to work with two really great Army chaplains in my short time in the military. One helped me through my deployment and the other helped me when I returned. And selfishly (shame on me), I never really thought about what THEY went through when they deployed. And looking back on it now, I realize I could not have gotten through my deployment without them.
So when the 63rd Regional Support Command invited me to cover the Chaplaincy Annual Sustainment Training, or CAST, I thought it would be an important event to cover. Not because it would be particularly earth-shattering, but because I felt it was important for people to understand the importance of the Chaplain Corps.
Held in Scottsdale, Ariz., over 280 chaplains throughout the 7-state southwest region of the United States gathered together for a week in May to engage in dialogue and discuss issues such as Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, spiritual resiliency, reintegration relationships and pastoral care counseling.
In a time of high operational tempo and persistent conflict, the CAST theme this year was: "Spiritual Leadership, Keeping the Army Community Strong." The theme supports the Army's vision of balanced, healthy, self-confident Soldiers, families and Army civilians.
Maj. Gen. Hugo E. Salazar, The Adjutant General and Commanding General of the Arizona National Guard was in attendance alongside Maj. Gen. Douglas Carver, Chief of Chaplains, who both spoke to the importance of the chaplaincy and the issues that face them on a daily bases.
"Thank you all for your service to this country... choosing to put on the uniform in this day and time is not an easy thing to do. These are days of great challenges. As we have soldiers with boots on the ground, fighting a war on multiple fronts... It is time to stand tall. It is time to be courageous," said Carver.
According to Reuters Health, taken from the Archives of Internal Medicine, they estimate that out of 103,788 returning veterans, 25 percent had a mental health diagnosis, and more than half of these patients had two or more distinct conditions. Taken with the Army suicide statistics release this April, chaplains are critical to the heavy psychological toll taken on U.S. soldiers.
Carver stresses the importance of courageous leaders in these "challenging times."
"We are going to reflect on what it takes to keep our army community strong. We are an Army that is stretched and stressed with over 160 suicides last year within our ranks. The war is taking its toll, and in these challenging times we need courageous leaders," said Carver.
With over 700 chaplains and chaplain assistants mobilized or deployed in support of contingency operations throughout the world, Army Chaplains have an enormous responsibility. They are expected to observe the distinctive doctrines of their personnel faith while also honoring the right of others to observe their own faith.
And when you think about the diversity of the Army, that becomes a somewhat daunting task. But every day, rabbis, ministers, imams and priests, serve Soldiers with conviction and commitment right alongside them. Chaplains are spiritual leaders, confidants, and comfort in difficult times.
Chaplain (Col.) Bonnie Koppell, command chaplain for the 63rd Regional Support Command, explained how important this annual training was for the chaplains in attendance.
"This is the one time of the year that we have the opportunity to get together with our colleagues in active Army, Army Reserve, and National Guard and build those relationships that will be the foundation for accomplishing whatever missions may arise throughout the 63rd RSC footprint. This is an opportunity to train together with regard to issues of spiritual fitness," said Koppell.
Chaplains are not only responsible for the Soldiers in their care, but are also responsible for caring for the Soldiers' families and may often find themselves serving the spiritual needs of Sailors, Marines, or Airmen.
Whether they are leading worship and prayer; administrating the sacraments; counseling young couples; or deploying to a combat zone; chaplains serve alongside Soldiers, training side-by-side with them and are critically important to the spiritual and mental fitness of Soldiers.
Since 1775, some 400 Army chaplains have laid down their lives in battle and six have been awarded the Medal of Honor.
They never complain, or ask for thanks, or expect any awards.
They are probably the only group of people I know who come to work every day, do their jobs and never expect a thing.
So to all of the Chaplains I met this week at CAST, and to those chaplains who helped me through my deployment, I say "thank you."
"Thank you," from every deployed Soldier and every family member back at home who needed someone around to talk to during those difficult times; even if we didn't realize it at the time.