By Charles StadtlanderNovember 16, 2010
SCHWEINFURT, Germany-One of the great long-lasting problems of war-long after peace treaties are signed and bombed bridges are rebuilt-is the plight of the Soldier.
Post-traumatic stress disorder has been one of the most persistent problems for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, and treatment with certainty has yet to come to the forefront of the Army community.
Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Dean Bonura hopes to implement something new within the existing canon of PTSD therapy. The product of years of research and the focus of his doctoral dissertation, his Strongheart Warrior program paves a path towards healing PTSD using the tenets of Christian spirituality.
"I recognize the role spirituality plays," said Bonura. He noted the Army's five pillars of Soldier fitness, one of which is a strong spiritual belief.
"The tendency in recovering from a crisis is to ask how God could allow this," he added. One of the aims of his program is to fortify that eroded faith.
Strongheart Warrior grew out of a sense of frustration that Bonura felt after seeing the effects of war on the troops he served with in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"War changes you," said Bonura. "We all have things that we took back from over there."
PTSD's damaging effect, says Bonura, stems from an inability to separate past crises from present experience. Treatment aims to help sufferers stop reliving memories again and again. Bonura cited Dr. Larry Dewey, a psychiatrist who has written extensively about PTSD. Dewey recognizes spiritual intervention as the most effective means yet seen of dealing with the disorder.
The Strongheart Warrior program uses various forms of media, including clips from popular films and scriptural references, to introduce discussion topics, and then allows the Soldiers to work in small groups to determine how their own experiences relate to the movie clips and other media.
"The Soldiers in the course need to internalize each of their own experiences to find their own meaning," said Bonura. "It's a personal journey."
A short study Bonura conducted at Fort Knox gave him optimism for the success of the treatment.
Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Joanne Martindale will facilitate the program along with Bonura. She stresses the importance the Soldiers have in the program, stating that she and Bonura do not teach a class, they facilitate therapeutic conversation.
"The power is in the small group," said Martindale. "The videos are openers for discussions. They invite imagination."
Martindale went on to say that the shift of focus from the Soldier's own experience to the fictionalized experiences in film clips helps to give perspective to view their problems objectively.
"You need to step away from yourself to better access yourself," she added.
Bonura hopes to generate enough interest in the program to start the 16-week course sometime after the new year. He realizes the time commitment necessary from attending Soldiers (at least two hours of duty time per week) may make some commanding officers balk, but he stresses the importance of this pilot study.
"The needs are there," he said in respect to Schweinfurt's Soldiers. "We just need the command support."
"Combat is a terrible thing," said Bonura. "You don't need much of it to be affected."
When asked if he was looking specifically for participation from newly-returned soldiers from the 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, Bonura said that although there could be a need within that unit, he's also interested in persisting cases of PTSD. All Soldiers interested in the program are urged to contact the office of the chaplain.
He likened the disorder to an iceberg, where the symptoms are the visible, protruding part and the causes are the submerged ice-cold, blue and deep. Bonura added that there are inconsistencies between a solid moral foundation and the necessities of war.
"It isn't a normal thing to shoot someone," he said. "But we can grow. We have a choice to get better."