By Capt. Erik AlfsenDecember 14, 2012
KHOWST PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Dec. 14, 2012) - Chaplains from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team "Rakkasans," 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), gathered in a briefing room at Forward Operating Base Salerno, Afghanistan, for an extensive two-day training event aimed at increasing individual resiliency, Dec. 5.
Seven religious support teams, or RSTs, made up of chaplains and their chaplain assistants from across Paktya and Khowst provinces, came together.
These RST's work hard to provide moral, ethical and spiritual leadership to their units. On a weekly basis, they care for hundreds of Soldiers from diverse backgrounds and provide counseling for issues ranging from interpersonal relationships to combat stress.
They can often be found caring for the wounded and offering encouragement during crises.
"Whether a Soldier is religious or not is irrelevant," said Staff Sgt. Eric Esposito, the brigade chaplain's assistant. "There is a misconception that chaplains only help Soldiers of certain faiths. We're here to take care of all of our Soldiers, no matter what they believe."
Chaplains and their assistants serve as the first line of defense for the emotional and spiritual needs of Soldiers deployed in combat. That responsibility can take a toll. Most of these RST's are constantly on the road, visiting troops spread out over an area the size of Vermont.
"Many chaplains serve as machine-like caregivers," said Capt. Willie Newton, the chaplain for 3rd Special Troops Battalion, 3rd BCT. "Sometimes we need a hiatus from operations."
During this two-day event, the RST's received focused instruction in self care to help sustain them through the remaining months of their deployment. Classes were taught by other chaplains, the brigade's behavioral health provider, physical therapist and the master resiliency trainer.
"Compassion fatigue and burnout is a very real problem," said Capt. Justine Majeres, the brigade psychologist. "Chaplains are always caring for others, so who cares for the caregiver?"
Majeres provided the RST's with in-depth assessment tools and training designed to help maintain a sense of satisfaction and energy in their work.
"We walk a real tight-rope in our work," said Capt. Erik Alfsen, a chaplain from 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd BCT. "We want to pour everything we have into our Soldiers, but we need to have something left to give."
"Maintaining our own spiritual, physical, mental and emotional health is the key. Training like this gives us the chance to refocus and take a knee," he said. "As spiritual leaders we need to remember that when life brings us to a knee, we're in the perfect position to pray."