With Dr. Bruce Hartung
Responses to the April “Pressure Points” have been swift, often deeply felt, and helpful. That column focused on supporting our returning soldiers, the need to deepen our sensitivities to them, and the traumas they may have experienced, and our specific task to better understand Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Here is one response from a returning National Guard chaplain, after two deployments to Afghanistan:
“I, too, have seen firsthand how soldiers leaving theater go home with a host of physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual issues.
“With more and more Guard and Reserve soldiers being deployed, we’re finding a larger population of military returning directly to their homes rather than to active military bases where support systems are already in place.
I think of five soldiers who I debriefed one week prior to their return to the States — who were just involved in the death of a young Afghan girl when she ran in front of their vehicle. I wondered (no, worried) what was going to happen to them when they returned home. How would they deal with the trauma when being greeted by their own children?
“How can we build a bridge between the returning soldiers and the local congregations? Congregations are ‘safe,’ in that they aren’t a government bureaucracy. Congregations definitely have the hope that these soldiers (and their families) need to hear.
“I tell congregations these points:
“1. Guard/Reserve units come from the local community. Every church knows when a local unit is leaving and returning. Make it a point to welcome the soldiers back.
“2. What do churches excel at? Potluck dinners! When a unit returns, take fliers to the local armory, inviting soldiers and their families to a welcome-back dinner at the church.”
Overriding points include understanding the dynamics of trauma and intentionally developing a strategy for reaching out to returning servicepersons individually and as groups. When a National Guard or Reserve unit is activated and deployed, an entire community is involved.
Another reader wrote, offering information about a support contact provided by our military. It can be accessed by calling (800) 342-9647, or through the Web site www.militaryonesource.com. Confidential counselors are available. Every pastor and church worker should be familiar with this Web site, as it has multiple resources available for military persons and their families.
Returning active duty personnel other than Guard or Reserve often return individually — and therefore by themselves — to their communities, rather than in a group.
The reader who suggested the Web site is a mother whose son has been deployed twice and is expected to be deployed for a time this fall.
“When our son was over there with his first deployment, he lost three Army friends in the same convoy bombing,” she wrote. “He had just eaten lunch with them and then they went out to the convoy.”
While the Army will provide support services, folks like this woman’s son return to our communities with vivid and often painful memories of their experiences. We do need to be actively by their side.
A third reader wrote, “As a Vietnam combat veteran, it means so much to hear this kind of reply. Combat veterans and others who have suffered from trauma need to be better understood. As you pointed out, it is impossible for anyone who hasn’t been there to really understand, but they can better educate themselves.”
Finally, a reader asks this: “As Jesus proves his trustworthiness and provides me support, where are the brothers and sisters who will stand by me in this experience, and what are others doing, as they receive their daily spiritual bread, to fight this PTSD fight?”
I believe with all my heart that we in the Body of Christ stand by our sisters and brothers, empowered by God’s Holy Spirit to do so. We do that as we intentionally connect with each other — often getting out of our comfort zones, as we educate ourselves about those things that affect people, and as we provide understanding, support, and care in the name of our Christ.
Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is dean of Ministerial Formation at Concordia Semi-nary, St. Louis, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted May 1, 2007