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December Chaplain's Reflections

Portrait of Chaplain, Capt. Benjamin McEntire, with the 169th Fighter Wing at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., Jan. 10, 2013.
(National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Caycee Watson/Released)

Portrait of Chaplain, Capt. Benjamin McEntire, with the 169th Fighter Wing at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., Jan. 10, 2013. (National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Caycee Watson/Released)

MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. -- For many, the holidays have something in common with warfare--there's a lot of stress and conflict. While obviously the intensity of holiday stress and family conflicts doesn't remotely compare to war, we can get through both by following some out of fashion wise sayings.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Whether you're looking ahead to stress and family conflicts during the holidays, or to deploying to a combat zone where there's a real risk of psychological trauma and moral injury, dealing with problems after they arise is often a lot more difficult than preparing for them. While not every problem can be avoided, the effects can often be diminished by good preparation. So how do we prepare for conflict and stressful situations? We follow the advice of another old saying.

Failing to plan is planning to fail. The key to preventing problems is to plan ways to keep them from developing. For problems we can't prevent, the key to keeping problems from becoming uncontrollable is to have a plan in place for how you'll deal with them should they arise. Why is having an advance plan important? When we're in the middle of a problem situation, we usually aren't in a place to think clearly, so it's often too late to come up with an effective plan. Whether it's dealing with a family conflict that has to be addressed or struggling with what we've faced in war, we'll get further if we have a plan in place before the problems ever arise. So what do we need to plan ahead for potential problems?

Forewarned is forearmed. We can't plan or prepare for problems we don't foresee. Fortunately, for many of the problems we deal with on a regular basis, it's not too difficult to figure out why they happen by taking a close look at the situations in which the problems occur. When we rightly understand what creates the problems we're facing, we can prevent the problems from forming by coming up with plans that address the things contributing to the problems. For example, when it comes to family conflicts we typically have a good idea of when the problems are likely to happen, and what usually sparks them. While, once again, it may not be possible to prevent or avoid the problems that create conflict (in most cases avoiding the problems is a bad idea as they get worse over time), it's a good idea to come up with a plan for how to address the issues constructively in order to avoid needless confrontations. The plan could be to get counseling on how to approach a loved one about problem behaviors (such as recognizing and appreciating more of the good things about them), or to work with your spouse so the two of you can better navigate problems between your in-laws. If we're going into a combat zone where there's a higher risk of harm, a good plan would be to find out how you can minimize the risk of psychological and moral injury, and work out how you and your loved ones will respond if you experience such injury. Whether the potential problem's big or small, the essential thing is to make sure that your plan takes you in a positive direction and is based on the right information, rather than wrong assumptions that will lead to wrong courses of action. How do we make sure we have a wise plan and aren't working from the wrong assumptions?

Where there is no counsel the people fall, but with many counselors there is safety. This saying is from a time long before clinical counseling existed, so the counselors it mentions are knowledgeable advisors. None of us are immune to error, and none of us can recognize all of our wrong assumptions. Talking with others, especially those with training and experience in helping people work through problems, is one of the best ways we can make sure we are on the right path and aren't working from wrong assumptions. By talking about problems with experienced and knowledgeable advisors, be they past, present, or future, we can better avoid crises by working with them to make sure we have a good plan in place to deal with issues before they escalate.

If you'd like help with any problems you might be facing, you can get free confidential counsel from the Chaplain Corps and the Wing Director of Psychological Health. You can reach a Chaplain at 803-647-8265, or stop by our office in the Wing Headquarters building. If we are out of the office, you can also call us directly--our numbers are posted on the Chaplain Office door. It is our hope you have a blessed and peaceful Christmas season, and let's pray the same for our deployed SCANG members and their families!