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April 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. --

I recently read an online article that described how, during WWI, U.S. Army leaders noticed that many of the men who did well in the sports-style training programs they were using for fitness, including many of the physical training cadre, would fail during long ruck marches. The same observations have persisted to today. As a result, the U.S. Army is experimenting with a different model of PT test, and the U.S. Marine Corps have implemented a combat fitness assessment in addition to their regular PT test. Some Army and Marine units have also adapted their physical training to better equip themselves for the specific physical demands of their jobs.

 At this point you’re probably asking what this has to do with us, and why the chaplain is talking about physical training. After all, for many of us in the USAF, the greatest physical demand we might face would be having to hurriedly carry a wounded comrade to a place of safety while wearing body armor. However, our jobs create many specific emotional and spiritual challenges, and we should prepare for them the same way we should prepare for the physical challenges. Training for long distance running makes little sense if your job requires you lift and hold heavy objects on a regular basis. In the same way, it makes little sense to not equip yourself emotionally and relationally for the challenges you may face as part of your job. What does this involve?

Job-specific training is helpful, but before we think about preparing for our jobs we should start by looking at areas where we need to grow personally. The same way each of us have areas we need to grow physically, all of us struggle with some kind of issue in our lives. Some may struggle with anger, with grief, depression, a broken self-image, low self-confidence, a sense of being unwanted, or any number of other issues. To grow in a way that helps us overcome such issues, we can start by developing a greater personal awareness of our thoughts and feelings, and that takes daily (realistically hourly) practice and focus.

Growing ourselves means that we need to be able to recognize and think about our thoughts and feelings, find out where they’re coming from (our thoughts and feelings have a cause, after all), and deal with what’s causing them. That’s particularly true for those who recognize there are specific troubling thoughts and feelings that are creating problems in their lives. For some, talking with a counselor or chaplain may be helpful for getting ahead in overcoming such things. Some may benefit from talking with friends or loved ones to start growing their personal awareness; we can benefit greatly from learning to see ourselves through the eyes of others.

As well as growing individually, preparing for the demands for our jobs means recognizing what the demands are. One of the demands we all face as part of our military life is occasional separation from our loved ones, sometimes for long periods of time. Separation creates several challenges. We need to work through how things at home will get handled while we’re away, and how responsibilities will get shifted back when we return. We also need to talk through our feelings about the separation; uncommunicated feelings can become a major problem over time if they’re not addressed.

In addition to the separation itself, sometimes we go to places where we’re faced with the ugly side of war. Not only can we be placed in danger, the friends we work with often deploy with us. I’ve talked about preparing for this side of things in other newsletters so I don’t have to go into detail on this, but we do need prepare for the possibility of experiencing moral and emotional wounds from what we might face. Talking with your loved ones about what to do if you are emotionally wounded by what you experience in a warzone is a step in the right direction.

Thankfully, many of us will not have to face the ugly side of war, and for those who do, help is available. All of us, however, can benefit from practicing greater awareness of our thinking and our feelings, and from working through life issues that create problems for us. We can all also benefit from coming up with plans for dealing with the emotional side of separations created by deployments and TDYs.

If you’d like to talk with someone about ways you can grow past wounds of the past, how you can prepare for the emotional, moral, or spiritual demands of your job, or would like some extra pointers on how to prepare your relationships for the strains created by military life, you can reach the Chaplain’s Office at 803-647-8265. We are part of the same team, and are here to encourage you whenever needed.