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Archive for the ‘Veteran Resources’ Category

4-chaplains

On the morning of February 3, 1943, the U.S.A.T. Dorchester, a converted cruise ship, was crowded to capacity with 903 service members, including four chaplains. The Dorchester, was moving steadily across the icy waters from Newfoundland toward an American base in Greenland.  It was struck by a torpedo and began to rapidly sink. Panic and chaos had set in on the ship. The blast had killed scores of men, and many more were seriously wounded.

Quickly and quietly, the four chaplains spread out among the soldiers. There they tried to calm the frightened, tend to the wounded, and guide the disoriented toward safety. By this time, most of the men were topside, and the chaplains opened a storage locker and began distributing life jackets. When there were no more life jackets in the storage room, the chaplains removed theirs and gave them to four frightened young men.

As the ship went down, survivors on nearby rafts could see the four chaplains–arms linked and braced against the slanting deck. All four voices were heard offering prayers until their last moments of life.

Today, a grateful nation remembers Chaplain George L. Fox, Chaplain Alexander D. Goode, Chaplain Clark V. Poling, and Chaplain John P. Washington for their heroic deeds as soldiers and spiritual leaders.

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soldier-praying

My first deployment was to Iraq in 2006. It made several things clear. Before Iraq, my faith was comfortable. It had been tried, tested, and proven, but in a very clean and simple way. My faith was comfortable in seminary, at home, at work, and in the church. But that all changed in Iraq. I saw what it was like to constantly be under attack and understood what it was like to be under the threat of death. Iraq gave me something that most Americans do not experience. Iraq also gave me something that most Christians in the western world do not experience. Iraq changed me, but it also changed my faith for the better.

One of the major discoveries from my time in Iraq was truly learning the power and importance of prayer. While seminary gave me the tools and the knowledge regarding a solid prayer life, Iraq was the furnace that forged my prayer life into a solid existence.

Here are four lessons on prayer that helped me down range.

Share your heart. Be transparent with God. Big or small, lift your prayers to the Lord. The night before flying into the combat zone, I spent two and a half hours in prayer. This was the longest span of time I had ever spoken to God in one setting. I had a lot of ground to cover if this was potentially my last night on earth. Cry out no matter what the concern may be. Philippians 4:6 reminds each of us “. . . in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Pray now, not later. Be immediate with prayer. Time is precious, especially in a war zone. If someone shared a prayer request, my new practice was to stop and immediately pray with the person. The location may be on the sidewalk, in the parking lot, at the chow hall, or in the office. There was no reason to wait and the soldier had a need that deserved to be addressed. Hebrews 4:16 shares, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Keep it simple. There is no need to be fancy. Wordsmiths have their place, but not on the battlefield. I felt God calling me to pray for aircraft, well the crews and passengers on board. I crafted a simple three point prayer to say every time I heard a helicopter or aircraft departing the base. Jesus reminds us not to have babbling prayers in Matthew 6:7. Prayers are not heard for the sake of many words.

Have a consistent pattern. My routine was very disjointed in Iraq. The start and end of every day lacked consistency. Unit operations had to happen 24 hours a day and the war didn’t stop. The best time to pray was right before I went to sleep. I could make time to pray once my boots came off. It took a while to find that right recipe, but once I found it the routine stuck. Find a time or habit that can help you make space for prayer. Colossians 4:2 encourages us to, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.”

There are many lessons a veteran will find down range. Theses lessons can benefit our Christian walk. The trials of yesterday make us stronger for tomorrow. May God grant us the calling of Romans 12:12, to “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.”

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Deployed service members reflect on  D-Day

On June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily fortified coastline in Normandy, France.  Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which, “we will accept nothing less than full victory.”  More than 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end, the Allies gained a foot-hold in Continental Europe.  The cost in lives on D-Day was high.  More than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded, but their sacrifice allowed more than 100,000 Soldiers to begin the slow, hard slog across Europe, to defeat Adolph Hitler.

Today, the men and women who fought and won World War II are now dying at the rate of 555 a day.  It is vital that we listen to America’s Greatest Generation for several reasons.  Take time to hear these heroes.  Listen to their stories and discover the bravery, courage, and dedication that liberated millions.  Their experiences can continue to shape our nation and our veterans of today.

The veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan can learn from these veterans of yesteryear.  Yes, their stories are inspiring, but they also provide an incredible picture on how WWII veterans dealt with combat, coped with loss, overcame personal obstacles, became resilient, and benefited from post traumatic growth. These veteran stories will confirm their hero status, but they can also provide insights on healing strategies, understanding the importance of battle buddies, and confirm the power of faith in God.

Remember our D-Day veterans and remember to hear their stories of survival. It just may help a veteran from the wars and deployments of today.

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Lifeline

September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day.  Suicide impacts every nation and every community on earth.  While the topic may be taboo in many circles, it is vital that people get involved to help those at risk of self harm.

As this day rolls up on the calendar, here are a few reminders to consider:

  • learn the warning signs of suicide
  • ask directly if you suspect someone is suicidal
  • care for the person at risk by listening
  • escort the person at risk to a helping agency or resource
  • know local and national resources

The last point is extremely important.  People should always have or know a phone number to dial in case a loved one is contemplating suicide.  If you or someone you know needs immediate help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential support to people in crisis.  This service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and is operated by trained counselors throughout the nation.

Since 2007, the Lifeline has been providing special suicide prevention services for U.S. military veterans.  When dialing 1-800-273-TALK (8255), veterans, service members, and their families are prompted, to press “1” to be connected to a veterans suicide prevention hotline specialist.  Know that these counselors are familiar with military issues and want the best care possible for America’s warriors.

Be sure to add this number to the contacts in your phone.  One phone call can save a life, so make time to remember the number, share it with a friend, or even volunteer at a local call center.  Caring professionals are always available to help.

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Enduring Freedom

Most service members think about spiritual matters during deployment.  We take stock of our lives while in the face of death and danger.  This time of examination and spiritual questioning is important.  Rarely do we stay the same afterward.  This time of spiritual searching will frequently send service members in one of two distinct directions.  Many gain a stronger relationship with God.  Others may question their beliefs and feel spiritually empty.

For those who may be in the later category, I want you to know that it is normal to ask questions about our faith.  Spiritual matters are important downrange, when we have returned home, and as we reintegrate into our communities.  Everyone is impacted differently by war.  We have endured different levels of strife and conflict. We also have different levels of spiritual understanding when we enter the combat zone and when we leave.  Regardless of your location or when you served, your faith will be different when you come home.

No matter if your faith has grown or shrunk, it is important that you continue moving forward in your Christian walk.  Do not stand still in your faith.  1 Timothy 4:7b-8 shares, “rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

Every believer, civilian or veteran, needs a spiritual fitness routine.  Like physical fitness, spiritual fitness must be practiced.  While it is different from going to the gym and lifting weights, the concept is the same.   We need to exercise our spiritual muscles in order to grow our faith.

Spiritual fitness can take place in many different ways:

  • prayer
  • reading scripture
  • attending worship services
  • seeking spiritual counsel
  • fellowship
  • meditation
  • journaling

This is a small, but important sample of spiritual exercises that you can try.  Feel free to try one and gradually combine others to your list.   You can also participate in these activities with your family, friends, and a Christian community of believers, adding a greater dimension to your spiritual fitness by increasing your connection to other people.

Spiritual fitness is important to everyone.  It draws us closer to God, forms us in the image of Jesus Christ, and allows us to strengthen our faith.  Your spiritual fitness also affects your ability to deal with stress and times of crisis.  Multiple studies determined that veterans who have an active spiritual practice report fewer and less severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.  Those who struggled with their faith or felt alienated from God had more severe PTSD symptoms.

Spiritual fitness also reduces anxiety, loneliness, and depression.  Studies have also documented how people with a weekly pattern of attending worship services live longer, are healthier, and recover from illness more quickly.

Veterans and service members can take comfort in the transforming power of God. No matter where or when you were deployed, God still cares about you.  No matter what you saw downrange or what you did, you can have a redeemed life.

When life seems full of despair, the Lord shares purpose, meaning, forgiveness, and acceptance.  Continue to move forward in your faith.  Train yourself to be the godly and righteous person you were called to become.

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buffalo

Now is a great time for military members and families to start planning your 2013 vacation.  If you want to see the great outdoors, consider visiting a National Park, National Forest, or Fish and Wildlife area this summer for free.

The National Park Service is offering free park passes at more than 2,000 federal recreation sites.  The park pass is available to US military members and their dependents in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard.  Members of the National Guard and US Reserves and their dependents are also eligible.

The park pass is good for a full twelve months across the country and is non-transferable.  It covers entrance to National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service sites that charge entrance fees. It also covers standard amenity fees at Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Reclamation sites. The pass admits the pass owner and accompanying passengers in a private, non-commercial vehicle, at “per vehicle” fee areas; or the pass owner, and up to three additional adults, at sites that charge per person. Children of age 15 or under are admitted free.

Annual park passes must be obtained in person at a Federal recreation site.  They are available to service members and dependents by showing a Common Access Card (CAC) or Military ID (Form 1173).  The Pass does not cover expanded amenity fees such as camping, boat launching, parking, special tours, special permits, or ferries.

This is another great way for America to say “thank you” to its defenders.  It is also a great way for service members to get out, relax, and enjoy some of the benefits of freedom that they preserve so well.

Grab a park pass this year and enjoy it to the fullest in 2013.

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SAAM

April is sexual assault awareness month.  The goal of SAAM is to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual violence.

I understand this is not an easy topic to address, but sexual assaults can no longer be considered a taboo subject.  Silence is not an option.  It will only make the issue worse in communities, desensitize people to bad actions, discourage reporting, and slow response times.  Everyone has a responsibility in stopping assaults.  We must make every effort to increase awareness and prevention no matter where we live.

Human resource bulletin boards can no longer be the only place where respect is addressed as a value.  Congregations must strive to establish a climate of respect and teach others how to practice the love of Christ.  Churches are ideally places where victims of sexual assault receive the care and support that they need.

It is critical that churches, staff members, leaders, and parents take a stand for what is right during the month of April.  Together we can highlight sexual violence as a public health, human rights, and social justice issue and reinforce the need for prevention efforts.

Here are five suggestions on how we can incorporate SAAM activities in the community.

1.  Create a resource list.  What shelters, crisis centers, and medical clinics exist in your community?  What organizations are available to help assault victims?  Make sure that people know who to contact should an incident occur.  Church leaders may need this person or organization on speed dial.  Be sure to have a resource listed on your cell phone should someone need immediate help.

2.  Talk to your youth groups.  Tell these new and growing Christians why all people deserve respect and courtesy.  Jesus should not be to only voice to share the Golden Rule.  Kids need to hear solid reminders based on our faith.  The world is always ready to give an alternate view on dating, relationships, and much, much, more.  As church leaders, it is our duty to educate the next generation.  Teach your youth that everyone deserves an environment of mutual respect, dignity, and fair treatment.

3.  Demonstrate what “right” looks like.  You may need to stop an inappropriate joke from being told or challenge wrong comments.  Don’t wink at wrongs when they happen around you.  Silence is not consent, but Christians are called to shine the light of Jesus.  Help to draw a bright line between right and wrong no matter where you are.

4.  Organize a collection drive.  Collect necessary items for the local YMCA, YWCA, domestic violence shelter, crisis center, medical clinic, or hospital.  They frequently need clothing, toiletries, and supplies when assault victims seek emergency shelter or medical care.  Make an effort to highlight the needs in your congregation.  It also reminds families that crisis centers, clinics, and shelters exist in the community.  Families can also take comfort in knowing that resources will be available should they need future assistance.

5.  Host an open house.  An open house provides an opportunity for your congregation to provide valuable information with members and the people in your neighborhood.  Make brochures and educational information available.  Be sure to provide information about volunteer opportunities.  Invite the people and organizations on your new resource list to set up a booth or share how they provide a community service.  Publicize the open house in newspapers, on radio stations, and online.

Broken families and relationships are too common in our age.  Congregations can be the loving, caring, and healing communities that assault victims need during a time of crisis.  Churches can also step up and address the issue to prevent future incidents.  We can make a difference locally and help to create a community-wide response.  Take the time to highlight SAAM and shine the light of Christ where you are.

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