Active, Reserve Chaplains Play Critical Role
By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 25, 2009 Active and reserve Army chaplains are playing a critical and strategic role in Iraq, a chaplain serving with Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq said this week.
“Our troops are working tirelessly and selflessly to create a trusted and viable security force,” Army Chaplain (Maj.) William Steen said during a “DoDLive” bloggers roundtable June 23. “However, the work, family separation and the long hours all take their toll on our troops.”
Steen discussed how the military is helping soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines cope with the physical, mental and emotional stress while deployed in Iraq.
Chaplains play a critical role in today’s military by providing forward-deployed troops more than religious support, Steen explained. Among other things, they also provide training before and after deployments, help servicemembers strengthen their marriages and families, and take an active role in suicide prevention.
“The wear and tear on the troops manifests itself in many ways,” Steen said. “We commonly refer to those things as combat stress. In this era of persistent conflict, as we are facing an unprecedented demand upon all our volunteer force, both servicemembers and their families, their need for support and care is greater than it has ever been.”
Reserve chaplains, he added, are filling the roles that are left behind at home stations when battalions are deployed downrange.
“There are significant numbers of reserve chaplains who are serving extended tours of active duty to do rear-garrison support,” Steen said. “When a brigade combat team goes downrange … those families are left without adequate care and coverage.” The reserve chaplains provide a significant ministry for these families, the chaplain said.
“I think the Army has really stepped up to the plate, in terms of providing billets for those reserve chaplains,” he said.
Deployed chaplains, meanwhile, play an important role for servicemembers and commanders, Steen said. He cited a recent suicide-prevention stand-down at Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq as an example.
During the stand-down, chaplains briefed about 1,500 servicemembers, he said. This type of support has been overwhelmingly effective and has been well received on the part of servicemembers, he added.
“We’ve had a couple of specific situations where that training here has made a difference -- both on the part of people who … recognized in themselves symptoms enough to reach out, and then on the part of people being more sensitized to those around them,” the chaplain said.
He added that while the suicide issue is a big problem that won’t go away easily, the efforts to address it have spoken volumes. “I think it is making a difference,” he added.
As chaplains provide the caring support that U.S. servicemembers need, Steen said, other coalition troops who have served with them, such as the British and the Australians, are amazed at the genuine support their U.S. counterparts also receive from their fellow citizens back home.
“They are absolutely stunned by the number of care packages that we get and the volume of free-will donations that are just the sheer expression of support for our citizens,” he said. “They can’t believe it. They can’t believe that our citizens do that.”
(Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg serves in the Defense Media Activity’s emerging media directorate.)