Beliefnet News

By Jeff Diamant
Religion News Service

FORT DIX, N.J. – The Rev. Andrew Barton is a Presbyterian pastor who considers himself an advocate for peace and questions whether the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was justified.
Yet he wants to be able to help counsel traumatized soldiers home from the war zone. He has wondered: Would soldiers be open to listening to him? How might he approach them?
Barton and two dozen other clergy came here Thursday (Sept. 20) for advice on how to counsel military families in dealing with war-related issues, including loneliness, marriage problems and the turbulent readjustment to civilian life.
The two-hour session, the first of its kind held at the base, focused on helping reserve soldiers and their families. Many soldiers in the reserves did not expect to serve active duty when they signed up years ago but are now preparing for second deployments, said Maj. Gen.
Glenn Rieth, the state adjutant general.
Families of full-time soldiers who live on base have active support groups, but the families of reservists fighting overseas often feel they are on their own, Reith said. Often, neighbors do not know they are in need.
“When they depart, in most cases the only one who knows it are the immediate family members. There are neighbors down the street who don’t even know that this woman or this man just put a uniform on to go serve and take care of the nation’s business overseas,” he said.
Nancy Ferrara, a psychologist from Brick, N.J., who spoke at the session, said clergy can often gain a sense of which families are in need by keeping a careful eye on the flow of worshippers: “Observe who’s starting to come to services, and who’s stopping coming to services.”
It is urgent, Rieth said, that reservists who return from war with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury–conditions that do not present themselves physically–be handled with care and sensitivity.
“They are real-life issues,” the general said. “And unfortunately, when they’re not dealt with appropriately, they come home and they turn to alcohol, they turn to drugs, they beat their families, or they put a gun to their head and blow their brains out.”
Chaplains at Fort Dix already are trying to help 187 reservists who returned this summer from 20 months abroad.
There have been visits to soldiers’ homes. And Col. Alphonse Stephenson, the command chaplain of the Army and National Guard at Fort Dix, said he has tried to organize lunch with 20 soldiers in Newark, though he has struggled to reach 12 of them.
“They were away for 20 months,” he said. “For 20 months they’ve been thinking about how wonderful it was to go home. In those 20 months their visions became larger than life. It became all ‘Father Knows Best.’ They get home, and it’s not it at all. You know what they do? They move!”
At least a few of the clergy said they plan to enlist as military chaplains.
Rabbi Alexander Trachtman of Lakewood, the only non-Christian cleric who attended the session, said he is considering becoming a military chaplain.
“It’s real life. It’d be a real change,” said Trachtman, an Orthodox rabbi. “We’re all Americans. We all share the same pleasures and freedoms. We have to share the same responsibilities once in a while.”
Carla Gunning, an assistant pastor at a church in Burlington, said before the session she had considered becoming a reservist but she now expects to apply for active duty.
“When you see what the soldiers are going through, the sacrifices in their lives and their families, and to suffer PTSD, it’s important to show them we love and encourage them,” she said. “It’s not so much about whether clergy people agree or disagree with the war in Iraq, but being able to see to the needs of the soldiers.”
Jeff Diamant writes for The Star Ledger in Newark, N.J.)
Copyright 2007 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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