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Who Cares for Our Caregivers?

Michael Behlin, 3rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary)

In an article from the Professional Journal of the U.S. Army Chaplaincy, Dr. John W. Brinsfield wrote,

“Since 1775, commanders have looked to their chaplains as ethical leaders to reinforce Soldiers’ spiritual strength, commitment, cohesion, morale, and moral discipline. The roles chaplains assumed were legion [numerous]: as pastors, preachers, professors, advisors to the commander, participants with their Soldiers in combat, defense counsels, senior leaders, administrators and stewards of resources, clinical team ethicists in hospitals, and since 1973, as ethics instructors in Army service schools.”

The roles of the U.S. Army chaplains listed above could be all true and often portrayed as caregivers and providers of Soldiers’ spiritual needs. Though it is normal for chaplains to be a caregiver of others, the thought of who cares for their needs when they have problems is often neglected or unseen.

“As a chaplain, we sometimes wonder who cares about the chaplain,” said Lt. Col. Wilbert Harrison, a Belleglade, Fla., native and 3rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) chaplain. “Sometimes there’s an issue to where we need to be cared for and we’re not always good at receiving that care because we’re so used to giving. We are often the healer; but there are times when we need to be healed.”

Harrison expressed that chaplains can sometimes be an unappreciated commodity within a unit and must deal with their own problems. He decided to do something about it during his recent battlefield rotation to Al Asad Air Base, while visiting other sustainment brigade chaplains.

Harrison implemented a course, themed “Caring for the Caregiver”, which provided chaplains different ways to care for themselves and to accept help from others.

The course, which consisted of 25 Army and Air Force chaplains and chaplain assistants, required those who often take on the roles of a caregiver to discuss different methods of dealing with their own problems, as well as ways to care for themselves.

“Caregivers across the board to include ministers, social workers or anyone dealing with the population often have problems caring for themselves,” said Harrison. “Because of this, these jobs or positions have a high level of burnout because too often they have given a lot and not taken much in.”

During the discussion, a topic centered on caregivers taking time away from their specific responsibilities or duties and to take some “me” time. With the “Caring for the Caregiver” class, the chaplains identified things that peak their interests and were fun to them. According to Harrison, caregivers are not always accustomed to having fun, as their job often requires them to take a serious approach to helping others.

Each member spoke of methods that worked for them as far as relaxation and recreation. Some admitted to taking a whole or half-days off, while others noted that taking just a few hours off throughout the workday was also good.

Other recommendations included reading, exercising, watching movies or even going to another forward operating base to get away from one’s familiar surroundings.

The latter recommendation brought on a discussion for a “Jacob Wells” retreat, which will take place at Joint Base Balad in the near future. The three-day retreat for chaplains will be for the purpose of relaxation. The retreat would also have an option for group discussion/sessions to help deal with any problems they might have.

Overall, Harrison considered the course to be a success. He hopes the course helped the others chaplains and taught them other ways to dealing with their problems or issues.

“There’s no better opportunity to serve our country than being a chaplain,” said Harrison. “It’s a great opportunity to serve the young men and women and encourage them in their faith. I’m just thankful for this opportunity.”

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