Tag Archives: convoys

Raw Edges: Are there other Chaplains out there Like Me?

Before a Convoy

The past week or so I have had to go back and revisit my Iraq experience. Part of this is due to work, we have had seminars on the spiritual and moral affects of trauma, the challenge of forgiveness and most recently discussing best spiritual care practices for those who suffer from PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).  The training has been excellent but has kicked up a lot of stuff in me.  Added to this have been reports out of Afghanistan about more casualties in particular of a helicopter that crashed that killed 9 Americans, the Taliban claim credit for downing the aircraft but the circumstances are not fully known.

One of many helicopter flights, this a daylight flight in a Marine CH-46

The course last week on the spiritual and moral affect of trauma and the challenge of forgiveness brought up issues from Iraq but not upsetting.  In fact the seminar taught by Dr. Robert Grant author of The Way of the Wound was helpful to me in sorting out what I have been going through for the past couple of years.  The training this week is also good, good information but for me it is more unsettling because it deals with images, videos of convoys, burning vehicles and other things like that.  The convoy images coupled with the news of the helicopter crash actually had me pretty shaken as I spent a large amount of time in small convoys with small groups of Americans and Iraqis in pretty dangerous areas of Al Anbar Province stretching from Fallujah to the Syrian border as well as a couple of hundred hours in the air, usually at night in various Marine and Army helicopters as well as the MV-22 Osprey.  During those experiences we took fire a couple of times and had a few experiences on some of our flights that were a bit sporty.  So for a while I was lost in my own stuff but was able to pull out in not too long of time.

Convoy stopped near Al Qaim

Some of our discussions revolved around how trauma and war can impact a person’s image and relationship with God, whatever that may be.  The focus was on us as pastoral care givers caring for those in our charge.  Once again this really good information for me as I will be dealing with a lot of PTSD and TBI cases are Camp LeJeune.  But there was one thing that got me.  I came back from Iraq as most of my readers know in pretty bad shape dealing with PTSD and issues of abandonment feeling disconnected with the Navy and my church.  Part of that was what amounted to be a loss of faith so severe that I was for all practical purposes an agnostic for almost two years because I couldn’t make sense of anything to do with God, I felt God forsaken it was to use the image of St. John of the Cross, my Dark Night of the Soul.  I am doing better now and feel like my faith has returned to some degree, certainly not like it was before but while I have doubts I am okay with that part of the journey now.

Christmas Eve not far from Syria

I know a number of military Chaplains from the Navy and Army that have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan in some sort of faith crisis many suffering from PTSD or TBI.  I am actually wondering how many are out there.  I know that I am not alone, but I need to know if others are going through this experience too.  It was for me a desperate feeling to be the Chaplain, Priest, Pastor and spiritual care giver when I was struggling having no answers and only questions, when people asked me about God and I didn’t even know if God existed.  This is the unspoken cry of at least some and possibly quite a few Chaplains and other ministers who have experienced trauma and moral injury.  One thing my incoming CO at my old unit asked me was “where does the Chaplain go for help?”  At that point I said that I didn’t know.  The sad thing is that I know many chaplains and ministers that have a basic lack of trust in their fellow clergy and do not feel safe confiding in them because they feel that they will be judged, not listened to or blown off.

A different war with the Bedouin in the western desert of Iraq about 5 km from Syria.

When I was diagnosed with PTSD in the summer of 2008 I made it my goal to grow through this and hopefully as I go through this to be there for others. Part of my recovery came through sharing experiences, the good and the bad on this site.  Elmer the Shrink asked me back when I started this if I thought that it would be helpful to me in my recovery, but he also asked if I was okay in opening up about this topic.  Since I didn’t see many people writing about this from the perspective of being a “wounded healer” I told him that I thought that I had to do it.  The experience has been terribly painful but at the same time I think that it has been worth it because as a Priest and Chaplain I think now more than ever in my weakness I can be with people in their difficult times without trying to “fix” them.

Colonel David Abramowitz with me and RP2 Nelson Lebron after presenting me with the Defense Meritorious Service Medal and Nelson the Joint Service Commendation Medal for our service with our advisors and Iraqis in Al Anbar with the Iraq Assistance Group. After this we both dealt with abandonment and other issues on our return home.

So who is there for “damaged” Chaplains? Who takes care of us? I was lucky or maybe blessed. I had Dr Chris Rogan ask me if I was okay. I had Elmer the Shrink do a lot of the hard work with me. At Naval Medical Center Portsmouth I had a Command Chaplain that was wise enough to protect me while I went through the deepest and darkest valley of my life.   As I recovered he challenged much like a Baseball Manager would challenge a pitcher who had been very successful on other clubs coming off the disabled list to regain his self confidence and ability to get back on the mound with a winning attitude. Not every Chaplain gets what I got and I am blessed.  I still have work to do and I need to recognize my limits, much as a pitcher who has recovered from Tommy John surgery makes adjustments.

So this is my question:  Are there others other there like me?  Are there other Chaplains experiencing such feelings after Iraq or Afghanistan? I’d really like to know because I believe that in what might be termed “a fellowship of the forsaken” that we can rediscover faith, belief and hope again and in doing so be there for others.

If you want please let me know if this encourages you or feel free to comment. Prayer is still hard for me but I promise that if someone asks that I will pray and to the best of my ability be available for them as others were for me because I don’t want any Chaplain to experience the abandonment that I felt went I returned from Iraq having felt that it was the pinnacle of my military career. To those Chaplains I just want to say that you are not alone.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, iraq,afghanistan, Military, Pastoral Care, philosophy, PTSD, Religion, Tour in Iraq, US Navy

PTSD in the Danger Zone and Blue Lights in the Rear View Mirror…Caught in the HOV damn!

Today I was able to have a pleasant chat with one of Virginia’s finest State Troopers.  The man was doing his duty and found me in violation of using the HOV-2 lane on I-264 West as I headed into work this morning. I didn’t get upset and was polite to this officer and did not make excuses to him to try to weasel out of the ticket even though I could have.  However I know that such excuse hold no weight with the officer writing the ticket, unless you are a good looking girl which I am not and I can say from past experiences that lady cops don’t take BS stories from guys they just glare at us and write the ticket, but I digress….

Any long term reader of this site knows that I am an Iraq veteran and have dealt with a pretty serious case of PTSD since my return from deployment in February of 2008, a condition that got a lot worse before it started getting better.  If you are curious my journey since that time please click the “PTSD” button on the subject list.  It has affected a considerable amount of my life, emotional, physical and spiritual and I am only really beginning to emerge from the nightmare.  However it still has an effect on me in crowded or unfamiliar places, airports and in bad traffic where I feel boxed in and vulnerable. My problems with nightmares, flashbacks and sleep problems are not as bad as they were and my life is on the uptick again, however bad traffic is a trigger.

I got started a bit late to work this morning, not real late to be late for work late, but late in the sense that the traffic was heavier than I normally deal with on my commute.  As I got on the highway the first thing that happened was that I got cut off and almost runoff the road by some idiot and once I got out into traffic things did not get better as people cut me off and boxed me in.  Anyone who has been on a lot of convoys in Iraq or Afghanistan can understand, congested areas are dangerous and for me and a good number of other veterans that I know when we get in a congested area it triggers the same hyper vigilance and need to get to a safe place or defend ourselves as similar situations in the combat zone. There are times on the road here if I had a turret gunner I would have him put a couple of rounds from the .50 cal or M240 series machine through the offending vehicle’s engine.  My hyper vigilance is keen on the road, it is among the places that I never relax and I can almost sense when someone is going to do something dangerous.

This morning was one of those kings of mornings, I had barely gone a mile down the road and I was looking for safety in an open space where I can get out of danger.  I found this today in the HOV lane and just as I thought I had gotten out of the danger zone I noticed a blue unmarked police car to my right. I immediate slowed down and moved back into the regular traffic lanes and moved toward the right anticipating that he would come and get me.  Once again I was right, he slowed down and worked his way behind me and just before the I-264 and I-64 interchange the pretty blue lights mounted in the pretty blue unmarked Chevy Impala came on and I pulled over.  The trooper asked if I knew why he had pulled me over and I acknowledged that I was in the HOV lane.  He took my license, registration and insurance paperwork as well as my military ID and about 7-8 minutes later came back with a ticket which is more like a sheet of paper and gave me the pink carbon copy.  He explained that signing was not an admission of guilt and informed me of a court date as well as how I could pay the fine early.

Was I guilty of driving in the HOV-2 without another passenger in the car?  Yes.  So by the letter of the law I am guilty.  However I do believe that I had mitigating circumstances so I will go to court not to claim that I was not where I was but to explain the danger that I felt that I was in and how I needed to get out of the danger zone.  I thought that the “Danger Stay Back” convoy sign sticker, the Multi-National Corps Iraq and “IRQ-I Served” bumper stickers would adequately identify me as someone who might be vulnerable but alas this was not the case.  The trooper was professional, polite and businesslike.  I could not find fault in anything that he did. I felt stupid that I had let myself get into the situation but at the same time knew that I was basically acting on instinct from my time in Iraq.

I will go to court to explain the mitigating circumstances and if I need to either bring a letter from or drag along Elmer the Shrink to explain this.  Who knows maybe the judge will have mercy on me, if not I pay the fine and until the state legislature passes an exemption for military personnel to use the HOV, which they are debating I will have to get blow up doll to inflate if I feel like I am in a danger zone and have to jump into the HOV.  On the way home I was able to hold it together.

So there it is, guilty as charged but with mitigating circumstances.  I know that I am not alone. I have heard countless stories of Iraq and Afghanistan vets doing the same thing in traffic.  It is no fun to feel danger.  I am an excellent driver, have driven thousands of miles on the German Autobahnen and in crazy traffic in a lot of countries as well as some of the worst traffic areas in this country, but that was before Iraq and PTSD.  I’m glad that I’m getting better but days like today show me that I still show the wear and tear from my time in Iraq and PTSD.  At least I did not have an emotional crash or anger rage that well could have happened just a few months ago.  The grace of God is good.

If you know any veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan or even those from Vietnam who suffer from stuff like this feel free to share this with them.

Pray for me a sinner,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, Military, PTSD