The mission was to debrief snipers in the process of returning from Bosnia. Due to the nature of their mission, they were a mixed group, some Marines, some Army. Most of them had been on six months tours, partly, though not wholly, because many snipers in the Army (and apparently the Marines) are reservists, often police in civilian life. At least, this was true 15 years ago.
This particular Marine captain, however, was not a policeman. Debriefing combat troops for an Army chaplain requires more than just rubber stamping. The ideal involves spending at least half a day, preferably a full one, have lunch together, maybe go to the gym — all forming an avenue to provide lots of info on support networks, as well as assessing overall emotional state.
It's one measure that can greatly impact post traumatic stress and isolation. Unfortunately, recent budget cuts have reduced forces of chaplains, active or reserve social workers and psych nurses — but I'm getting ahead of myself. That'll be my main point.
In brief, this particular Marine recon officer was (probably still is) a third grade teacher. One clue, for me, that he was still mentally healthy, was that he was able to see the irony in his situation, the contrast between where he had been a week ago, and where he would be in a month, back in Delaware.
We are, and Constitutionally have been, a nation of citizen soldiers, and on Memorial Day weekend, that is worth remembering. Men and women spend a timespan of life, a few years, serving, or perhaps join the Guard/Reserves, serving part time. Even career full timers usually retire early enough to have a second career.
As implied above, there are Constitutional reasons for that.
The point of this column, though, is that we, as a nation, need to address whether the care provided for our soldiers as they return is enough. Medical folks can address the medical care; that is a whole Pandora's Box I am not qualified to open. But as a former Active and Guard Army chaplain, I am concerned about cuts in mental, spiritual, emotional care. As mentioned above, there are less caregivers in uniform trying to do more, with less.
This, to soldiers who are returning from a series of operations made, by circumstances beyond our control, as chaotic and unpredictable as anyone can imagine.
A conversation with a recruiting NCO is pertinent to my point. The phrase that she used, skeptically and with resignation, was that we are now in the age of the "throwaway soldier."
Memorial Day parades and picnics are great, but is our nation addressing the bodies damaged by terrorist techniques and the emotional damage of surrealistic battle conditions?
Every day is a winding road. … Sheryl Crow
Clyde Davis is a Presbyterian pastor and teacher at Clovis Christian High School. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org