Assisting with Adjustments After Afghanistan: Wounded Warriors, Chaplains and you.

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Afghanistan Mission was closed today after over 12 years and over 40,000 members deployed.  To acknowledge this milestone day, I dedicate my 180th blog post to:

(1) raising awareness for the Wounded Warriors Canada (Phil Ralph and his team).

(2) expressing admiration for the vital work of our  CAF Chaplains – nicknamed “Padres”.

(3) equipping Canadians with a simple and supportive questions to ask military service members they care about.

A day like this highlights the need and importance of us all assisting CAF members and their friends/families with adjustment after Afghanistan!  This blog post is not a military insider’s perspective, but rather a compassionate clergy person and community member who is concerned about the care of Canadians, in the military and civilian life.  I have posted 6 informative links at the bottom as well as inserting them throughout the post, as blue hyper-text.

People are not flags.

There is a flag lowering ceremony at the end of a military mission.  Our Canadian flag is lowered with reverent care, folded up tight and tidy, then flown home safely.  Simple and important symbolism.  However, people are not flags.  People should be handled with more reverent care than a flag, yet they do not transition home from war as easily! People who have returned/will return from serving on active deployment, who have experienced combat, are not simply folded-up tidy and flown home to be quickly run up the pole again at home – crisp and bright – snapping in the wind.  It is easy to understand that there are some very difficult adjustments to life during and after a member’s deployment.  Obviously, Kabul is not Canada.  A recent learning experience brought that truth hope in dramatic fashion.  My mother took me to see The Two Worlds of Charlie F, as a birthday present.  It was an authentic, powerful and informative theatre production that depicts the experiences of military service people (and their families) before enlisting, up to and during deployment and then after return to home soil.  Warning:  It is shocking and messy at times.  It graphically reinforced what I knew already: injuries sustained are not just physical, but also mental, social, emotional, spiritual, financial, etc.  Sadly and tragically, many people cannot adequately cope with the new normal.  Social problems and issues like addiction, mental health, suicide, grief/loss, anger/abuse, separation/divorce, PTSD, etc are possible outcomes.  Circumstances can be improved with the right kind of care. These issues listed do occur in all Canadian populations, but the media has raised awareness of tragic rates in the military. Self-destructive ways of coping with distress in military life may be common knowledge, but it in December, General Lawson made a 2 minute video statement about suicide and mental health challenges in the Forces. View it here. He is right when he says, “Care is available to each of us!”

Chaplains have a vital role in successful strategies for resilience and recovery.

War, like other dramatic distresses in life, can break people: physically, socially, emotionally, ethically and socially.  Transitions can be tough.  Social support and spiritual care are precious and essential parts of the transition towards resilience and recovery.  Care can come from formal and informal channels.  We can all care for our friends, families, colleagues and neighbours.  We can all assist with the adjustments after Afghanistan.  One formal way that CAF support is provided is through Chaplains.  You can read this quote about their vital role below and/or watch a video here:

The Chaplain Branch contributes to the operational effectiveness of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) by supporting the moral and spiritual well-being of military personnel and their families in all aspects of their lives, during conflict and peacetime. Chaplains minister to the needs of all members of the CAF and their families, whether they attend church or are of the same religion – whether they have any spiritual beliefs at all.

CAF chaplains have dual accountability, to ecclesiastical and military authorities. As faith group leaders, chaplains come under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of their denominations and faith groups. As commissioned officers, they are subject to the code of service discipline and are responsible to their military superiors. The Chaplain Branch is headed by a Chaplain General who advises the Chief of the Defence Staff and reports administratively to the Chief of Military Personnel.

All Canadians can assist CAF members with the adjustments after Afghanistan.

You don’t have to be a trained professional to express care!  You can help as an interested friend, family member, colleague or neighbour who wants to help.  Immediate family may be desperately motivated and hoping for changes.  Check out the link below for CAF support services.  What do you say to open up a caring conversation with a service person?  Everyone is different in how they cope with distress and transition, but here are safe and simple questions I recommend when getting-to-know anybody.  Try something like, “What is it like being you?” or “What about your personal experience do you think I could understand?” See what they say?  Repeat as needed.  Training helps, but it is not mandatory! I imagine we can all recount stories of support  we received from people who simply cared enough to honour our journey of life by creating a safe space to be real, without judgement, and really listen to us.  You may also be able to recall expressing care for people and seeing their positive receptivity.  In my life, I have found care and support from formally and informally trained care-givers.  Also, as I try to care for others, I believe a little love and listening goes a long way these days! 🙂  Do you agree? You can do it!

Commitment to Continual Care
Afghanistan is not the first or the last armed conflict for Canadians.  The need for remembrance, reflection and  care will continue! Wounded Warriors, Chaplaincy and you are all part of a successful strategy for caring for our service people and, for that matter, all our neighbours in general.  I pray for hope, help and healing in all individuals in our world.  As it relates to our troops, may the expectations and hopes expressed by General Lawson echo through the Canadian neighbourhoods and communities that we all seek to serve and shape together.

“Today, after more than 12 years and the deployment of over 40,000 Canadian Armed Forces members, our mission in Afghanistan has come to a close. This mission has had a profound impact on the generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen and women who contributed to it, and to their families who supported them throughout. Together with all Canadians, we will commemorate our fallen and we will care for our ill and injured. As our flag comes down today, we look back on our mission with pride, knowing that through our efforts we have helped Afghans to gain the hope of a brighter and more secure future.”- General Tom Lawson, Chief of the Defence Staff in the March 12, 2014 Press Release.

6 Informative Links:

Mar 12, 2014 Press Release: CAF Completes Military Mission in Afghanistan

Video Statement by General Lawson on Mental Health in the Forces

Two Worlds of Charlie F

Wounded Warriors Canada

CAF Support Services Page

CAF Chaplaincy Job Description VIDEO

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