A lifeline for soldiers coming home

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

A lifeline for soldiers coming home

March 28, 2008    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
tparham@flumc.org     Orlando {0822}

NOTE: See related story “Military seeks ‘a few good’ pastors” [March 28, {0821};
An e-Review Feature by Jenna De Marco] at http://www.flumc2.org/FCNN/articles/000046/004641.htm and comments from military chaplains about their experiences at http://www.flumc2.org/FCNN/articles/000046/004643.htm.

An e-Review Commentary
By the Rev. Terri Jones, U.S. Army Reserves**

The soldier sat across from me and began his story.

The Rev. Terri Jones prepares to serve communion. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Terri Jones. Photo #08-0796. Web photo only.
His wife had received e-mails from him that included suicidal comments and had notified the command. He was now on suicide watch. Nervous and ashamed, he told me he was certain it had only been a “momentary lapse” — the gut level response to the “dear John” letter his wife sent him just weeks before he returned from a year in Iraq.

Unfortunately, such stories are too common in war zones. What was uncommon, in this case, was that this soldier was a fine psychologist who had just spent a year counseling the battle stressed soldiers in Iraq.

He was trained to handle every situation, until his wife left him for another man. Suddenly, this talented, intelligent, strong counselor could not help himself. Instead, he was lost in the darkness of hopelessness — ready to take his own life.

His story reminded me that (although) suicide ideations are not uncommon to our stereotype of “weak” people, they are a struggle to everyone, even strong people whose emotional foundations are under attack.

The good part of this story is that after the command provided him support, several of his colleagues in Iraq were given early release to accompany him all the way home. The community came together to remind him that he was not alone in his pain; there was hope and restoration.
That experience remains for me one of the prime examples of the difference community makes in hard times.

A large part of my chaplain duties now at home is organizing and giving suicide prevention briefs. Since we are a nation at war, perhaps most of us would not be surprised that completed suicides have risen slightly in the military. What is surprising, however, is that the highest contributing factor to these suicides is relationship destruction.

Psychological pain from broken relationships and feelings of isolation contribute more to completed suicides in the military than many other factors. In response, chaplains and behavioral health specialists have revamped suicide prevention from training handouts and statistics reports to small group discussions. Community, we realize, is just as important as information.

Suicide is a painful subject and a devastating experience for those personally involved. But, like most problems in life, our struggle to understand pain often gets caught up in the quest for facts, answers and logic, when the deep power is found in less tangible things. Listening ears, attentive eyes, open hearts, are not second best to the expert opinion, but partners.

In the context of war, many of us feel helpless. Soldiers sometimes feel helpless to cope and civilians often feel hopeless to understand. We all search for answers when our hearts are crying for relationships. This means everyone can be the difference in the lives of military coming home from war.

Whether or not we understand their pain exactly or share a war experience does not mean we have nothing to offer when we see veterans struggling. In the end, adversity is not the final determination. Community is the real difference between hope and despair.


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Jones is an ordained elder of the Florida Conference serving as an Army Reserves chaplain.

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