Military Chaplains May Suffer Deeper Emotional Wounds

iraq war
(US Army)

Among the thousands of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan coming home by the end of the year, about 450 are military chaplains, most serving in the U.S. Army. Their experience in the field is unique among soldiers, so when they return they may face unique emotional burdens.

Armed with only their faith and a calling to help others, they serve alongside troops in the battlefield, notes Tony Scott Macauley, an ordained minister, former U.S. Army Ranger and author of A Dream Before Dying.

“They’re subject to the same emotional and physical injuries as the soldiers they’re there to serve,” says Macauley. “Sometimes the stress can be even greater because they have to balance their very deep-rooted sense of duty with a need to guard their own safety.”

The intensity of a faith that prompts people to put themselves in harm’s way in order to comfort others can lead to profound feelings of guilt—even self-doubt—in the aftermath. 

Frequently, chaplains face Iraqi and Afghan civilians approaching them in apparent distress, crying and pleading for help, he says.

Do they follow their instincts to aid the person or do they hold back, knowing that person may be an explosives-laden enemy decoy? Depending on the outcome, it’s a decision that might haunt any moral person but can be especially traumatic for one committed to serve in a faith capacity.

Army chaplains do not carry weapons, Macauley points out. They’re accompanied by an armed, unordained chaplain assistant whose job it is to protect them.

 However, chaplains do get wounded. In Afghanistan, U.S. Army Chaplain Capt. Dale Goetz died in action in 2010 after the convoy he was traveling in was struck by an improvised explosive device. In 2009, a chaplain died five years after suffering massive injuries caused by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Maj. Henry Vakoc suffered a fatal fall at the nursing home where he lived because of the extent of his war injuries.

“The danger is as real for chaplains as it is for the soldiers they serve. They’re wherever the soldiers are, including on the battlefield,” Macauley says. “But they carry no weapon and, in fact, they can be subject to censure if they grab a weapon and try to defend themselves.”

A new moral difficulty for some chaplains occurred in September when the Army repealed its “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on homosexuals.

“For those whose faith says homosexuality is a sin, it poses a huge problem,” Macauley says. “Are they now required to deny a tenet of their faith? Part of their role in the military is to teach—to provide a source of faith for soldiers. What happens if they teach that homosexuality is a sin? What happens when a gay couple seeks counseling?”

As chaplains return from wartime service, Macauley says, many will need the sort of support and understanding they have provided others for so long. Surprisingly, it may be especially difficult for this particular group to ask for that. “When you’re the one people turn to for help and guidance, it can be very hard to seek it for yourself.”

To contact us or to submit an article, click here.

Get Charisma's best content delivered right to your inbox! Never miss a big news story again. Click here to subscribe to the Charisma News newsletter.

Five ways to deepen your relationship with God, increase your faith and save money!

  • Deepen Your Relationship with God with a FREE eCourse: Click Here to view all of our free e-Courses. Favorite topics include Fear, Forgiveness, Holy Spirit, Supernatural, and How to Hear God.
  • Super Discounts and Close-Out Specials: Click Here to view all our bundles and close-out specials and save up to 86%! Prayer, Holy Spirit, Anointing, the Supernatural and more.
  • God Wants to Anoint Women Now: Rise up and enter the anointing of Deborah, Anna, Esther, Ruth and Hannah. You were called to go higher. Click Here to learn more.
  • Change Your Atmosphere and Circumstances Through Prayer! John Eckhardt's prayer bundle gives you six powerful books to help you pray and change any situation. Click Here.
  • HUGE Bible Sale!: Click Here to save up to 50% off a great selection of Bibles. Plus, get a free gift with each order!

Subscription Special: Subscribe to Charisma for Only $24.97 and get a free gift. With your subscription, you'll receive Born For Significance by best-selling author Bill Johnson. View Offer

Attention Pastors and Leaders: Leadership training and development are crucial for success. Enroll in a FREE 1-hour leadership mini-course by Dr. Mark Rutland. View Details

Charisma News - Informing believers with news from a Spirit-filled perspective