by Katie Schuermann
Chaplains and troops are not the only ones who are brave. Diane Richard, member of Tallmadge Lutheran Church in Silver Lake, Ohio, received a phone call last February that her son, an Apache helicopter pilot and captain in the Army, had been injured in an accident. His helicopter had somersaulted into the mountains of Afghanistan, crushing practically every part of his body. Diane and her husband rushed to their son’s side at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.
“He went from being this capable Army officer to being dependent on me for everything,” Diane explained. “We have had to go through watching his first steps again just like when he was a child.”
Diane spent the next four months serving as her son’s non-medical attendant at Fort Sam Houston. Family, friends, church members and even strangers flooded her family with support, writing letters and emails, mailing cards and prayer shawls and bringing food to family members at home in Ohio. “It has really opened our eyes to the love of Christ that’s in the community,” she said.
Diane’s church also made sure she was never without the Word. “All during Lent, our church recorded the sermon and sent the bulletin. . . . I could pop it in and listen and just feel like I was a part of the congregation.”
Mary Hokana, wife of U.S. Army Chaplain Steven Hokana, has faced her own challenges at home over the years. Just three weeks after giving birth to her daughter, Mary watched her husband deploy for Operation Desert Storm. Left behind with two children under the age of two, Mary wondered when and if she would ever see her husband again. However long his tour of duty lasted, she knew she would be waking up the next morning in a single-parent home.
“You need a break,” Mary admitted. Her family lived too far away at the time to help with the kids. “I had a great neighbor. We would call each other on the phone and say, Sounds like you need to meet in the middle.’ So, we’d meet in the middle and have coffee.”
It is not just servicemen and women who need support. Their families need us, as members of the LCMS, to care for them too, whether it is our ears to listen, our hands to serve, our shoulders to cry on or our lips to remind them that they are valued and important. Consider reaching out to the military spouse left alone to care for her children. Offer her childcare that she might enjoy an evening out, invite her family to be a part of your own family activities and receive her children into your church with zeal.
Sponsor her children at summer camp, youth conferences and national youth gatherings, and be the surrogate grandparents they have always wanted. Prepare meals for military families taking care of a wounded warrior, write them notes of encouragement and pay their electric bill. Whatever you do, remember these families in prayer, for they give up so much more than just their homes, jobs and social life. They give up their loved ones.
License to Carry
Chaplains in the United States military do not carry a weapon. Ordered by the Geneva Conventions to be noncombatants, chaplains run toward the boom of battle armed with only Word and Sacrament. But they do not run into the fray alone.
“I carry as many weapons as I can get my hands on,” Sergeant Nick Waters, a Chaplain Assistant in the Army, explains with a smile. “My job is to keep us safe and get us home.”
Chaplain Assistants are the bodyguards of the ministry. Trained in combat skills, they protect the chaplains who bring pastoral care to war-weary troops both on and off the battlefield.
One chaplain and one assistant are assigned to each battalion, and they work together as a “unit ministry team” to serve their fellow troops. “They’re not meant to be a little assistant pastor. They’re not just a minion to do your bidding,” Chaplain Mark Nuckols, who has been deployed twice, explains.
Chaplain Assistants are more than just guardians, however. They also assist the chaplain with administrative duties and occasionally mediate between the chaplain and his soldiers.
“Sometimes, it is easier for a soldier to talk to me rather than to an officer,” says Waters. “They talk to other soldiers,” Nuckols agrees. “They make connections and relationships.”
While not required to provide pastoral care themselves, Chaplain Assistants do look out for hurting soldiers and direct them to the chaplains for spiritual care. Together, these agents of hope serve the wounded and the suffering in times of war and peace.
About the author: Katie Schuermann is a member of Our Redeemer, Dallas, Texas.