Church Leaders Say Returning Vets Need Time, Attention

When Staff Sgt. Brandon Hill came home from his third tour in Iraq last year, he expected his wife and young daughters at the welcoming ceremony. What he didn't expect were the pastors, secretaries and members of their Assemblies of God church to be there, too.

“It was awesome -- the fact that they would give up their time to come see us back,” said Hill, who is stationed at Fort Sill, an Army installation in Lawton, Okla. “It really shows that they really care.”

As Veterans Day approaches, denominational leaders and chaplains with years of military service are calling on more churches to find ways to minister to the men and women who have recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Chaplain Keith Ethridge, director of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Chaplain Center, said about 1 million military members have returned to civilian life -- with some continuing in Guard or Reserve forces -- after serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

While some churches, especially those near military installations, might advertise themselves as being “military friendly,” Ethridge and other leaders are trying to expand that universe to other American congregations.

“What we try to do is encourage, in general, a supportive atmosphere,” said Ethridge, whose center is in Hampton, Va. “We want our clergy and our churches at large to be aware of how they can make referrals when they have friends or loved ones in need of support.”

In recent years, the VA has ramped up training, including in rural areas, for clergy to learn more about veterans’ issues and how they can refer former military members facing physical and spiritual health challenges. It held eight training events for rural clergy in 2012, and more are planned for 2013.

As part of his new work as a chaplaincy executive with the Southern Baptist Convention, retired Army Chief of Chaplains Douglas Carver is urging congregations to be places where veterans can turn as they make the transition home.

Carver knows the challenges firsthand: “I retired a year ago, and one of the hardest things for me to do is to transition back to a community.”

What It’s Like to Go to War

On the PBS Moyers & Company, Bill Moyers recently interviewed Karl Marlantes, a highly-decorated Vietnam veteran, Rhodes Scholar, author, and PTSD survivor. Their deeply moving discussion focused on what happens to young soldiers in combat, the eventual trauma of having killed fellow human beings, and the assistance they need upon returning home.

"'Thou shalt not kill' is a tenet you just do not violate, and so all your young life, that's drilled into your head. And then suddenly, you're 18 or 19 and they're saying, ‘Go get ‘em and kill for your country.' And then you come back and it's like, ‘Well, thou shalt not kill' again. Believe me, that's a difficult thing to deal with," Marlantes tells Bill. "You take a young man and put him in the role of God, where he is asked to take a life - that's something no 19-year-old is able to handle." …

“The people that fight it are going to be fighting these battles, these spiritual, psychological battles most of their lives. And they need help. And I think that we have to be prepared as a nation that if we're going to commit a 19 year old to war, we're going to have to give him some help. And we're going to have to give his family some help. I mean, for every soldier with post-traumatic stress, there's a wife that is sitting there wondering what in the hell is happening to her husband. And why is this- what's going on here? She needs help and the kids need help.”

House GOP Moves to Act on Religion in Vets’ Funerals

Religion News Service photo courtesy Mandy DeVries via the Grand Rapids Press

Raymond A. Gress, buried in Michigan. Religion News Service photo courtesy Mandy DeVries via the Grand Rapids Press

Families of deceased veterans were shocked and angry last year when religious references were banned from funeral rituals and a Memorial Day service at Houston National Cemetery.

A lawsuit eventually resolved the matter, but a House bill would enshrine in law the lessons learned from that isolated incident.

Such protections already exist as a result of the lawsuit and Bush-era policies that protect families’ free exercise of religion at military funerals. However, the bill filed by Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, would spell out families' rights to religious expression while curtailing the government’s role.

Mixed Memories of Memorial Day

National Cemetary, Dorti /

National Cemetary, Dorti /

Last week was Memorial Day, but if you are like me your memories of the day are fraught with colorful childhood parades but also with horrors filled with sadness. It makes one wish for the power to short-circuit war.

The earliest recollection for me of a grieving “Gold Star” family is the gathering around the death of my oldest cousin Bob in World War II. Memorial Day dinner with my 93-year-old mother clarified some of the difference between family lore and a 4-year old’s memory. As though it was yesterday I see Bob’s parents and brother gathering with extended family, before the funeral, on the lawn of my grandparents’ home in Rock Rapids, Iowa.  I have no recollection of a memorial service or war cemetery graveside ceremony… but I do recall the tears and unspeakable grief of elders consoling one another about something awful. 

Bob had miraculously survived the Normandy Invasion and the Battle of the Bulge. As the war was nearing its end in the spring of 1945 he was catching some “R and R,” asleep upstairs in a two-story house near the Belgian front. One of his friends was cleaning a M16 on the floor below.  The gun went off killing Bob instantly as he slept.  He became one of the many (20-30 percent it is estimated) war casualties killed by “friendly fire,” or “accidents.”  

Former Marine Exposes Vet Suicide Epidemic

For Newsweek Magazine, Andrew Swofford writes:

About 18 veterans kill themselves each day. Thousands from the current wars have already done so. In fact, the number of U.S. soldiers who have died by their own hand is now estimated to be greater than the number (6,460) who have died in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. Eleven years of war in two operating theaters have taken a severe toll on America’s military. An estimated 2.3 million Americans have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, and 800,000 of those service members have been deployed multiple times.

Read his full story here

VIDEO: Images from NATO Protests in Chicago

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

Several thousand protesters spent five hours peacefully chanting, singing and marching against war. At the end, nearly 40 young veterans dramatically took their military medals and hurled them toward McCormick Place, where world leaders met behind closed doors.

It was supposed to end there — at Michigan and Cermak.

But a “Black Bloc” of about 100 anarchists wanted something else. The group, which chanted “What do we want? Dead cops!” as it left Grant Park at 2 p.m., surged to the front of the protest crowd and tried to break through the imposing line of Chicago cops in riot gear blocking its path.

Watch more videos from protests in Chicago inside the blog.

Afternoon News Bytes: Feb. 13, 2012

Obama Budget: National Debt Will Be $1 Trillion Higher In A Decade Than First Forecast; Why Evangelicals Must Defend Muslims; Obama's Election-Year Budget To Target Rich; GE To Hire 5,000 U.S. Veterans, Investing In Plants; Is Class War Unfolding In GOP Primaries?; It's The Wealth Gap, Stupid; From The Pulpit And In The Pew, The Knicks’ Lin Is A Welcome Inspiration; Ethics Issues Tarnish Congressional Image; Senate GOP Push For Keystone Vote On Highway Measure; Obama Administration Slows Environmental Rules As It Weighs Political Cost.

Homeless Veteran to President Obama: "Why Are We Sending Money to Pakistan?"

During the first-ever all-virtual interview conducted by Americans via Google+'s "hangout" group video chat feature, a young, homeless veteran in Boston asked President Obama why the United States still gives money to countries such as Pakistan, that are known to fund terrorism — especially when there are so many veterans living on the streets after returning from the war. The session was broadcast live via YouTube.

Watch the video of their conversation inside the blog...


U.S. Veterans Show Solidarity With Iraqi Restaurant

After vandals threw a 20-pound rock through the window of an Iraqi restaurant in Lowell, Mass., its owners, overwhelmed with fear at this unwarranted hate crime, came close to shutting its doors permanently.

That is, until a group of U.S. veterans flooded into the restaurant to support the owners.

Last week, Veterans for Peace organized war veterans and citizens to gather in solidarity with the Iraqi store owners. Their efforts filled the seats of the restaurant twice, and also brought the neighborhood a clear sign that city hate crimes won't be tolerated by people of good will.