U.S. military chaplains air issues

February 17, 2011

(A U.S. army chaplain leads a Sunday service in a chapel in the U.S. forces' camp in Baghdad, January 28, 2007/Erik de Castro)

Chaplains representing every branch of  the U.S. military and many faiths gathered on Wednesday to discuss everything from counseling stressed-out soldiers to a recent lawsuit charging the military neglects a sexually abusive culture.

“Yes, there is sexual abuse. They said it is not attributable to the culture fostered by the Department of Defense, it is attributable to the culture of our society,” said the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance,  who helped lead the discussion held in the House of Representatives’ Cannon Office Building.

In a federal lawsuit, outlined in the New York Times, 17 current or former service members portrayed the military as allowing a sexually charged culture that fails to prevent or punish incidents of rape and sexual abuse. The chaplains’ view echoed that of a Defense Department spokesman that sexual assault is a wider societal problem, but was a priority of the military.

The repeated deployments of U.S. soldiers to Afghanistan and Iraq over the past decade has taken a toll on psyches, making it difficult for the roughly 2,000 U.S. Army chaplains and hundreds more in other branches, Gaddy said.

“They said of the repeated deployments, ‘Yes, that is very worrisome concern and it something that is not going to end any time soon’,” he said.

“There are a lot of people who are not clinically diagnosed (with post-traumatic stress disorder) who have severe issues related to that and the chaplains try to handle it in their regular counseling procedures,” he said.

Among the participants in the discussion were a rabbi who is a captain in the Army Reserves, a Methodist, a Muslim  and a Baptist. If the chaplains themselves become stressed by their duties, Gaddy said they did not air it.

“They just talked about the fact there were really bad days and some really good days, but they didn’t get into their own stresses,” he said.

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