Military chaplains provide front line spiritual support
Written by Eileen Norrington
This section on the west side of the Pentagon collapsed after terrorists crashed a plane carrying 64 persons into the building. © Newhouse News Service / Carl Bower photo.
When American Airlines hijacked Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon at 9:40 a.m. on Sept. 11, UCC Navy Chaplain Jane Vieira abandoned her planned schedule at the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery in Washington, D.C.
Instead, for the rest of the week she provided ministry at the Pentagon, first to victims and later to rescue and recovery workers, helping them deal with the trauma of their work. She also ensured that vital information resources would be available on that bureau's website for families, survivors, rescue workers and all those coping with trauma of this attack.
When the U.S. military goes in harm's way, our chaplains go with them. UCC chaplains bring the presence of God into the field, aboard ship and wherever our troops go.
In the aftermath of the recent terrorist attack on the Pentagon, chaplains were on the scene assisting the injured and traumatized survivors.
UCC Navy Chaplain Jerry Waddell, assigned to the National Naval Medical Center Bethesda, Md., has been at the fore of the pastoral care effort for trauma victims and families.
UCC Army National Guard Chaplain Bruce Farrell was recalled to active duty to provide pastoral care and referral resources to family members of those killed or missing in the Pentagon attack. He and other chaplains are working around the clock at the family reception center set up in Crystal City near the Pentagon.
UCC Army Chaplain Elizabeth Youngberg reports that her 700-member "soldier congregation" at Fort Campbell, Ky., "is in a tail spin of grief." "Keep us in your prayers," she adds. "W are working around the clock and will be as long as this crisis holds. As an old quote goes, 'No one prays for peace like a soldier.'"
Other chaplains played a key role in the wake of the attack by accompanying casualty assistance officers who notified family members that their loved one was dead or missing.
Helping families and coworkers to struggle with the realities of the death and destruction, chaplains are conducting funerals and memorial services for many of the people whose bodies have been recovered since the Pentagon attack.
While many chaplains work with the immediate trauma victims, others are preparing to go overseas with their units. Before deploying, the chaplains will help service members to cope with stress and uncertainty as they prepare for separation from their families. Those chaplains who remain at home bases will continue to provide spiritual support and practical resources to families facing the stress of an absent family member and the knowledge that their loved one may not return safely.
Those chaplains who deploy will be a pastoral presence with their units. They will conduct religious services, advise the commander on religious and moral issues, and provide pastoral counseling. They will help the troops wrestle with the hard questions and be there to face danger beside them.
The UCC has 34 chaplains on active duty in the Army, Navy and Air Force. Several of our 39 UCC Reserve and National Guard chaplains have been recalled to active duty for an indefinite period of time to ensure the religious and spiritual care of our troops, wherever they are sent in the days ahead.
The Rev. Eileen Norrington, a retired U.S. Navy Captain and chaplain, serves in the Parish Life and Leadership Ministry in the UCC's national setting.