Nevius said chaplains don't pretend to be mental health therapists, and they refer those who need it for professional help. In additional to mandatory theological education before they can even apply for the chaplaincy, chaplains go through regular supplemental training in marriage relations, suicide prevention, and sexual assault and PTSD detection.
Lt. Cmdr. Arlin Hatch, a psychologist and acting mental health flight commander at Hill, said mental health professionals and chaplains work together to identify and ensure airmen and their families get the treatment they need.
"We have a great working relationship with our chaplains and other community helpers in supporting units affected by death or other potentially stressful events," Hatch said. "Our mental health staff has also collaborated with chaplains in working with families during post-deployment reintegration retreats."
Chaplains also serve as advisers to military leadership on issues of morale and ethics.
"In the combat environment that is so demanding, it can be very trying on one's character, so the chaplain provides that voice of values and ensures leadership is doing what's right and keeping the right focus," said Meeker, a Methodist who wanted to be chaplain since she was a teenager and is the first woman to hold the position of executive officer for the Army's Chief of Chaplains.
Caring for the chaplain
Chaplains also have their own personal and spiritual needs while they attend to others. In the Air Force, each command has a chaplain that looks after the needs of the chaplains at bases assigned to that command.
During a yearlong deployment to a NATO airbase in Izmir, Turkey, Nevius said he received visits from a chaplain who traveled the region. But he also drew upon his own spiritual disciplines to cope with being away.
"For me, it was scripture reading and prayer," he said.
It also helped that he was serving in an area of the world with historical significance to the early days of Christianity. Within 45 minutes of Izmir were the locales of the seven churches mentioned in the New Testament Book of Revelation. Nevius put together "spiritual journeys" for airmen to visit the Biblical sites.
"The Bible came alive to me as I visited Ephesus" and other sites mentioned in the New Testament, he said.
More importantly, the experience gave him an understanding of what other airmen go through when they are away from home and family.
"You can read books and go to briefings and PowerPoints, but until you experience it, you can't fully understand what they are going through," he said. "As you go through it, you learn the coping skills and how to minister to your own family. Experience itself is a great teacher."
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