Caregiver of the Soul

by Chaplain Lieutenant Colonel BRIAN BOHLMAN, Air National Guard

Illustration of chaplain sitting at bedside for OCF story

As military members, it is important for us to “tell our story” as a healthy way of processing the emotional impact of serving in harm’s way, especially after returning from deployment. During my last week as a hospital chaplain in Afghanistan, I gave a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility to some public affairs staff members who later wrote an article about chaplains caring for the warrior’s soul. It was a divine encounter. Before they left, God used me to care for their own souls while using them to help me tell my story—which is hard to do at times.

I provided ministry to over 1,500 wounded warriors with many asking me to pray for them, their families, and especially the members of their unit they’d left behind. Regardless of their faith or beliefs, I always took the time to listen to their stories of grief and pain, and then thank them for the sacrifices they had made for freedom. 

During this tour, my fifth deployment, I also had the privilege of ministering to and helping the devoted doctors and nurses who rendered their medical expertise to the injured. These caregivers are forced to keep their feelings and emotions out of their difficult work, often confronted by unique challenges such as providing the same level of care to both a prisoner of war and the very soldier the POW wounded. These medics sometimes just need to talk to someone. 

As a Christian chaplain, my ministry model resembles Christ’s own—walking the road with grief-stricken men, asking them questions, taking time to listen to their pain, and offering comfort from Scriptures (Luke 24). 

Combat zone ministry presented me with unique perspectives on faith and fear. My faith was tested every time there was indirect fire from an incoming rocket or mortar attack. I had to deal with my own fears that I could be severely injured—or never return to my family. 

Beyond physical injuries, many wounded warriors I ministered to had hidden emotional, mental, and spiritual wounds deeply affecting them. As a caregiver of the soul, I learned that keeping a ministry journal helped me process the images and emotions I had from serving in a war-zone trauma hospital. 

This is what I journaled on one of the most difficult days of my tour:

A suicide bomber north of our location detonated himself near a playground, killing and injuring over thirty innocent victims, including three American soldiers. While assisting the medical staff, I noticed that much of the trauma floor was covered in puddles of blood, including the soles of my tan boots. It reminded me of a World War II photo of a chaplain kneeling next to a soldier with boots covered with mud. The photo caption described how chaplains must be willing to get dirty in order to bring ministry to service members wherever they are serving—in the field, the woods, or a tent. Or in a hospital trauma unit, covered with the blood of America’s bravest men and women who sacrificed themselves for freedom.

Since returning from my tour, I am continually reminded of something I once heard, freedom has a taste to those who have fought for it, and almost died, that the protected will never know. Since the earliest days of our nation, every generation of Americans has answered the call to duty in times of peace and war.

I may never again see the unsung heroes I served with, but I will always remember them and treasure the opportunity of ministering God’s presence, care, and hope to them as we walked our portion of the Emmaus road together.

 

Brian is the wing chaplain at the 169th Fighter Wing, McEntire Joint National Guard Base, SC. He serves as an associate professor of chaplaincy ministries at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, and has written several books about the military oath and also the chaplaincy. He and his wife, Shelley, have a daughter. To contact Brian or for information about his own nonprofit military ministry, check “As Seen in COMMAND."

 

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