Conversation: Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser
Chaplains’ role in soldier readiness
Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser commands the U.S. Army’s 101st
Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Ky. He visited recently with Editor Ken
tpe: With several units currently deployed in Iraq and
Afghanistan, you speak of “battleproofing” soldiers and their families. What
does that involve?
SCHLOESSER: The 101st has 12,000 soldiers in Iraq. They’ve
been there for some months, and we just got back from visiting them. We have
4,000 either in Afghanistan or soon to join the headquarters there. We’ll
eventually have about another 4,000 in Afghanistan.
ÒBattleproofingÓ basically speaks of good, world-class,
tough training to prepare a soldier for the rigors of combat, as well as the
challenges of dealing with counter-insurgency. Our soldiers prepare each and
every day, whether weÕre out on our local ranges or when we go down to our
joint readiness training center and interact with role players in a weeklong
activity offering the full spectrum of combat and counter-insurgency scenarios.
We do a lot more, however, to help the soldier. We insist
that each and every one of them has an assigned battle buddy who watches over
them, both here in garrison as well as in combat. Finally, we spend a lot of
time preparing mentally and emotionally both the soldiers and their families
for the rigors of being away for 12 to 15 months. This is where our chaplains
tpe: What are some steps taken to prepare soldiers’ families
for their family member’s deployment?
SCHLOESSER: The Army has a great number of programs they
have institutionalized and invested heavily in over the last two years as the
stress on families has become clearer to us and probably more acute. These
programs include everything from enhanced child care to programs that help a family
cope with long-term deployments. Military One Source is a toll-free number
offering help for everything from worries about their soldier to worries about
themselves to worries about how to take care of a car. That’s done at the Army
At the installation level, we have a number of institutions
like Army Community Service and our Morale, Welfare and Recreation Department.
We provide a number of local programs, both in the way of counseling as well as
in financial, emotional and mental preparation for separation. Follow-through
programs are in place once the soldiers are gone.
Finally, at the unit level, we offer Family Readiness
Groups, which is a wonderful concept where we have volunteers and paid
assistants who come together to help families cope with deployment.
tpe: How do you help reintegrate soldiers with their
families following deployment?
SCHLOESSER: We start to prepare families and soldiers months
before soldiers redeploy back home. They receive a series of briefings, but
more importantly, they get access to counseling. We discuss the issues that are
going to be on the table once the exuberance of meeting and coming together
gives way to real life.
Spouses are now used to a lot of independence. The soldier
thinks he’s coming back and things haven’t changed in 12 to 15 months, yet the
roles may be slightly different. The family needs to factor in what the
soldier’s been through and what the spouse has been through as well as what the
children have faced. So all that’s discussed with the soldier and with the
family before the soldiers come home.
There’s another element to that process. Once we’re back,
our Chaplains Corps and Army Community Services provide a number of workshops
and retreats. For example, the chaplains run a marriage retreat, which is
always well attended by families trying to build a stronger marriage in spite
of the previous separation.
tpe: Could you comment further on the value of chaplains in
combat situations and also at home?
SCHLOESSER: In our division of 26,000 soldiers, we have
almost 80 chaplains. The majority of those will deploy with us and are deployed
either in Iraq or in Afghanistan. Some will stay here to take care of our
families. Those deployed provide, by denomination, all the normal services you
would expect from a chaplain. But they also provide counseling in country.
Combat is tough. It drains a person and places an awful lot
of mental difficulties on a young adult. Chaplains can help them understand and
place their experiences into a broader spiritual and emotional context.
Here at home, of course, the families go through the same
types of stresses. They don’t experience combat, but they face the stresses of
being here worried about their soldier, worried about their own adaptation to
being without their soldier, without their husband, without their wife.
Chaplains not only do the normal services, but also provide that type of
counseling and linkages to keep a family resilient.
tpe: Could you share what post-traumatic stress disorder
(PTSD) is and what is being done to help soldiers suffering with it?
SCHLOESSER: PTSD for a soldier is basically a condition
where they re-experience what they have lived through in combat. Symptoms
include nightmares and flashbacks of combat. Soldiers may become irritable or
agitated, or may display total numbness to conditions occurring around them.
Sometimes they feel disjointed not only from the unit they’re in, but also from
the people who love them the most, their own families. If not treated, PTSD can
lead soldiers to inappropriate or dangerous activity and lead to the collapse
We prescreen soldiers before we deploy. Many of us have been
on more than one deployment and we try to see where soldiers are mentally and
emotionally before we go. While we’re in the field our chaplains play a huge
role, but we also have behavioral consultants and mental health professionals,
and they watch over our soldiers, especially those who experience a significant
trauma while deployed.
As soldiers redeploy, we again screen them. We have a
follow-up screening about three to six months after they return. So there’s a
great deal of emphasis on trying to identify PTSD. More importantly, there’s a
great deal of emphasis on communicating to soldiers that screening and
treatment are never meant to ostracize them. They are part of an Army family
that’s been together in a tough situation, and we’re here to help treat it
rather than to point them out and say they’re no longer fit for soldiering.
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