Military Ministry

By: Alice Barr
By: Alice Barr

Kent Svendsen's chaplaincy goes far beyond his church in Forreston. He spent 10 months serving U.S. soldiers at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp for terrorism suspects. He was not allowed to speak to the detainees, which he found frustrating. But far more disturbing was the reputation the camp developed for torturing prisoners while he was there.
"I know nothing about what went on in the interrogation rooms but in the day to day activities we were very adament about treating them respectfully. If there was even any hint that somebody was not doing so, they would be disciplined," says Chaplain Svendsen.
Svendsen says his work as a military chaplain is physically and mentally trying. At first he struggled to reconcile military violence with his faith.
"I've always been an advocate for social justice and for peace ministries and I just feel that the best way to do that is to be in there reminding everybody that everybody's life is sacred, even our enemies."
Now Chaplain Svendsen works to help U.S. soldiers readjust to life after war. He holds suicide prevention training and helps soldiers process the trials they went through overseas. Trials, like dodging mortar rounds, that Illinois National Guardsman from Forreston, Josh Schemel knows all too well.
"On day one, one of my fellow soldiers that I was just sitting on a plane with got hit," says Specialist Schemel.
Back from Iraq for a year now, Schemel says re-entry counseling was key to helping him get back to his life, even though it's often hard for soldiers to admit they need that help.
Sasys explains, "You're weak if you use it. But that's not really the case. The case is you're stronger, you fight harder if you've got your mind clear."
Chaplain Svendsen adds, "There's a reason why we shouldn't try to act like Rambo. Because we're not."
Svendsen says there is a drastic shortage of military chaplains right now. For every ten units that need one, only four actually have a religious advisor. They serve a counseling role as much as anything else, which is something these men and women desperately need.
Svendsen counseled soldiers worried about anything from their physical safety to the emotional strain of separation from loved ones. Specialist Schemel says he does feel the military makes a real effort to take care of soldiers' mental health.
If you or someone you know needs help adjusting to life after war, call the Military Assitance Line at 1-800-342-9647.

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