Fallen Soldiers March®

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Fallen Soldiers March® 501 (c) (3) non-profit

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Fallen Soldiers March®

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A 501 (c) (3) Non-Profit Dedicated to
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Holistic Care of Military Members

Holistic Care of Military Members

by Aurelia Smith

Holistic Care of Military Members

Important Questions and a Roadmap

How can we as biblical counselors grow in our skill to minister God’s Word to the whole military person sitting across from us? How might we compassionately care for the inner man while at the same time faithfully care for the outer man?

The image-bearers we counsel in the military context can be under tremendous, prolonged physical trials that take a toll on both their physical body and their mind, all while they seek to sacrificially serve our nation. It is essential that we recognize that the precious embodied soul we counsel is operative within a context that is specifically unique and impacts both body and spirit.

Since there are a myriad of ways to unpack this topic, this article is just the first installment of a series. Lord willing, future articles will include the following topics and more:

Ways to counsel about faithful stewardship of the body within the military context

Ways to become good detectives as we walk alongside our veterans

The practicalities of what it means to be an advocate and member of the care team

Informed ways a counselor can interact with the military health care system

Ways churches can coordinate their military member care

In this first installment, I will seek to do three things. First, I will briefly discuss my personal impetus in discussing this topic. Second, I will talk about the important role observation plays in our compassionate, informed whole-body care of military members. Third, I will leave you with some action items.

Impetus

 Before launching into further discussion, I’d like to give you a little of my background to highlight why I have a profound interest in this subject. I was born into a military family and grew up globe-trotting. My father served in the military for twenty years, and I am a veteran. I am an Air Force Academy graduate who served as an intelligence officer both stateside and overseas, supporting several combat operations.

I have struggled for over seventeen years with life-altering health trials. Most days I experience some level of pain and physical exhaustion. Some days I am able to physically function, and others I am not. There have been times in the past when my husband and I were so certain I would soon go home to be with our Lord that we made sure all our affairs were in order. There is no area of my life that has not been touched by my physical maladies.

My entire marriage has existed in the military context and has been marked by these health trials. Our family moved multiple times and experienced TDYs, deployment, and command responsibilities (my husband was career Air Force till the end of 2019) all while trying to manage sometimes devastating health concerns.

Over the years, I’ve been to some of the best medical facilities our nation has to offer. I’ve also participated in ground-breaking studies for rare and undiagnosed conditions. The journey I’m still walking, by God’s grace, is a varied one that keeps me looking for root causes amidst my many symptoms and seeking to be a faithful steward of my body and the time and capabilities God is giving me.[1]

Because of my long-term affiliation with the military, as well as my health trials in this unique context, I long to encourage fellow biblical counselors to consider how they can grow in their whole-body care of military members and their families.

Importance of Observation

In the pages of Scripture, Jesus demonstrates his keen power of observation and awareness over and over again.

He listened to the spoken words of the people around him. (Matthew 17:14–16; Luke 7:1–9)

He sensed the touch of a suffering woman and power flowing from him even in the mob-like press of people around him. (Mark 5:24–34)

He was aware of the cultural realities the widow from Nain faced due to the death of her son and observed with compassion her weeping. (Luke 7:11–17)

He observed that his disciples had had no time to eat and rest and sought to address the issue. (Mark 6:30–32)

And, of course, Jesus did something that was beyond earthly observation and awareness. He saw and observed the intentions of the heart of those around him. (John 4:1–26; 6:25–27; 13:25–27; Luke 5:21–22; 9:46–48)

In each of the cases mentioned above, Jesus’s observations and keen awareness led him to loving and decisive action.

What kinds of observations have you made about the military member you are counseling? All of us are used to looking for "halo data" as we counsel in real time, whether that be in person or virtually in these pandemic days. But in a very real way, we can be observing our counselee long before we begin our first session.

For instance, our Personal Data Inventories (PDIs), if tweaked with the military context in mind, can provide much data to observe and glean from. Understanding details of their service like what their specialty is, how long they’ve been in the military, how often they are deployed or on temporary duty assignments, and whether they have suffered any injuries can yield rich data that will begin to help you minister whole-body care.

Are you located near a military installation? What have you observed about the missions going on around you? For instance, where I am located in northwest Florida, there is a joint Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) school. We regularly have young military members worship at our church while they undergo training there. Being aware of where these military members are assigned alerts us right away that we probably won’t have much time with them since they graduate from training in less than a year and then leave for their new duty station. If an EOD school member seeks my help in counseling, it helps me greatly to know that time is of the essence and that their relationships within the body probably won’t have the same depth since they won’t have the privilege of being in our location long. Their short duration with us can impact the resources I choose to use with them and even how often we meet in order to make the most use of the short time God gives us. Knowing their type of assignments can also tip me off to the types of common dangers and injuries this particular military sub-culture faces (obviously, in this context, bomb blasts, and the potential to incur traumatic brain injuries (TBIs[2]) are an everyday job hazard).

Loving observation and informed awareness can be powerful first steps in ministering to both the inner man and the outer man with compassion and wisdom. Using Jesus as our example, we should allow our observations to lead to loving, informed counsel and action.

Action Items

When was the last time you asked God to give you a heightened ability to observe and assess the military member you are working with? Please pray that God will do this for his glory and for the ultimate good of the veteran you are counseling. (Philippians 1:9–10; Colossians 1:9–10)

Read through the passages listed above, paying careful attention to how Jesus demonstrated the power of observation in each circumstance.

Also read Matthew 17:14–16; Luke 7:1–9; Mark 5:24–34; Luke 7:11–17; Mark 6:30–32;  John 4:1–26; 6:25–27; 13:25–27; Luke 5:21–22; 9:46–48. What resonates with you and why? Which of these forms of observing and assessing might you commit to applying in your counseling ministry with military members (those that don’t require omniscience of course!)?

Does your church or counseling ministry PDI need to be tweaked to include important data for the military members you counsel? It may be wise to expand the medical section to include queries on TBIs and concussions since these are common. You could also include information about military experience, status, branch of service, deployments, and combat experience, to name a few.

If you live near a military installation, what do you know about it? What units are resident on the installation? What types of missions are conducted there[3]? Have there been any news events recently that could lend themselves to outreach and ministering to the military community (like suicides, training accidents or other crises)?

Aurelia Smith is also a member of the Fallen Solders March Advisory Board, learn more below:

FSM Advisory Board

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[1] For more about paradigm shifting encouragement for fellow sufferers, please read this article: https://www.aureliamsmith.com/post/a-theology-of-suffering-paradigm-shifting-encouragement-for-fellow-sufferers

[2] In November 2019, the Defense & Veterans Brain Injury Center reported that approximately 414,000 military personnel experienced TBIs in the 2000–2019 timeframe (https://dvbic.dcoe.mil/sites/default/files/tbi-numbers/DVBIC_WorldwideTotal_2000–2019_Q3.pdf). Since the symptoms of TBIs can mimic "mental health" issues, it behooves us as biblical counselors to be discerning.

[3] Most installations have websites accessible to the public. Here’s an example of the site for Eglin AFB, FL. https://www.eglin.af.mil/Units/

 

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