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Gazette Premium Content At conference, chaplains learn to care for others, themselves

By Tom Roeder Published: April 20, 2014

Chaplains from Pikes Peak-region military bases and the civilian community gathered at U.S. Northern Command this month to learn how to care for caregivers.

In the past, the annual chaplains conference focused on how military preachers can help in disaster response and wartime events. But the command's new top chaplain used 2014 to make her comrades look in the mirror.

"'Physician heal thyself' - we know that doesn't work," said the command's top chaplain, Navy Capt. Brenda BradleyDavila.

The conference drew scores of people including speakers from government agencies including FEMA and the FBI. They talked about how to build up chaplains so they can help troops work through some of the worst events humans and Mother Nature can cause.

Chaplains with Northern Command work to support troops as they deal with difficult events. Chaplains from the command last year provided spiritual counsel to soldiers and airmen who helped battle the Black Forest fire.

BradleyDavila said a big piece of that work is teaching troops how to bounce back from tough experiences, a skill the military has dubbed "resiliency."

"Resiliency training is on the forefront of what our chaplains provide," she said.

Chaplains hold a primarily religious role, rooted deep in military history as officers who meet religious needs of troops.

But increasingly, chaplains have played a key role in the mental health of the force, offering marriage counseling, advice on dealing with post-traumatic stress and help for other situations.

They also brief commanders on how troops are doing.

"A part of our job is to provide advice to the commander on matters of morale, religion and morality," BradleyDavila said.

But the job brings stresses that can wear chaplains down.

"They are helping our forces remain resilient," BradleyDavila said. "The question is helping the support team and the chaplains remain resilient."

A key, she said, is helping chaplains understand that while they represent a higher power, they don't have superhuman abilities.

"For senior chaplains, especially, it's important to ensure our caregivers are cognizant of the fact that we don't expect you to be more than the human person you are," BradleyDavila said.

In addition to examining care for chaplains, the conference delved into future disasters.

"They talked about and they strategized what needs to be done - what kind of assessments need to be done to ensure that our chaplains, our forces and our communities are ready from a faith-based position," she said.

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