Chaplains' Reach Out to Soldiers Extended in Afghanistan

By Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, Jan. 26, 2007 - U.S. military chaplains serving in Afghanistan want troops who have been extended to know support is there for them. "Hang in there; we're right with you," is what chaplains want recently extended soldiers to know, a senior chaplain here said.

About 3,200 soldiers of 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, learned yesterday that they will be extended in Afghanistan until June, about 120 days past their scheduled redeployment date.

"Chaplains are uniquely and sympathetically aware of what these soldiers and their families are going through right now," said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) William Laigaie, Combined Joint Task Force 76 chaplain. "Everything that is being done now will continue being done, including worship schedules and visits to outlying areas."

Laigaie has been a chaplain for 21 years and has seen firsthand the impact of sudden extensions. How individual soldiers deal with the news depends on how each person deals with change and loss, he said. "I find that the impact to this kind of news is the same across time and across units," he said. "Soldiers love their jobs, but they love being with their families.

"They'll feel a sudden change and loss. The change is they're staying. The loss is that they will not get to see their families yet," Laigaie added. "Once they get through the disbelief and the checking, they will think about their losses. 'What about my assignment? What about my family?'"

Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Andy Gibson, Combined Task Force Chamberlain chaplain, said soldiers and families can feel angry, disappointed and betrayed, and it's important for soldiers to know that those feelings are normal.

"It's normal to feel those things," he said. "But this horrible feeling will pass, and they will be coming home. We're going to make it; we're going to do our jobs; and we're going to come home."

The chaplains outlined things each soldier should do or remember:

    Focus on success. "It's important that each soldier focus on success," Laigaie said. "Once they have it, it's theirs forever. In the end, they're going to be proud that they stood up to the task, that they gave more. Stay proud, work proud and return proud."

    Talk to families. "Our families are particularly important right now in supporting that soldier," Gibson said. "Soldiers should, in turn, encourage them."

    Keep the right perspective. "Put into perspective that the period of time extended is much shorter than the period they've already endured," Gibson said. "They're trained well and have advantages over a soldier who just deployed. They're veterans, more aware and more battle-hardened. They need to remember they are part of a larger program to keep Afghanistan free, and if (Afghanistan were to be) abandoned, their last year would have been in vain."

    Be professional. "Be professional, know your job, and exude the confidence your soldiers depend on," Gibson said.

    Grieve privately; encourage publicly. "Supervisors need to get their perspective and mental health in line," Gibson said. "They should get as much information as they can and share that with soldiers and with families in the rear, keeping operational security in mind. This is not the time to clam up, to say, 'Suck it up and drive on,' but to explain what's going on. Grieve privately. Encourage publicly."

    Seek help if you need it. "Soldiers should not wait for a problem to become a crisis," Laigaie said. "Seek help sooner rather than later. Buddy care is particularly important. We'll pull each other through."

Combat Stress offices are located at Bagram, Kandahar , Jalalabad, and Orgun-E, and experts travel to remote forward operating bases for counseling, Gibson said.

The extended soldiers, assigned to Task Force Spartan, should remain proud of what they are doing in Afghanistan, Laigaie said. "Rise up; meet the task; and overcome," he said. "Remember that this reflects the confidence our leaders and the American people have in the American soldier. They have confidence in the Spartans that they will rise to the task."

(Air Force Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher is assigned to Combined Joint Task Force 76.)

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