Thursday, May 31, 2012
Afghanistan: Caring for the warrior's soul, Air Guard chaplain reflects on experiences at Bagram Airfield
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan - The chaplain gave the cross he brought from home to the young Marine Florida who was injured in an improvised explosive device attack. The Marine lost his cross that was on his body armor during the explosion. When the chaplain presented the cross to the youthful Marine, both men cried.
This was Air Force Lt. Col. Brian Bohlman’s first experience as the night shift chaplain at Craig Joint-Theater Hospital here approximately six months ago.
Bohlman, deployed from the South Carolina Air National Guard’s 169th Fighter Wing, would experience these types of scenarios and more throughout his time at CJTH, one of the largest and best-equipped trauma facilities in Afghanistan.
Anytime a trauma comes in the chaplain’s pager will go off, he said.
“Our role in the trauma room is to introduce ourselves, and we tell (those who are injured) we are praying for them,” said Bohlman. “We will also follow them while they are in the hospital.”
The chaplain doesn’t only deal with trauma, but also makes hospital visits to patients who are stable.
“We [the chaplain’s assistance and I] generally see about 15 people a night,” Bohlman continued. “I always ask them their hometown.”
Caring for people is nothing new for the 20-year Air Force veteran.
Bohlman always had a strong internal call to serve, he said. He didn’t meet the requirements to serve as a chaplain so he came into the military in 1992 as a chaplain’s assistant.
After serving four years on active duty and a year in the reserves, he earned a commission through the Air Force Chaplain Candidate Program, the Bel Air, Md., native said.
“Our mission is to care for the warrior’s soul,” Bohlman said. “There are three functions we do. One is nurturing the living, two is caring for the wounded and three is honoring the dead. On this deployment, I’ve done all three, but I definitely prefer the first.”
The rosy-cheeked chaplain pulls out a green book from his left breast pocket. Though, the book is not worth more than a couple of dollars, this book holds a much deeper meaning.
Every injured military member Bohlman has come in contact with is listed in this green book.
Their name, rank and service are typed on a name tag in the book, but what jumps off the page are the notes he has written about each individual.
“I try and write a little bit about everyone I meet,” he said.
There are those who have stories that have stuck with Bohlman: the Army quadruple amputee, the suicide victims and those who didn’t make it.
“In April we had a lot of traumas,” he said with sadness. “At one point there were four patients in the trauma room and I looked down and realized there was a lot of blood on floor. I still have those stains on my boots. I thought about the sacrifice and how our job can be dirty one. I just thought about how they truly left their mark on me.”
After his first week at the hospital Bohlman told the staff that he can pray and chew gum at the same time, meaning he could help out if it was needed.
“I was taking temperatures, putting on the blood pressure cuff, and getting warm blankets,” he said.
“Chaplain Bohlman has been great,” said Maj. Micah Schmidt, an emergency room physician at the hospital. “He participates in all the traumas. He is very helpful. It is not expected but it’s nice. Just the other night he helped me change the dressing on a gunshot wound.”
It is not just the patients the chaplain watches after, but also the staff who work at the hospital.
“We’re here to listen to their stories,” he said. “A lot of times, the staff will compartmentalize what they deal with. You can have an enemy prisoner of war and the Soldier who was injured by the enemy POW, but you have to give the same exact care. They have to keep their feelings and emotions out of it.”
The chaplain is always asking the staff about their well-being.
“I usually ask if they’ve talked to their family lately,” he said. “My goal is to build resilient Airmen. Are you taking the time to exercise? How are you processing what you are seeing? I tell them I’m here regardless of their faith or denomination. My job is to provide care for their soul.”
A lot of times, they just need someone to talk with, he said.
“They have seen a lot but the way they deal with (it) is knowing that many would die if they weren’t here,” he said. “They see the big picture. It helps them during difficult days to pull through.”
While this is the chaplain’s fifth deployment overseas, losing people never gets easier, he said.
Bohlman said he will always have a place in his heart for the military members he has lost throughout the years.
“At the end of the sermons I give, I have a slideshow of the service members I’ve worked with who have died and I always tell my congregation, ‘these are the faces of freedom!’” he said.