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Health and Fitness

Are You There, Chaps?

Navy chaplains are a valuable resource

In 2009, while preparing for retirement, Chief Hospital Corpsman Beverly Gosch felt like she was losing it. Earlier in her career she had been sexually assaulted, but had chosen to "suck it up, and drive on." But now, after consecutive illnesses and the loss of yet another relationship, she knew something had to give.

"I went to see the psychiatrist on base," said Gosch. "I was hoping he'd give me some magic pill to help me bring it all back together again."
Instead, he encouraged Gosch to care for her spirit as well as her body.

"I went to chapel that Sunday, and started talking with the chaplain soon after," said Gosch. "There was no preaching or lecturing. Just listening and praying and conversation that I could trust would not be shared with anyone or judged."

The irony was that as an independent duty corpsman for her unit, she worked closely with her chaplain always suggesting to others that THEY speak with him - it was her nature to heal others, while neglecting herself.

"Chaplains offer a safe place for someone to come and talk, particularly if they are not sure what they want to do next," said Rear Adm. Mark Tidd, chief of Navy chaplains. "We offer a listening ear as well as the resources that we bring as trained pastoral care experts to help them walk through what they're experiencing, and we walk with them through the recovery process. When somebody talks to a chaplain, what they say stays between them and the chaplain - so if you've experienced a sexual assault and if you're not sure what you want to do next, then a chaplain is a great person to talk to, because you can begin to sort out your experience in a completely confidential setting.

Chaplains are embedded in commands around the world and are available 24/7, and frequently are first responders when someone experiences a sexual assault or similar type of emergency.

When someone she knew tried to commit suicide, Master Chief Mineman Tracey Hays needed to talk to someone. But who do you talk to who has resources, knows what you are dealing with as a Sailor, and can keep what is said private? Hays knew the answer - the chaplain.

"Wherever chaplains go, we're very intentional about working together with all of the resources that are available at a particular command or a particular location, to bring to bear their abilities to support our people," said Tidd. "We work closely with response coordinators, victim advocates, the new deployed resiliency counselors that are onboard our large deck amphibs and our carriers, and we work with the victims' legal counsel program to make sure that people have the best legal advice so that they can make the best decision for them. We are very intentional about working as a team with medical personnel, behavioral health personnel and other people who are available to help people walk the path to wholeness and recovery."

"The nice thing about command chaplains is that they are around," said Gosch. "They pop in and say 'Hi' and let you know they're there. Talking with the Chaps and renewing my relationship with God on my own, let me know I didn't have to do it all alone."

"For some people it is hard to get past the fact that a chaplain is a religious leader," said retired Chief Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) Tricia Whitmire. "But they are also skilled [pastoral] counselors. And the discretion a chaplain can offer is a huge draw, especially in the information dominance community or other communities where much of what a Sailor does is classified. A chaplain can truly maintain confidentiality."

"When you talk to a chaplain, that's a confidential disclosure; that's not a restricted report, it's not an unrestricted report," said Tidd. "It's something that stays between you and the chaplain. But the chaplain can help you walk through the process of deciding what kind of report to file, when you're ready to file a report, if you want to file a report. As you begin to recover the strength and resilience following an experience like this, a chaplain can walk with you and help you make some of those decisions, identify the resources that are available to you to help you sort that out."

For one Sailor, who chose to remain anonymous, the chaplain was the only person who didn't make her feel like a criminal instead of a victim.

"I was sexually assaulted, and at first did not speak with anyone in the military," she said. "I even kept my distance from Chaps because he was, after all, military. But he sought me out and wanted to hear my side of the story. I provided him proof of everything I was saying, and he listened. He didn't judge me. He became my candle; my glimmer of hope that everything would be ok."

"As chaplains, we can provide somebody the opportunity to be in a safe place, to tell their story as they want to tell it, and we listen deeply to that person tell that story," said Tidd. "We walk with them as they walk the challenging road toward healing and wholeness and growth ... knowing that there's hope and there's healing. It takes courage and strength to walk that road, but our folks don't have to walk that road alone - we'll walk with them."