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Seeking Peace in a Military City


October 23, 2013

Seeking Peace in a Military City

Lynn Newsom, Evelyn Hanneman, John Kent, Steve Newsom, Joe Henry, Duane Atkinson

By Evelyn Hanneman
BPFNA Operations Coordinator

"The military's job is to reprogram soldiers so that they will do their job - killing people." Steve Woolford knows what he is talking about; his job is to help those seeking to become a Conscientious Objector once in the military and those traumatized by military service. "The military's job is to fight wars and win. They don't want to see the problems soldiers have but to get rid of them as defective and get them out with few if any benefits."

I was at Quaker House in Fayetteville, North Carolina, participating in the joint Quaker House-Baptist Peace Fellowship Friendship Tour September 7-9. 2013. The new Quaker House directors, Lynn and Steve Newsom, attended the BPFNA Peace Camp in 2012 and were eager to find ways to partner on peace issues.

For 44 years, Quaker House has made its presence felt in this military-focused city that is home to Fort Bragg. It is a “census-designated” area, with the 2010 census showing Fort Bragg to be home to 39,457 people within its 251 square miles. It is the home of the US Army airborne forces and Special Forces as well as US Army Forces Command and US Army Reserve Command.

Steve is a GI Hotline counselor for Quaker House who, along with his wife Lenore Yarger, talks to numerous soldiers each day, helping them deal with the problems many soldiers face in today's military.

Steve sees how war destroys the people who fight them: bodies, minds, souls and families fall to the demands of war. And the current military has learned that to get the job done they have to reprogram people to bypass individual conscience. Thus, studies show that while fewer than 50% of soldiers actually fired their guns in World War II and fewer actually aimed to kill, now, thanks to changes in basic training, over 90% of soldiers shoot to kill.

Steve indicated that basic training now includes violence, threats and coercion. These are the very behaviors experienced by those who then feel the need to exert control in their lives in similar ways, setting up military personnel to have increased incidences of violence against the community as well as against their spouses and children.

Dog tags hanging from the ceiling.

More soldiers are experiencing severe physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds. And the services for them are not keeping up with the demand. Soldiers with life-threatening wounds are now surviving, but the military does not have the resources to serve them in the long term.

The recent budget cuts to the military do not mean that fewer wars are being waged or fewer soldiers are fighting. It means that services for the troops and their families are drastically cut. It appears that the military is giving “other than honorable” discharges to those wounded physically and mentally so that they will not receive the benefits that they have earned through their years of service. Getting psychiatric treatment can lead to being declared “unfit for duty” and being discharged. This is one way the military seeks to lower soldier suicide rates since if the soldier commits suicide following the discharge it won’t show on the military statistics.

A trip to Fort Bragg led to the discovery that the strained glass windows in the chapels on base depict Bible verses with a modern military twist: The verse, “I have set watchmen…” is paired with soldiers seeming to protect Vietnamese peasants working the rice paddies. No mention of Agent Orange or the massacre at My Lai.

To learn about community services for military, we met with Dr. Greg Perkins of Alliance Behavioral Healthcare who, as retired military, understands the mental health issues soldiers and their families face. 

Dr. Perkins emphasized that it is most important to learn coping skills for dealing with the stress of deployment: Exercising, pursuing hobbies, volunteering, spending time with supportive friends, taking regular naps. Equally important is to give children age appropriate information and not put family life on hold while the service member is deployed by keeping to routines, limiting TV and computer time, getting out for exercise and eating cooked food together.

Ron McDaniel, Outreach Program Specialist for the Fayetteville Vet Center, spoke about the mental health services for vets who served in combat and their families offered at Vet Centers that are government supported.

"Iron Mike - In honor of Airborne Troopers whose courage, dedication and traditions make them the world's finest fighting soldiers."

Quaker House currently has a donor-supported domestic violence counselor on staff. Joanna does not use her last name and keeps her personal phone number and address secret as protection against angry spouses. Military victims of domestic violence are caught between the need to report the abuse and get help for themselves, their children and, hopefully, the abuser, and the need to protect their family’s livelihood, since abusers frequently receive a dishonorable discharge with no benefits.

We closed with a look at how the faith community, and especially peace churches, can respond to these needs. First is understanding the situation, both in general terms as well as what is true in your community for current military and veterans. It is important to understand that military personnel are prisoners of the military industrial complex and economics. This is a systemic issue that needs addressing even as we find ways to assist those traumatized by military service one at a time.

One speaker noted that the USA as a whole suffers from PTSD. Our response must be to inform and educate people about it. This “secondary trauma” can be made worse by watching too much news on war, leading to heightened fear and anxiety. We all need to learn to live into the biblical call to “Be not afraid.”

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