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Chaplain in Iraq: Homesickness may be the toughest battle

POSTED: November 14, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Life moves in cycles here in Iraq.

One minute everything is going along as normal and then one sound or one helicopter can signal an abrupt change to our daily activities. However, there is one thing that is constant over here. It comes and it goes like a cloud blocking the sun; one minute you are nice and warm and then the next the shadow appears and you suddenly feel a chill.

This thing that I speak of is homesickness. It is probably the No. 1 issue that I deal with here. Homesickness also is the hardest thing to deal with because for all the things I have at my disposal, I have nothing that can take away the longing in the heart to be at home with family and friends. Yet it is my job to try.

I once tried to describe homesickness and the best that I could do was to describe what it felt like to me. It makes me feel as if I am the only person in the world going through a period of loneliness. That is the trap of homesickness. To feel better, you have to realize that what you are feeling is temporary and that others feel the same way, especially over here.

This Veterans Day, if I had one answer for everyone who has asked what they can do for the folks over here, I would say "Pray for them and their time here."

Every war brings separation and trouble. This war is no different. The people you meet here are great folks doing a hard job, all the while missing like crazy the folks back home. Throw on top of that word from home that a family member is sick or that something else has broken at home and it just heightens the anxiety here. The best thing that helps homesickness is word from home in any form. E-mails are great because they are quick, and snail mail is great because you can have something to hold while you dream of home.

The typical treatment I give for homesickness is a listening ear and at some point try to get them to laugh at something particularly crazy around here in order to get their minds back focused on the task at hand. It helps when you are an old, slow-talking chaplain from the South. Usually just the sound of my drawl helps them smile.

So as you reflect on this day and pay thanks to the veterans of our great country, say a special prayer for those who are fulfilling the legacy of those who have come before who endured their own homesickness and found a way to serve with pride. Today’s military members are living up to the best of that tradition and finding their own way to make it through the war and find their way back home.


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