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Chaplains help Marines cope with offensive in Afghanistan

WILMINGTON – Chaplains deployed to Afghanistan have provided support for Marines dealing with the loss of their own in recent battles. After two weeks of intense fighting in Afghanistan, an Afghan flag now flies over Marjah, a former Taliban stronghold.


By: Andrea Pacetti
Feb. 25, 2010

"They are optimistic and hopeful about a new beginning, and we've got a lot of work to do to make that happen," Brigidier Gen. Larry Nicholson said.

The cost of securing Marjah has already been high. About a dozen Camp Lejeune Marines died in the offensive.

In times of tragedy, chaplains like Navy Lt. Robert Johnson step in.

"Chaplains walk around talk to the different Marines about the pressures and the struggles of losing a brother or sister that they really loved," Johnson said. He says Marines tend to worry more about their comrades than themselves.

He remembers being in the hospital when a Marine who lost both legs regained consciousness.

“This Marine looked me in the eye and said, 'Chaplain, how are my Marines doing?' and that is the mentality that is the focus of all these Marines out there," Johnson said.

That loyalty makes it especially difficult when Marines lose one of their own. Chaplains stay with a unit before, during and after a deployment and provide spiritual and emotional support. They also look for signs a Marine should be referred to military psychologists.

"Chaplains typically spend enough time with their Marines to know how their Marines act on a daily basis, and if they're a little bit more angry or impatient or a little bit more quiet and reserved, those are indicators that that Marine might be struggling," Johnson said.

He says there are many other support systems for Marines once they return from Afghanistan. There are also programs through the Marine Corps and Marine Corps Community Services designed to help the families of fallen Marines.

Johnson says when a Marine or sailor dies, the unit conducts a memorial service in the field. It's recorded and sent to loved ones back home.

"It is also designed for the unit to provide some closure for them, and it's a way to show honor for their sacrifice," he said.