Caring for the warrior's soul

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Alexandria Mosness
  • U.S. Air Forces Central Public Affairs
The chaplain gave the cross he brought from home to the young Marine from Florida who was injured. The Marine, who was engaged to a girl in Jacksonville, Fla., had been injured in a roadside bomb explosion and lost the cross that was on his body armor. When the chaplain presented the cross to the youthful Marine, both men cried.

This was Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Brian Bohlman's first experience as the night-shift chaplain at Craig Joint-Theater Hospital here approximately six months ago.

The chaplain 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 patient comes in to the hospital, the chaplain's pager goes, he said.

"Our role in the trauma room is to introduce ourselves, and we tell them we are praying for them," said Bohlman, who is deployed from the 169th Fighter Wing at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C. "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.

"(The chaplain's assistance and I) generally see about 15 people a night," Bohlman said. "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 Reserve, he earned a commission through the Air Force Chaplain Candidate Program.

"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 carries a small 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 resides in this green book. Their name, rank and service are typed on a name tag in the book, but what makes the pages special are the notes he has written about each individual.

"I try and write a little bit about everyone I meet," he said.

There are particular service members 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. (Dr.) Micah Schmidt, an emergency room physician. "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's not just the patients the chaplain watches after, but also the staff members who work at the hospital.

"We're here to listen to their stories," Bohlman 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. "Are you taking the time to exercise? How are you processing what you are seeing? My goal is to build resilient Airmen. 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 to, he said.

"They have seen a lot but the way they deal with 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 exclaimed.