Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Rest of the Week

[as originally published in Hamodia, May, 2008]

(Names and events have been altered to protect the privacy of individuals where necessary)


I have a staff meeting every Wednesday afternoon, in which the squadron staff sections each brief the Squadron Commander along with the Troop Commanders and First Sergeants. The meeting is called a Battle Update Briefing or BUB. I brief towards the end of the meeting, and mostly talk about what I see amongst the troops in terms of morale, any counseling trends (such as seeing a lot of workplace conflict or depression amongst the troops) and a "thought for the week" which is may be drawn from any source I think fit's the needs of the squadron and troop leadership. In the chaplaincy, sharing the wisdom of Torah as a guide to 'spiritual' leadership is expected, and can sometimes guide the decisions of leaders which affect Army Soldiers and Families.

I often look to Tanach for ideas in leadership. Stories from David HaMelech's life are especially good as many Soldiers who aren't Jewish are familiar with Tehillim and some of the events of his life. Sefer Mishlei is also a great source of wisdom and inspiration regarding leadership, as well as other well known events in the Tanach.

While K'lal Yisroel has had many great leaders, each with their specific strengths, I can't even imagine myself in front of a burning bush or going up on Mt. Sinai. Facing Goliath? Well, I guess I'm brave enough for most things, but I don't really think that would be me. Truly H" has given us great leaders in every generation.

So, although I don't see myself as ever being like even the giants of even our own generation let alone the leaders of previous generations, I can imagine being a student of a great person, perhaps asking myself what they would do in a given situation. That to me is how Yehoshua approached leadership, at least while Moshe Rabbenu was alive, and so I sometimes look to Sefer Yehoshua for ideas on spiritual leadership.

Towards the end of Sefer Yehoshua, I see him reaching a point that I think we can all aspire to when, at the end of his life, he tells the gathered tribes to serve H" and if they will not, regardless of what they choose, he says "I and my household, we will serve the LORD." (Sefer Yehoshua 24:14-15). It's not easy for a leader to work with difficult people, and stay true to a vision, yet we can see that Yehoshua was such a person who truly led Klal Yisroel through a time of transition.


A Soldier comes by for a second counseling session. We had previously talked about using Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) to treat his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I trained in EMDR, a well researched, first line treatment of trauma, just before coming out here for this deployment. I am amazed at how effective it can be. My own unit has lost one soldier and has not had any traumatic events, so I haven't needed to use EMDR on recent traumatic events. Instead, it has been helpful in resolving traumatic memories that Soldiers bring with them from their life prior to the military. That was a surprise to me, but it makes sense.

Whatever happened, even common every day events, which can under unusual circumstances engender stress reactions, they can be treated in the present by accessing and processing memories associated with the trauma. EMDR does that in a structured and thorough way. I see it being very useful for this soldier, for whom the traumatic events of his early teenage years are played out every day in failed relationships and continuing physical injuries and pain. The session goes well, and we plan on continuing to work again in a few days.

I'm in my office late in the evening, writing a sermon and preparing a shiur for Friday evening, and a sand storm comes up. The wind howls around the building and I decide to stay late rather than get blown around. I find myself wondering if they have tornadoes here in Iraq. There will be coating of dust on everything tomorrow morning, and even the air inside the room looks a bit hazy.

There is so much in Torah that relates to Soldiers and Army life. While I often write my own sermons, I sometimes get something from a teacher or colleague that contains a thought I feel that I have to share with the Soldiers. Even when I share a d'var Torah from one of several Rebbeim who email them to me, I add something to show how it applies to what these Soldiers are facing in their lives here in Iraq.

Friday evening -1900,

Before davening Kabbolos Shabbos, I teach a short, 20 minute shiur called "Roadmap to Prayer" to the 8-12 Soldiers who come there on a Friday evening. I sometimes use material from a class of the same name from Pirchei Shoshanim in Lakewood, NJ, but at the present I'm creating my own shiurim on the Tehillim in Kabbolos Shabbos, mostly from my notes in Yeshiva, in a shiur given by Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer. The Soldiers really enjoyed learning more about prayer. There are a few who have some experience with davening, and one here who is a Baal Koreh in his schul back in Maryland, but most have very little, if any, Jewish upbringing.

After davening, we all go back to my office, where I make Kiddush and Hamotzi over some fresh Challah. I brought a bread machine with me, and all the ingredients necessary, so that we could have fresh Challah every Shabbos. It's a big draw here on Taji, and everyone who comes into my office during the afternoon on Friday while Challah is baking, is very interested in why I'm baking bread. After singing zemiros and benching, we talk late into the evening, with Soldiers drifting off slowly into the night; hopefully bringing some of Shabbos with them as they go.


Shabbos is usually a pretty quiet day for me. I leave the lights on the office, which is pretty large, and looks more like a living room. I'm there in the morning, davening, making Kiddush and eating lunch there and spending the day learning on my own. Occasionally a soldier will stop by to talk in an emergency, but with no appointments, by staying there I'm usually undisturbed. Perhaps that's because most of my 'work' is out visiting the soldiers where they work and live - in the hangers, on the flight line, in the aviation medical clinic or the Tactical Operations Center and especially in the DFAC.

My chaplain assistant comes in to work during the day, and unless it's an emergency, he takes care of things for me, or schedules appointments for the next day (which I give him off). It does get lonely here, but I read and learn throughout the day, and it goes by a little bit too quickly. Next week I'll have a change of scenery as I visit FOB Warrior in Kirkuk, Iraq to provide Jewish religious support up North.