Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “ From the Homefront ,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, chief of the office of aviation forces at Coast Guard headquarters, for 15 years. She currently serves on the board of directors for the Military Family Advisory Network .
Written by Shelley Kimball
Leyra Dyar’s husband, Seaman Eric Dyar, was underway for the first time as a Coast Guardsman when she received the call everyone dreads. Her father-in-law had been in a car accident.
Her husband made it back to land, and to the hospital in time to say goodbye to his father.
“During this tragic time in our family, the chaplain in the Los Angeles area visited us in the hospital and at my mother-in-law’s house,” Dyar said. “He prayed with us and really showed he cared.”
Dyar’s father-in-law passed away just three months ago, and they are still dealing with their loss.
“We’re brand new into the Coast Guard, and having so much support during a time like this means a lot,” she said.
Dyar was so moved by the support offered her that she plans to become a chaplain herself.
There are about 40 chaplains serving the Coast Guard across the country.
Capt. Gregory Todd, the chaplain of the Coast Guard, said that the main goal of the chaplain corps is to help families find their way through a spiritual readiness journey, but not one limited to a particular religion.
“The thing that makes chaplains different than maybe your civilian clergy is just a sense of an awareness of where everybody is at,” he said. “We’re very free to tell you what our faith tradition is, but the focus is not us, but it’s on the person we’re working with.”
Todd describes the chaplain corps as another facet of community support within the Coast Guard. And that is just the experience Nikki Kamerman said she has had.
Kamerman said that in her two years as a Coast Guard spouse, she has known three chaplains and two others who are training to become chaplains. She said she has relied on chaplain support to keep her marriage strong, to find advice and help when she has needed it, and to participate in Bible studies and worship services. The support she has received has been a fundamental value in her family life.
“I know it’s a normal thing for women to find other women and talk out our frustrations,” she said. “Men don’t do that. I think having a chaplain is an invaluable resource for men in all branches to be able to talk to, find encouragement, and helpful information.”
Chaplains facilitate spiritual readiness, Todd said, which is a more broad idea than strictly religious study.
“Spiritual readiness is a larger concept – finding those things that give meaning to life and provide a guideline for how we live our lives,” he said. “It’s outside of ourselves. Religion is definitely a part of that, but we don’t want to limit it to that.”
For example, Todd recommends a program called Real Warriors, which is aimed at active duty members and their families who would like to increase their spirituality in whatever form that takes for them. He said the USO also offers a program called Oxygen to military families to help with marriage resiliency. Another extremely popular program offered through the U.S. Navy is CREDO, a personal growth and marriage retreat offered in different regions.
“We just cannot have enough open spaces with those things,” he said. “They are really, really popular.”
Much of the programming available also depends on the chaplain stationed at a particular unit.
“Each individual chaplain brings their own gifts and talents,” he said. “We’ve got some chaplains that are able to teach mindfulness, which is a meditation technique that has been proven to be popular. Some of our chaplains have had their own retreats where they will take Coasties out rock-climbing for team-building events where they will connect with their own spirituality.”
No matter the unit, though, there are some common issues and topics the Chaplain Corps tackles to assist in family strength and resiliency. Financial stress and communication within the family unit are two familiar topics. So is isolation among single Coasties, and the sense of loneliness many feel being away from their families.
“That’s something that as a unit we can address. How do you, in that first 24, 48 hours, how do you really intentionally make them feel part of the team so they don’t feel isolated?”
And once active duty members are steeped in the operational side, sometimes chaplains are needed to help find a moral compass, seek solace after tragedy, or provide a sounding board for decision-making.
“We do see the people wanting to do the right thing, but in a stressful environment, that right thing is cloudy and hard to see,” Todd said. “How do you sort through what the right thing is to do? And then if something bad happens, how to do you make sense of that into your own life and integrate it into who you are?”
The chaplain program is stretched thinly over the Coast Guard, Todd said, and he would welcome anyone interested in helping extend its reach. Although not every Coast Guard unit has a chaplain, he said, those that do provide more than spiritual guidance.
“For the communities where they are at,” Todd said, “they provide a strong sense of helping build spiritual readiness and that tie, a community of people that support one another.”
- The Chaplain Corps: This link provides more information about the mission of the Chaplain Corps. It also provides contact information for the chaplains assigned to units across the country, as well as frequently asked questions about the assistance a chaplain can provide. The nearest chaplain can also be located by calling 1-855-USCG-CHC (872-4242).
- Real Warriors: A program supported by the Defense Health Agency that helps active duty members and their families increase their resiliency through spirituality.
- Oxygen: This marriage resiliency program is focused on military families, and it is offered through the USO.
Please let us know how chaplains have supported you and your family by leaving a comment below.