Chaplain's Message: The Warrior Way

When you do experience a critical incident, be prepared. Don’t hesitate to embrace your own rituals.

The young warrior, weary from battle and with his head hung low, sat on his horse.  He was returning to his tribe.  His shirt was covered in blood.  It had been a hard fought, vicious, battle.  There were many casualties on both sides.  Some of his friends were among the slain.  He had fought braves of the enemy tribe, and watched them die. This was the first time he had ever killed another human being.  He and his companions had defended their families from the attacking marauders, and had driven them away.  But he had mixed feelings.  On one hand he felt proud for having the courage go into battle and do his duty, but on the other, he felt spent, ashamed and guilty for killing other men. 

The Navajo warriors were welcomed back, but were not allowed back in to the camp.  They would have to remain on the outskirts until they went through a cleansing ceremony.  The members of their tribe would not call their names, or even look them in the eyes before the “Enemy Way” had been performed.  They knew that war was difficult on them, and made it impossible for them to live in the ordinary, everyday world.  The returning warriors needed to have their balance restored before they went to be with their families again.  The tribe would practice their rituals to cleanse these returning war veterans of the effects of death and bring them some healing before being assimilated back into the tribe.

Most Indian tribes had traditions after a war, including telling their battle stories in words, songs and in other ways.  Some used sand painting.  Many used dance to rid them of the evil of battle.  War veterans were held in high esteem, and most tribes believed they held special wisdom from having been part of battle.

The war in Iraq is drawing to a conclusion.  Many of the returning veterans are “weekend warriors” as part of the National Guard or Reserve units.  Many of these veterans are also law enforcement officers.  They may have stories to tell, and certainly have had many experiences that they would never have chosen to go through.  The native Indians knew the importance of ritual, storytelling, and giving time to their returning warriors.  At the same time, their warriors understood the importance of letting the tribe help them heal physically, mentally, and spiritually.  They embraced the rituals as a way of dealing with the horrors they had experienced.

Senator Bob Dole wrote the Foreword in a book called, “Courage After Fire.”  He says in the Foreword, “Coming back from war is a longer journey than any plane flight home.  It would be great if everything just snapped back together the way it had always been – and if what happened in Tikrit stayed in Tikrit, for instance - but the truth is, returning from war is much more complicated than that.  Digesting what you saw and what you missed and relating to your old world can be tough, even with terrific support.  It feels unfair, considering t personal sacrifice.  But fair or unfair, returning home is rarely what you imagine it will be.”

When a LEO experiences an officer involved shooting; responds to a horrific scene; or experiences the worst that our society has to offer – just as our returning warriors – there are things that get on us that “we just can’t wash off”.  It’s not an act of courage to shove our emotions down and not deal with what happened.  Having “Choir Practice” at the bar is not the most effective way to deal with what you have gone through.  Self medicating in these circumstances is never a good idea, whether you use alcohol, sugar, or other substances.  It takes doing something to cleanse the effects of death.  Telling your story to a safe person such as the Chaplain can be the start of that healing.  Chaplains have received specialized training to help walk you through the healing process, and deal with the harsher parts of the job.

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