Life and death: A chaplain's perspective

U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Matt Glaros, 48th Fighter Wing, RAF Lakenheath, England, prays for a patient during Shared Resilience 2012 here June 5. During the two-week exercise, Glaros and Tech. Sgt. Andrew Morgan, 48th FW, organized church services and activities for service members. More than 500 military members from nine nations are participating in SR12, an annual U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff-sponsored exercise, May 28 - June 8. The goals of the exercise are to strengthen interoperability, facilitate training in crisis response and disaster management, and validate the readiness of deployable military medical and humanitarian assistance teams. The exercise, in the spirit of partnership for peace, directly supports U.S. European Command's theater cooperation efforts and strategy for active security with European countries.

CAPLJINA, Bosnia and Herzegovina - The pain consumes your mind.

There is nothing but agony, a throbbing cadence brought about by the tattered flesh of what used to be your body.

You hear the ambulance siren, although it sounds distant — as if your ears are plugged with cotton. Someone's asking a question, and rough hands lift you onto a litter. The pain of being lifted shatters your consciousness. Darkness engulfs your thoughts.

You awake upon a table inside what appears to be a tent. It's cold, and the smell of disinfectant lingers in the air. The pain is still there, but it's ebbing. In fact, you can't feel your limbs at all.

A warm hand plants itself upon your brow. Gentle words are spoken into your ear. You ease into comfort, close your eyes and know no more.

The scenarios at Shared Resilience 2012, an international medical exercise, are testing the one U.S. chaplain team here June 5.

Simulated earthquakes, fires and vehicle accidents are some of the driving forces of the mass casualties processed and treated by the joint medical teams inside the mobile hospital tents. Some of the mock victims survive the exercise, and some do not. U.S. Air Force Chaplain (Capt.) Matt Glaros, 48th Fighter Wing, RAF Lakenheath, England, and assistant are with the patients all the way to the end.

"It's a sacred time when a soul goes to meet God," he said. "We're here to be the compassionate, non-judgmental presence to make a person right with God, so they can die in peace."

The medical professionals from RAF Lakenheath are good at what they do with taking care of the body, he continued. But the chaplains take care of the mind, specifically in regards to spirituality. Spiritual first aid is as important, if not more, as medical care.

"Death is a natural part of God's journey for us," said Glaros. "Some medical professionals count mission success in terms of if a patient does or doesn't die. However, it's still a success if a person does die but is surrounded by people who care for and love him."

Glaros said that some chaplains integrate with medical teams during contingencies, emergency situations or humanitarian efforts to provide that human link. Patients who are inconsolable even with medicine can sometimes connect and be calmed with a prayer or kind words.

The medical professionals and chaplains form an interdisciplinary team that works together to provide the best care possible to a patient. Spiritual triage, similar to medical prioritization, allows the chaplain to take care of the most urgent needs first. The acronym LIDO explains the guide: life-threatening, intense psychological or emotional pain, duress or day-to-day stress, and all other needs.

The chaplain said he uses the guide to determine where his efforts are needed most.

Those who have significant life changes — or who are on the cusp of death, as in this exercise — can sometimes ask questions about the point of life, human nature and the significance of it all, he said. Chaplains can answer some of those questions and set the person at ease.

"People need something to lean on," said Tech. Sgt. Andrew Morgan, 48th FW chaplain's assistant. "Especially in humanitarian missions or during long deployments in those austere locations."

They need to process suffering in a redemptive way, Glaros said. It may not be easy to suffer or grieve, but spirituality gives a person a rock-solid foundation, an undying hope or a light at the end of the tunnel.

Faith acts as a resiliency tool even in a crisis situation, he continued. Patients, and the caregivers themselves, can believe in a higher force to achieve a peace beyond themselves.

"After every dark night, there is the dawn of a new day," he said. "In the darkest of night, how do you sit? Do you turn to prayer? Do you handle life's difficulties creatively, or do you let it bring you down?"

Glaros and Morgan will continue to integrate with the medical professions and build Airman resiliency as the exercise continues until June 8.

The chaplain removes his hand from the cooling forehead of the now deceased. He brushes his hand across the dead's face, closing the eyes. He bids the soul a safe journey and continues to the next patient awaiting last rites.

Find more articles tagged with:

Comments: 2

by Frank Watts on June 7, 2012 :

Great article and great job Chaplain Glaros and TSgt Morgan!

by Steve Glaros on June 14, 2012 :

Proud of my big brother, always blazing a trail. Grateful for all the military's efforts and sacrifice.

Your comment:

Related Topics

A Hungarian Special Forces Medic, right, directs the evacuation of a simulated casualty to safety to his Romanian SOF medic counterpart during the Field Training Exercise as part of the Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) course held in Udbina, Croatia. 
U.S. Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) developed and conducted the TCCC Train-the-Trainer course to enhance the SOF capability and interoperability of SOF medics from eight NATO and partner nations, but most importantly, to incorporate one recognized standard for managing trauma on the battlefield. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Donald Sparks, SOCEUR Public Affairs Officer  â? photo approved for public release by Master Sgt. Donald Sparks, SOCEUR PAO).

Ready Forces

VAZIANI TRAINING AREA, Republic of Georgia-In front of a color detail with the national colors of America and the Republic of Georgia and the unit colors of the U.S. Marine Corps and Georgian military, Maj. Eric J. Andersen, executive officer Black Sea Rotational Force 11 and Kent, Wash., native,  â?forms the troops for the opening ceremony of Exercise Agile Spirit 2011, marking the official start of what is scheduled to be an annual training event with the partner nation. Marines with Alpha Company of Anti-Terrorism Battalion, and 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion deployed to Georgia for their annual training to supplement the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force deployment of BSRF-11, to conduct counterinsurgency and peacekeeping operations training at Vaziani Training Area. , Cpl. Tatum Vayavananda

International Cooperation

Flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Capt. Barbara Bujak, physical therapist at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, speaks in her native tongue, Polish, with members of Multinational Battle Group East's Polish Contingent and European Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo. Bujak, who was born in Poland, moved to the U.S. at age 11 and joined the U.S. Army five years ago. Bujak's temporary assignment at Camp Bondsteel allowed her to experience a familiar ceremony in a new location.

Military-to-Military Engagement Program

A US Airman waits to offload the final pallets from the cargo aircraft which arrived in Russia from Sigonella delivering firefighting equipment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Keith Houin provided in real time via smartphone/RELEASED)

U.S. Air Forces in Europe

Related Articles

  • EUCOM's humanitarian mine action: Moldovan army engineers protect citizens from 70 year-old killers

    For three weeks, Moldovan engineers and soldiers of North Carolina National Guard’s 430th Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Company trained side by side and shared the latest tactics, techniques and procedures in eliminating landmine hazards in order to return the land to productive economic use and development.
  • Series of Exercises to Kick Off in EUCOM AOR

    Several military exercises are scheduled to begin this month in the United States European Command area of responsibility
  • Pennsylvania Guard Partners With Lithuanian Troops

    The recent Vigilant Guard 2014 domestic emergency preparedness exercise conducted across the state integrated several Lithuanian military and civil response officers as part of Pennsylvania’s long-standing relationship with the Baltic nation.
  • SOCEUR kicks off expanded training with Baltics, regional partners

    U.S. Special Operations forces, in support of Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR), participated in an opening ceremony for Exercise Spring Storm Monday. This opening ceremony kicked of the special operations portion of the Estonian Defense Forces’ annual exercise.
  • Heavy Airlift Wing supports expanded land force training activities in the Baltic region

    The Strategic Airlift Capability Heavy Airlift Wing has been executing several airlift missions with its Boeing C-17 Globemaster III long range cargo jets to support the expanded land force training activities of the SAC nations’ armed forces in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
  • 173rd conducts unscheduled training with Latvian Army

    Approximately 150 Soldiers from the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) in Vicenza, Italy arrived in Latvia April 24, 2014, to conduct small unit and leader training with members of the Latvian Army.
  • Forward…Ready…Now: USAF builds partnership with Polish Armed Forces

    More than 100 Airmen and three C-130J Super Hercules cargo aircraft from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, deployed to enhance bilateral defense ties with Polish armed forces members during a scheduled aircraft rotation to the U.S. Air Force Aviation Detachment in Poland.
  • Spokesman: F-16 Augmentation Continues U.S.-Poland Partnership

    A dozen more F-16s and 300 personnel based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, will augment the U.S. aviation detachment at Lask Air Base, Poland, a Pentagon spokesman announced today.
  • Official Provides Details on U.S. Augmentation in Baltics

    Following Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's announcement today during Senate testimony that the United States is augmenting its participation in NATO's air policing mission in the Baltics and will increase joint training through its aviation detachment in Poland, a defense official provided additional information.
  • LOGEX workshop enhances logistics interoperability

    LOGEX was held at the Finnish Defence Forces International Center in Tuusula, Finland, Dec. 2 - 13, 2013, with the aim to enhance interoperability among participants in the planning and execution of forming, deploying, sustaining and redeploying units.