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Navy chaplains help families face war

In times when it is most difficult to have faith — it is generally needed most.

As the nation faces war, the men and women of the Navy’s Chaplain Corps are bolstering deployed sailors and their loved ones at home as well.

“Faith is the core. Out of that faith we find hope that everything will get better,” said Capt. David Young, a Catholic priest/chaplain who oversees the Chaplain Corps for Navy Region Northwest.

He urges people who are struggling with fear and uncertainty to reach out.

“People need to find some venue and some way to share their story and their struggle,” he said.

In Central Kitsap that struggle has become a way of life as all Bremerton based ships have been deployed and more than half the submarine force is deployed from Subase Bangor.

The changes in the faith community at Subase have been subtle.

“I’ve done a couple of extra weddings,” said Cmdr. George Ridgeway, a Presbyterian chaplain at Bangor.

But it’s generally hard to pinpoint what motivates people to attend a service or seek counseling. Ridgeway saw a recent spike in the number of churchgoers following the Columbia shuttle disaster. Other weekends nice weather may get people out of the chapel and into the mountains.

According to Ridgeway, the counseling that he does is where the impacts of impending war are most felt.

“Although no war is being fought, separation is being fought and it’s a real battle,” he said.

Many families have been without one of their loved ones for months with no end in sight.

“The question mark is often the worst part of it,” Ridgeway said.

“The Vinson (aircraft carrier) still kind of has a schedule, but there’s still a question mark

That adds to the tension. People like to have a date to mark on the calendar,” he said.

Young compares separation from family and home to carrying a load. At first the task seems fine, but as time goes on, the going gets more difficult.

“That load is getting heavier and heavier here,” Young said.

The sailors have to switch their mindset from home to duty — a duty which means depending on other people.

“It’s important to focus in on what you’re doing, so your brothers and sisters don’t get hurt,” Young said of the deployed sailor.

But back at home family members have a duty as well — to reassure the deployed loved one the home situation is good.

“I hope the American people can appreciate the sacrifice of these families,” Young said.

Ridgeway tries to prepare couples and families for the separations, but talking about it and living it are two different animals.

“There’s no question it takes its toll,” Ridgeway said of separation.

“It’s one of the hardest aspects of military life.”

While Ridgeway cares for his regular parishioners, he has additional concerns for people who have isolated themselves from others.

“Those are the ones I really worry about,” he said.

Every ship has a wives support group where they support each other. The Navy’s chaplains are also in close contact with faith leaders in the community.

The Navy Chaplain Corps traces its beginnings to Nov. 28, 1775 when the second article of Navy Regulations was adopted. The Rev. Benjamin Balch was the first chaplain known to have served in the Continental Navy, reporting aboard the frigate Boston in October 1778.

Ridgeway counsels people at his office in the Navy Chapel or over the phone. He has also gotten the occasional request via e-mail.

Ridgeway recently got a call from someone who was worried about a friend. He reminds people who are having a tough time that they are not alone.

“Get out and be with other Navy people who are going through the same thing, encourage one another,” he said.

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