Crisis of spirit: An Army chaplain's journey with PTSD

John Wilkens, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Religious News

SAN DIEGO -- With a name like Robert Blessing, he seemed destined to become a preacher.

But the decision to join the U.S. Army as a chaplain? That was all his doing.

And his undoing.

Like thousands of others, the 61-year-old San Diegan struggles with memories of what he saw while he was away at war, struggles with what was lost.

Eighteen men and women he served alongside during a year-long deployment to Iraq were killed. Dozens of others were injured.

It was his time-honored job -- Army chaplains have been around since the Revolutionary War -- to lead memorial services for the slain, offer encouragement to the wounded, counsel those who doubted the presence of a holy spirit in a place filled with hatred and violence.


But who comforts the comforters?

Blessing came home and returned to his life as a husband and father of two, resumed his duties as a priest in a University City Episcopal church. Nightmares and his own questions about God followed.

He tried to tough it out. "I'm a chaplain," he said. "I don't need help; I give help." He told himself the anguish -- sorrow and survivor's guilt, mixed with a desire to go back and be with soldiers again -- would fade as the years went by. It didn't.

Sometimes he grew angry and irritable, took it out on those around him. He thought about killing himself.


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