Combat Veterans, Helping Combat Veterans
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Project Josiah

Combat veterans helping combat veterans-Columbia-Metro

By Robert Hemphil

Photography by Jeff Amberg

Since its establishment as a nation in the late 18th century, the United States of America has experienced military conflicts from the 19th century through the 21st. Only after WWII was there any attention given to the challenge of a veteran’s adjustment to normal life after serving in combat. Those who fought and sacrificed their lives to protect and defend our nation in the unpopular and controversial Korea and Vietnam wars had a different experience. The latter wars led to the public’s disdain and indifference for the welfare of veterans who fought in those conflicts. Most recently, our nation has been involved in Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns fighting a war on terrorism.

The Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts involved jungle and desert warfare where soldiers never really knew who the enemy was. Awareness of the effects of the horrors seen and experienced in war by combat veterans has steadily become prominent. The syndrome is now recognized as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and is a unique aspect of mental health and needs particular attention.

Who focuses on these combat veterans, the warriors who endured the horrors and violence of war? Who helps them restore their lives when they return? While there are numerous veteran organizations seeking to help these veterans, about 27 percent of them return without sufficient symptoms for outright diagnosis yet they still have their daily lives seriously impaired. In 2011, a combat veterans support group called The NEPC Combat Veterans Support Group, as it is based out of and supported by the Northeast Presbyterian Church on Polo Road, was established by co-founders Bobby Farmer, Col. Bill Collier USA (Ret) and Col. Steve Vitali USMC (Ret). This support group is open to all military combat veterans and cold war veterans in dangerous jobs such as submariners and military intelligence regardless of branch service, to name a few. The group was initially discussed conceptually in March 2011 with its official establishment in April of the same year. This group was the impetus for establishing Project Josiah Restoration Ministry.

In 2012, combat veterans from WWII to present were welcomed, and participation steadily increased. Bobby indicates that the groups meet 52 weeks a year, even during holiday periods. According to Bobby, the ministry has helped approximately 93 combat veterans.

While there are no designated official counselors or therapists present, the facilitator and other participants peppered throughout the groups are trained in mental health first aid to address a situation, with referral authority when necessary.

Bobby, an ordained minister and Vietnam veteran, discussed starting a ministry to expand the NEPC CVSG. Bobby amusedly recalls how the ministry received its name. Bobby is the national chaplain for the Combat Veteran’s Motorcycle Association. One of the group members, knowing of Bobby’s CVSG ministry, selected the name Josiah for Bobby’s motorcycle given name. Josiah was the person responsible for the reformation in Israel’s history; thus, it naturally followed that it would also be the same for his ministry, Project Josiah Restoration Ministry.

This ministry was established on Dec. 2, 2013, and was granted 501©3 status on Aug. 20,

2014. The ministry has a 15-member board comprised of retired military and civilian members with one of its member currently serving as the Commandant of the United States Army Chaplain Center and School at Fort Jackson.

Its mission statement is: “To bring combat veterans together to strengthen, to share, and to improve their lives; to empower them to make choices using Biblical principles to heal themselves and to enable them to help other veterans.”

It is based on the Biblical principles from 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

The Josiah Restoration Ministry has been the springboard for five additional Combat Veteran’s Support Groups who meet around the state at locations in Charleston, Sumter, Aiken, Elgin and Blythewood. The groups meet at different times on different days when convenient and at sanctuaries where the participants feel most comfortable attending.

When asked what his ministry uniquely offers, given all the existing efforts to help and assist veterans like Blue Star Mothers, The Wounded Warrior Project and The Veterans Administration, Chaplain Bobby states, “Ours is open-ended. We are not in a hurry to get the participants to talk.”

There is no set agenda, no particular focus, but just discussions with a facilitator subtly guiding the direction of discussion instead of pressuring the individual to share experiences which can lead to an emotional breakdown. “We prefer a strategy of meeting with others who have served their country during trying times and under difficult circumstances for an ultimate outcome that their service was honorable and what had been asked of them,” Bobby says.

Bobby emphasizes that trust and hope are essential. “There is no judging, and all participant discussion is sealed unless express permission to disclose is given by the individual sharing.” The result: brotherhood and healing among veterans.

Besides support group meetings, the ministry has expanded its activities to include participation in commendation ceremonies, funerals, deployments, coming home celebrations and honor flights. Recently, the ministry sponsored and participated in a 175 mile Combat Veteran Kayak Trip on the Congaree River from Columbia to Charleston to raise awareness of PTSD and to promote efforts to help combat it. The event was prominently covered by the news media.

“PTSD is different from general mental health issues,” Bobby explains. “It possesses a different normal, for example: a combat veteran is driving down the highway and sees an empty cereal box in the road. The box would be, to the average civilian, a harmless piece of cardboard. But, in the combat veteran’s mind, he recalls a similar item in combat theater as an IED. He reacts to it by switching lanes to avoid contact with it. The same reaction occurs when sudden loud noises are heard which simulate gunfire or explosions in his mind.”

As a 501©3 charity, the ministry depends strictly on donations with plans to eventually attain financial self-sufficiency and be financially able to set up additional chapters and establish them on financial footing. Additional plans include providing training and, should circumstances allow, expansion nationally.

“The Project Josiah Restoration Ministry is here to provide a place for our combat veterans to seek help and support by combat veterans,” Bobby says. “It has surely helped me.”
 

Younger veterans bypassing VFW, American Legion for modern service organizations

 
 
Those who served in Iraq, Afghanistan gravitate toward modern organizations
 
Kate Hoit served eight years in the Army Reserves, including a tour in Iraq, but when she tried to join her local Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter, someone asked whether she needed an application for military spouses instead.
 
veteransNow, Ms. Hoit said, she will never join the VFW or the American Legion. She said the organizations are unwelcoming and out of touch with the needs of post-Sept. 11 veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq.
 
“I’m not going to go the VFW or the Legion and drink and smoke cigarettes,” she said. “I want to be out in my community.”
Her complaint is echoed by other veterans of the war on terrorism, who see the venerable veterans groups as fraternities of older men from previous wars. The new generation of veterans instead is gravitating toward groups organized around activities such as running or volunteering, and groups that allow nonmilitary members to take part as well.
 
Younger veterans say the traditional organizations differ in many ways from groups that appeal to them, including the types of advocacy they do and their ways of communication — “snail mail” versus email.
 
Officials from the Legion and VFW say they are trying to maintain the valuable clout they have built on Capitol Hill and need support to help veterans navigate the bureaucracy of the Department of Veterans Affairs — benefits that the more modern groups don’t provide.
 
It’s a challenge for the traditional veterans organizations, who agree they need to change to stay relevant.
 
Unwelcoming
 
Post-9/11 veterans say a typical experience at a local post involves walking into a dimly lit hall only to find unwelcoming veterans 30 years older who are having drinks at 10 a.m.
“It’s just the most depressing place,” said Sgt. Matt Pelak, an Army veteran who spent three years in Iraq and still serves in the National Guard. “I can’t imagine a place that is further removed from my generation of veterans.”
 
Veterans also said such groups deepen the divide between civilian and military worlds because only veterans are allowed to join.
More Iraq and Afghanistan veterans say they are joining groups that allow them to stay active, continue to serve their country and interact with civilians to help reintegrate into society after serving overseas.
 
Team Rubicon lets veterans serve alongside civilian first responders and “get dirty” when a natural disaster strikes, enabling them to maintain skills they learned in the military, said Sgt. Pelak, director of strategic partnerships at the 4-year-old California-based organization.
 
Team Red, White and Blue, known by members as Team RWB, focuses on fitness and organizes group runs, bicycle rides, cross fit and yoga classes in regional chapters to help veterans deal in productive ways with stress from deployments or anxiety about the future, said Capt. Brennan Mullaney, the organization’s mid-Atlantic regional director.
 
Capt. Mullaney, who transitioned to the Army Reserve in 2010, said because it’s important for younger veterans, who have been part of an all-volunteer force, to be able to continue to serve their community and country. He said traditional organizations now consist primarily of Vietnam-era veterans, many of whom were drafted and tend to have “a different view of your service and what your nation owes you.”
 
Both the VFW and American Legion say Vietnam-era veterans make up the largest portion of their membership. Only about 15 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are eligible to join the VFW have done so.
 
Membership in the VFW, which marked the 100th anniversary of its founding last month, peaked at 2.1 million in the early 1990s. That is down to about 1.3 million today, and the average age of members is nearly 70. The American Legion claims 2.4 million members, down from 3.1 million two decades ago.
 
Lynn Rolf, a former Army captain who served in Iraq, couldn’t wait to join the VFW, saying it was an honor to become a member of the same organization as his father and grandfather. Once at the post at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, however, he started to see some behavior he didn’t like.
 
“They didn’t like the young guys, they didn’t think we knew what we were talking about. It wasn’t very family-friendly,” Mr. Rolf said. “But now it is.”
 
 
Read More at The Washington Times

PJRM Announces: Bethesda Church of God CVSG

 PROJECT JOSIAH RESTORATION MINISTRY

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Is proud to announce the establishment of the Bethesda Church of God Combat Veteran Support Group beginning July 24, 2014 at 2730 Broad Street, Sumter, SC 29150

 

Project Josiah Mission Statement:

To bring Combat Veterans together to strengthen, share and improve their lives, to empower them to make choices using biblical principles to heal themselves and enable them to help other veterans

 

Biblical Basis: 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Blessed be the God, and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our affliction that we may be able to comfort those in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

 

For further information on this group please contact: (803) -795-8610

 





Project Josiah Restoration Ministry is a 501(c)(3) Non Profit Organization. We appreciate your Tax Deductible contributions

Please Make Checks Payable to: Project Josiah Restoration Ministry
601 Polo Rd, Columbia, SC 29223

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