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High Season for Chaplains

Their expertise and selflessness are especially valuable this time of year—for Soldiers and citizens alike

The holiday season is here. It’s the time of year for family, friends and celebration. It’s also a time for stress, especially for Soldiers and their families. They might be dealing with deployments, long distances, extra expenses or just feelings of loneliness. And after New Year’s, some Soldiers can find it particularly difficult to come down from the holiday high.

But those Soldiers and their loved ones should know this: Chaplains throughout the Guard have your back.

Chaplains have a major responsibility within the military, and that responsibility is you. Yes, they offer advice in religious and moral matters, provide religious programs, officiate official ceremonies, and provide religious ministry to both service members and civilians. But they do much more that isn’t related to religion. They provide counseling, can help Soldiers get assistance for financial questions or problems, and can just be an overall guide who can put Soldiers and families in touch with the resources they need.

And around the holidays, they give of themselves even more to help others who might be troubled and less fortunate.

Many chaplains do volunteer work, such as serving dinners to the homeless, purchasing gifts for impoverished children or buying presents for Veterans at Veterans’ homes. All the while, they remain focused on helping their unit’s Soldiers stay strong.

Chaplain (Captain) Timothy Stout, 1st Battalion, 188th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, North Dakota National Guard, is deployed stateside. His unit will be away from home this holiday season, but he’ll still be available to them if needed. “The unique way that our mission is set up doesn’t require me to offer religious services,” he says. “I will be spending time with Soldiers to see how morale is and to brief the commander on things that he could do to help that.”

Aside from working on morale issues, Stout plans on holding a Christmas story reading, handing out donated gifts and having a Christmas dinner with other Soldiers. Because his unit is deployed, Stout is available to his Soldiers through an open-door policy—if they need to speak with him, all they have to do is set up an appointment. Stout also works to help family members with issues when needed.

Chaplain (Lieutenant Colonel) Darren King, Deputy Joint Force Headquarters chaplain, D.C. National Guard, plans on traveling to different locations this holiday season. “One of the things I am doing is trying to have a spiritual lunch with the chaplains," King says. He’s also focusing on assisting any Soldiers who are having problems. "I do try to identify resources that are helpful to them,” he says. “That’s a big part of what chaplains do.”

For any Soldiers feeling extra stressed this season, seek out a chaplain. And here are a few tips that can help ease some of the anxiety.

Keep it simple. Complicating the holiday season can make any event stressful. Instead, keep to the basics. “Do as much as you can to celebrate the holiday in a way that is normal,” Stout says. “Buy cards and presents. Spend time with each other. Try to keep it as normal as possible in the face of an adverse situation.”

Savor the season. No need to speed through the holidays. “Slow down and don’t think you need to do as much as you think you do. Sometimes we busy ourselves. Slow down and enjoy the season,” King says. By slowing down, you can focus on the holiday and the ones around you.

Identify the problem. Identifying a cause of stress or a problem is a major part of solving the issue. “For Soldiers, problems tend to be family-related,” King says. “Even if they aren’t deployed, this time of the year creates a lot of stress on family relations. Try to identify the source of the stress. Then it becomes easier to deal with the problem. For the spiritual side, I would add pray and [read] scripture.”

Make a list and check it twice. Listing can be a useful way to stay organized, and staying organized can reduce stress. Make a list of everything you plan to accomplish this holiday season. Keeping track of travel plans, parties to attend and gifts to buy can make more time to enjoy the holidays.

Plan travel early. Planning travel last minute can become a major source of stress. Look into early-bird deals and try to streamline your travel plans. Airports and roads are busy this time of year, so make sure to plan for delays.

Make shopping easier. We all know about the long lines at your local stores during this time. If you plan on going gift shopping, you might want to come up with a game plan. Try to get shopping done early. If you know what you want to buy, but don’t want to wait in line, consider online deals. A number of deals, including free shipping, can be found on the Web.

Make the most of small moments. Being deployed during a holiday can be a major source of stress. Not only are service members separated from their family, but their family has to celebrate the holidays without the loved one. This can be hard on both parties. Whether they are deployed overseas or stateside, try to plan a special celebration that you can do despite distance. Set up a time for a special phone call or plan a Skype session while opening presents. Try to make the holiday as special as you can.