GILLEM ENCLAVE, Ga. –
As a Chaplain with the 327th COSC (Combat Operations Stress Control), it is my mission being part of a team to reduce and pre-identify stress symptoms, and encourage resiliency. One of my favorite quotes is from Nietzsche, found in Victor Frankl’s magnificent book, Man’s Search for Meaning: “He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.”
Victor Frankl was a survivor of the holocaust. He not only endured the most horrific tortures possible, but emerged from the ashes mighty, unbearably resilient. Rather than being crushed by the German’s oppression, he found unbelievable humanity, and strength of character, and even freedom, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”
As part of our resiliency training, we promote a new term; PSG – Post Stress Growth. We encourage our Servicemembers to look at their troubles and stressors not as difficulties, but as opportunities. To quote Nietzsche again, “What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.”
Growing up in a Jewish community in the eighties, I was fortunate enough to know a couple of survivors of the holocaust. Those heroic men and women not only managed to survive, but they came to America and rebuilt their lives, started new families, and opened flourishing businesses. They were truly giants of spirit; they heroically refused to allow their past to discourage them, had faith in God and the future, and soldiered on.
As a child, I was fascinated by the holocaust. It was terrifying reading how one nation almost entirely succeeded in their goal of wiping out an entire Jewish people, killing over 6 million in their quest. Their hatred was entirely irrational, to the point of sacrificing war resources essential to their battles, just to a murder a few more Jews. It was then that I developed a deep love of the military. The British, and afterwards the Americans, were brave enough to say, no we will not tolerate this. We are prepared to even send our sons to battle, lose all those lives, but we cannot live in a world of such evil. I read firsthand accounts of the concentration camp survivors being liberated by young American Soldiers, never even knew each other before, but were treated with unbelievable love and compassion. Reading the liberator’s account of their experience, the gratitude and relief expressed by the survivors, is an experience never to be forgotten.
Part of the tools we provide as chaplains is reframing – the ability to change how we see our experiences, through how we rethink them. At the Holocaust Remembrance event at FT Jackson last year, most attendees had never seen a Jew before. To attach some relevance to a room full of people who had no clue why it concerned them, I shared the following story. There was a survivor who came to his Rabbi, complaining after what he witnessed in the camps it was impossible to continue for him to continue his religious observance. He recounted to the Rabbi how his roommate, a seemingly pious Jew from Warsaw, had smuggled into the camp, risking horrific torture and death, a prayerbook. He related how evil this fellow was, as everyday his fellow inmates lined up to use this prayerbook, he charged them payment; precious scraps of their tiny rations, just to pray for a few moments. The Rabbi, after a few moments of compassionate silence, lovingly stroked the survivors cheek, and murmured “My dear fool, rather than remember the act of the single weak man, think of the line of inmates who willingly parted with their food they so desperately needed for the pleasure they experienced in those moments of talking to God. Remember the ecstasy they experienced, the delight and redemption through prayer.”
As Soldiers, we made the commitment to freedom from tyranny, even prepared to sacrifice our lives if necessary, but we will not allow such evil to exist. As we witnessed so recently as the holocaust, but ever present in Man’s history, is the sad fact that evil will exist. It will only be with the help of the few brave souls in every generation that we can live today in a country were evil is not tolerated, no way no how.
God bless America!