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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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'We watch their eyes'

ELCA military chaplains help rescue workers survive

"We watch their eyes ... and their body signals," says Air Force Capt. Gregory Hager, about those who work with the remains at the Pentagon disaster site in Washington D.C.

Those signals — a blank stare, a frozen stance or other signs of exhaustion and stress — tend to go unrecognized by the workers themselves, says Hager, an ELCA chaplain at Dover Air Force Base. That's why Hager and other critical incident-stress counselors are there, assigned to four-hour shifts.

"Sometimes the workers need to cry," Hager says. "Sometimes they're affected by things they don't expect to affect them. ... It's a normal reaction to an abnormal situation." When those reactions happen, Hager often puts his hand on a worker's shoulder, speaking to them directly or drawing them away to rest.

"I've had groups of people ask me to pray for them right there while they're working. And I've had people ask me ‘why?’ questions." Hager sighs, adding, "As chaplains, we can't give answers, but we can help folks grow in their faith."

The importance of what the recovery workers do cannot be underestimated, Hager says. "They provide answers to families and bring back dignity to our people who have fallen. ... It feels good in there, even though it's overwhelming," he says.


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