A PTSD retreat

“My veteran buddy and I meet once a week. Each time we walk away with the same assignments: I am responsible for seeing to it that he stays alive for a week; and he is to make sure I am still among the living seven days from now.”

The words don’t seem so strange when considering the report that the average suicide rate among American military veterans is one per hour—every day of the year.

On the first weekend of May, the Lutheran Military Support Group (LMSG) sponsored a retreat at Camp Phillip, Wautoma, Wis., for veterans facing post-traumatic stress.

The opening devotion carried the words of Jesus, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31). Twelve former sailors, soldiers, Marines, and one comfort dog stepped away from the rest of the world to receive mutual support and encouragement. It was a time to refresh body, mind, and soul.

Rev. Jason Hacker, LMSG director at large and pastor at Grace, Waukesha, Wis., arranged the event. Retired Colonel Erik Opsahl, who also faces PTSD, led the group to take a closer look at how the stress disorder invades lives and minds. Painful stories were relayed. Loving comfort was offered. The saying “pain shared is pain divided” was put into practice.

Former strangers, some coming from as far away as Florida, soon found common ground based upon common values, common experiences, and a common faith.

One attendee commented, “Surviving the war is just the beginning. Now we must survive the peace.” Heads nodded in agreement.

Representatives of WELS Military Services and of the Board of Control of the Lutheran Military Support Group shared care and concern from both the Evangelical Lutheran Synod and WELS. The message was, “You have not been forgotten!” One discussion focused upon how congregations and the two church bodies might support military personnel and their families.

Attendees also discussed the difference between the civilian and the military worlds. Regret was expressed over the fact that civilians often do not recognize the needs of active duty and veteran military personnel. But it was also recognized that military people are reluctant to admit their needs to their civilian brothers and sisters.

A review of Bible passages underscored the certain source of spiritual resiliency—something much needed and desired. Closing worship services invited the participants to approach the throne of grace for forgiveness, renewal, and blessing.

The hope is that more such retreats—perhaps in different parts of the country—might be offered. The group is also exploring inviting non-WELS and non-Christian veterans as an outreach opportunity.

Learn more about WELS Military Services at wels.net/military or the LMSG at lutheranmilitary.org.

By Rev. Paul Ziemer, WELS national civilian chaplain to the military and WELS liaison to U.S. Armed Forces