Military oath, a spiritual experience

Thomas Warner
LRMC Public Affairs

***image1***Divine motivation has led Chaplain (Capt.) Brian L. Bohlman to collect personalized notes of thanks and deliver them to servicemembers involved with the Global War on Terrorism. His unique approach to ministry work is turning heads at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, just as has the book he wrote about oath-taking a few years back.

More than 17,000 copies of his book, “So Help Me God: A Reflection on the Military Oath,” have been printed. Most have been given to men and women prior to deployment, but he also shares the tomes with his fellow chaplains.
Chaplain (Col.) James Griffith, the senior chaplain at LRMC, said Chaplain Bohlman’s book “looks at the oath of office taken by military officers as a commitment to their country to do their absolute best to serve its interest in a dedicated and professional way. It also, within your religious perspective, can be seen as a commitment between the officer, his or her country and God,” he said.

Inspired by a dream Chaplain Bohlman had in 2000, the book examines commitments made when oaths are taken. He sought to inspire readers to live by basic core values, including “service before self.”
“I know what it is that I envision when I talk about God but for others, they may have their own, different image,” Chaplain Bohlman said. “It’s a slippery slope. But the words ‘so help me God’ make it a solid and sacred oath. We do believe that someone is looking over our shoulder.

“That’s why courtroom oaths or vows to join the military are done the way they are,” he said. “It’s supposed to mean something strong. It’s a solemn pledge to tell the whole truth or to live up to high expectations.”
Chaplain Bohlman is in the middle of a three-month deployment to LRMC and participates in numerous outreach programs designed to strengthen the welfare of servicemembers.

“I’ve gained a lot from spending time on Ward 9-C where people are having trouble dealing with things like grief or loss,” Chaplain Bohlman said. “Survivor guilt is a common thing to see when you spend time with people who’ve been downrange.”

While doing research, Chaplain Bohlman discovered that George Washington had been the first American forefather to add the words “so help me God” to the oath he took for his presidency.

Since then, the words traditionally became part of the oaths of public servants and military members. Chaplain Bohlman believes those same four words still hold true today for anyone who looks to their God for help in meeting the unique demands of military life.

He writes in his book that asking God for help involves placing one’s total trust and faith and dependence with a supreme being. That trust is not a sign of weakness, but rather of strength.
“I have not met anyone who does not want the help of God while they serve in the military,” Chaplain Bohlman said. “One way I heard it put is ‘there are no atheists in the foxholes.’  ”

Chaplain Bohlman was set to be married in 1994 when he got orders to deploy and assist with Haitians and Cubans in duress near Guantanamo Bay.  He didn’t avoid the assignment, but instead wed his sweetheart a bit quicker than expected with a scaled-down ceremony.

Over a decade later, the South Carolina Air National Guardsman’s notes are captured on DVDs or penned by war veterans, grateful citizens and other active-duty service- members.
“The cards let you see that there are people out there who care about what we’re doing,” said Cpl. Brandon Schavrie, who got a visit from Chaplain Bohlman while recuperating at LRMC.

The notes are written on cards which feature a red, white and blue motif. They are filled out by people and returned to Chaplain Bohlman, who delivers them to people deployed overseas. Other thoughts of U.S. military supporters have been recorded on the DVDs, which Chaplain Bohlman distributes.
A non-profit organization founded by Chaplain Bohlman has enabled the mass distribution of DVDs, books, pamphlets, Bibles, and personalized dog-tag necklaces to people seeking strength or spiritual wellness.

“I enlisted in 1992 after Iraq had invaded Kuwait. I had a strong feeling that I’d be blessing people and praying for people, before I even knew there were chaplains in the military,” he said. “God has been my source of help ever since the day I swore to support and defend our constitution.”

His non-profit organization recently partnered with America Supports You, the nationwide program launched by the Department of Defense to recognize citizens’ support of our military men and women at home and abroad.
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