08 June 2012

The Faces of Freedom

Air Force Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Brian Bohlman prays with members of the Craig Joint Theater Hospital at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, May 26, 2012. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Clay Lancaster.

"At the end of the sermons I give, I have a slideshow of the service members I've worked with who have died, and I always tell my congregation, 'These are the faces of freedom!’”

- Air Force Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Brian Bohlman

Face of Defense: Chaplain Tends to Wounded Warriors

By Senior Airman Alexandria Mosness
U.S. Air Forces Central

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan , June 4, 2012 – The chaplain gave the cross he brought from home to the young injured Marine from Florida.

The Marine had been hurt in a roadside bomb explosion and had lost the cross that was on his body armor. When the chaplain presented the cross to the young Marine, both men cried.

This was Air Force Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Brian Bohlman's first experience as the night shift chaplain at Craig Joint-Theater Hospital here about six months ago.

The chaplain would experience these types of scenarios and more throughout his time at CJTH, one of the largest and best-equipped trauma facilities in Afghanistan.

Bohlman said his pager goes off each time a trauma patient is admitted to the hospital.

"Our role in the trauma room is to introduce ourselves, and we tell them we are praying for them," said Bohlman, who deployed from the 169th Fighter Wing at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C. "We will also follow them while they are in the hospital."

Bohlman said he and his assistant generally see about 15 patients nightly.

"I always ask them [about] their hometown," he added.

Bohlman, a 20-year Air Force veteran, said caring for people is nothing new for him, noting he always had a strong desire to serve others. He didn't initially meet the requirements to a become chaplain so he enlisted in 1992 as a chaplain's assistant. After serving four years on active duty and a year in the reserve, he earned a commission through the Air Force’s Chaplain Candidate Program.

"Our mission is to care for the warrior's soul," Bohlman said. "There are three functions we do. One, is nurturing the living; two, is caring for the wounded; and three is honoring the dead.”
Bohlman carries a small green book in his left breast pocket. Though the book is not worth more than a couple of dollars, he said, it holds a deep meaning to him. Bohlman said he records the name, rank, service and some descriptive passages of every injured military member he comes in contact with.

"I try and write a little bit about everyone I meet," the chaplain said. Some service members, he said, have heart-wrenching stories.

"In April, we had a lot of traumas. At one point there were four patients in the trauma room, and I looked down and realized there was a lot of blood on the floor. I still have those stains on my boots. I thought about the sacrifice, and how our job can be a dirty one. I just thought about how they truly left their mark on me."

After his first week at the hospital, Bohlman told the staff that he can pray and chew gum at the same time, meaning he could help out the staff if needed.

Soon, Bohlman said, he was "taking temperatures, putting on the blood pressure cuff, and getting warm blankets.”

Bohlman has been a great asset, said Air Force Maj. (Dr.) Micah Schmidt, an emergency room physician.

"He participates in all the traumas. He is very helpful. It is not expected, but it's nice,” Schmidt said of Bohlman. “Just the other night, he helped me change the dressing on a gunshot wound."

The chaplain said it's not just the patients he watches over, but also the staff at the hospital.

"We're here to listen to their stories," Bohlman said. "A lot of times, the staff will compartmentalize what they deal with. You can have an enemy prisoner of war and the soldier who was injured by the enemy POW, but you have to give the same exact care. They have to keep their feelings and emotions out of it."

The chaplain said he tries to keep abreast of the hospital staff’s well-being.

"I usually ask if they've talked to their family lately," Bohlman said, or if they’re keeping up on their exercise.”

“My goal is to build resilient airmen,” the chaplain added. “I tell them I'm here regardless of their faith or denomination.”

A lot of times, Bohlman said, the people he encounters just need someone to talk to.

"They have seen a lot but the way they deal with it is knowing that many would die if they weren't here," he said. "They see the big picture. It helps them during difficult days to pull through."

Bohlman, who’s on his fifth overseas deployment, said losing people is always difficult.

"At the end of the sermons I give, I have a slideshow of the service members I've worked with who have died, and I always tell my congregation, 'These are the faces of freedom!’”

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