Friday, October 15, 2010
Time to tell the story
As some of you already know, a little over two weeks ago one of the ships that I cover, USS Winston S. Churchill (WSC), was involved in a tragic situation.
On Sunday Sept. 26th WSC was tasked with towing a stranded skiff (small boat) to Somalia. The skiff had about 85 refugees, 10 Somalis and 75 Ethiopians, who were trying to make their way across the Gulf of Oman in order to get to Yemen. They were fleeing the rising hostility in Ethiopia.
The skiff's engine broke a few days before WSC arrived and they had been drifting without food or water. Our ship is pretty big so to tow the skiff we used our Rigged Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs). One would be used to tow the skiff while the other would be used for look out, protection, and as transport to get food and water to the skiff. One Monday Sept. 27th one of the RHIBs came along side the skiff to give them food and water. Some of the passengers in the skiff rushed to the side where the RHIB was approaching. This caused the skiff to tilt to one side and it began to take on water. A panic ensued and in the chaos the skiff capsized throwing all 85 refugees into the water. Tragically most of the refugees could not swim. The two RHIBs immediately made their way to the refugees bringing as many on board as they could (they more than doubled the recommended capacity for each RHIB). In the process of doing this some of the WSC Sailors had to witness some difficult things, women and children being pulled away by grown men so they could get in the RHIBs. Some of the Sailors were holding on to anything they could to try to save the refugees, one Sailor had a handful of a women's hair but as she was pushed under the hair ripped out.
The RHIBs were able to save 61 of the refugees. When they went back they brought 13 bodies on board and the crew performed cpr on them until they were pronounced dead by the medical corpsman. 11 refugees were lost at sea.
The next day, Tuesday Sept. 28, I helod over from USS Oscar Austin. As soon as I got on board I was sought out by at least 7 Sailors who were weeping over the emotional trauma they had been through. This insane counseling load continued for about a week, I think I had around 47 counseling sessions. They ranged in focus from emotional trauma of seeing people die right in front of them, the trauma of a previous event (like a friend dying) being brought back to the surface, the stress of the event pushing their stress threshold over its limit, to anger and guilt that more refugees weren't saved.
Now for all of you who know me personally my personality is not one that is overwhelmingly caring and loving. Before you start thinking I am a heartless Chaplain, what I mean is that while I care about and love people deeply, I am not always consumed by the idea that I need to rescue them from their sorrow or fix their pain by carrying their burden. I have found that this is actually a great asset as a Chaplain. When I counsel Sailors I am emotionally present and lovingly attached to what they are going through, but after we are done talking I am able to set that emotional attachment aside and continue on in my everyday activities. Ask anyone who counsels alot, this is a hard thing to do. But counseling the Sailors on WSC the past few weeks has been completely different.
To be able to help my Sailors, and they are my Sailors, I have to meet them where they are at emotionally and over and over again it has been people who are emotionally devastated because they lost a grip on someone and that person died, or they were performing cpr on people who had blood coming out of their noses and mouths and their eyes were rolled back in their head, or they were tasked to move dead bodies to a different place on the ship. Every single counseling session I am dealing with these young Sailors who are devastated and they look at me with tears in their eyes and say (with their body language) "save me!" It isn't enough to simply say Christ will save you, I must show them the path of how Christ will meet them where they are at in their pain, where He will take them, and how He can redeem their pain. So you can imagine the emotional and spiritual toll this begins to have, and let me tell you it has been a heavy toll. But as the Chaplain you begin to look around for your support and .....who are you going to talk to on the ship....."hey Captain let me tell you how messed up I am right now", no that doesn't really work. Hours of prayer on my knees!!! God will be my strength and support!!! Tearful conversations with my wife on the phone!!!!! I know I have said it before but it needs to said again, that woman is amazing! I had the stupid notion when we got married that I would teach her a thing or two, she has taught me!
I don't write all of this so you can say poor Josh, but I want you all to have a real understanding of what it is like for a Navy Chaplain, and more importantly I covet your prayers. We have a little over 2 months left in the deployment, pray for healing, pray for the Spirit to powerfully move, pray for revival on WSC, pray for the souls of lost Sailors that I am in contact with everyday, pray that I would preach and live the Gospel faithfully.
Here is a link for some more details http://www.navytimes.com/news/2010/09/navy-rescue-skiff-sink-drown-gulf-aden-092710w/