Messages Home: Sleeves rolled up amid Montana flood damage

July 15, 2011 by  

On Sunday, June 12, I completed six peaceful days in a spiritual retreat at Manna House of Prayer in Concordia, Kan.  That time to recharge turned out to be vital because by noon the next day I had received the expected phone call from the Red Cross and by 7 a.m. Tuesday, June 14, luggage in tow, I was headed to Montana for a 17-day disaster assignment.

At the airport in Bozeman, Mont., I joined seven other volunteers from throughout the U.S. who were awaiting the arrival of the “Red Cross shuttle” to the temporary headquarters in Billings.  We were joining about 60 other Red Cross volunteers who were scattered throughout the flood-ravaged areas of Montana. Volunteers were rotating in and out as they tended to managing the disaster headquarters, assessing damage from the massive May floods, opening case files to provide financial assistance, operating shelters for the flooded homeless, delivering and serving meals and supplies, warehousing, nursing, providing mental health services and on and on.

Many volunteers are retirees; some are unemployed; some are using vacation time to serve. Those who took on this assignment ranged in age from 18 to 75.

Eighteen-year-old Sean opted to waive his high school graduation party in order to be available for this disaster.  Thirty-one-year-old Martin was devoting his six weeks of vacation to his volunteer duties.  A veteran of three military tours in Iraq, Martin most recently responded as a Reservist in Japan — sleeves rolled up in the tsunami waters removing human casualties. Seventy-five-year-old Sue had just completed two weeks in Joplin, Mo., where she trained and supervised 10 four-person teams that tended to the needs of families who lost members to death in the tornado.

For me, at 65, this was my second summer responding to calls from the North Central Kansas Chapter of the Red Cross to volunteer as a Disaster Mental Health Counselor. In July 2010, I went to the Rio Grande area of Texas to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Alex.

This summer it was the Crow Reservation, south and east of Billings, and more flooding.

In the course of my 17 days, I physically re-located seven times. My luggage remained packed and ready for the next site to serve.

Since my primary role within Red Cross is that of mental health, I remain attentive to the pulse of those directly affected by the disaster, as well as the volunteers who are tending to the victims of the disaster.  What an awesome match for me as I continue to live the Gospels as expressed by my Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia: loving God and neighbor without distinction! It just seems so natural for me to show up, be present and keep my sleeves rolled up.

I traveled with another volunteer, Cheri, into homes for disaster assessment and to support her and the families as she opened cases.  While she was documenting the facts, I listened to human stories of loss, of waiting and of destruction. While we were driving to another home, I listened with Cheri as she de-briefed in readiness for the next assessment and potential case opening. She was in her first Red Cross assignment, and she said I helped keep her sane. We were a splendid team!

With the exception of my Red Cross peers, all of my interactions were with men, women and children among the Crow Tribe. The shelter and the homes we visited were all on the reservation; the interactions I had each day with flooded households included only the Crow. We volunteers were blessed to have a Native American liaison with Red Cross to assist in bridging gaps between the ways of “white privilege” and the Crow.

Another way to work at bridging those gaps is through the children. One such experience was a day when I was reading a book with — versus to — a child and responding to the child’s questions about my hair texture and skin color, while one of the adults in the family initially listened close by, That allowed the window of trust to open with the adult, and hands and names and hugs were more easily reciprocated when I eventually introduced myself to the rest of the family.

As I was saying my goodbyes on my last day, one of the tribal members told me, “Just when we get used to a person, they leave.”

Three weeks later, that man and his family of five remained homeless and were still living in the shelter, separated from the familiarity of their food and ways within their own home. Those same three weeks later, I am among the blessed to have a home to return to, with a heart filled with graced and priceless moments.

— Sister Loretta Jasper is a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kan. The Cawker City native holds a master’s degree in mental health counseling from Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo., and a post-graduate certificate in play therapy from MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan.  For the past two years, she has worked in a government-funded program that provides support for military families where one parent is deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. She will return to that job when school begins in the fall.

Messages Home: What we talk about when we can’t talk about ‘it’

October 20, 2010 by  

Loretta Jasper, csj

Since January 2009, Sister Loretta Jasper has been serving as a family counselor under a program ­designed and funded by the U.S. government. She is now in her second year working with the children of military personnel at a Midwest Army base. To protect the confidentiality of the people she works with, she does not identify her location or any individuals. This is one of her “messages home” about her work.

We don’t talk about it anymore.

It affects many of the kids in the school where I work every day; it touches the teachers and staff who face many of the same issues. It is, in fact, my reason for being there.

But we don’t talk about it.

Instead, the top administrator at the school where I have worked for the past year believes that by not talking about it, everyone can just focus on academics and the students will thrive and achieve.

It makes my job — as a family counselor here to support and assist the children of military personnel who have served or are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan — a challenge, to say the least.

But it — deployment, or upcoming deployment or just completed deployment — is no longer allowed as a discussion topic at my school.

So what about the kiddo who continues to wiggle and jiggle through the day, and gets in trouble for that?  Then there is the kiddo who is called to task for not listening or not following directions?  Or, the child who moves into an immediate rant when not selected for playing the drum in music, or being first in line.  Indicators of the effects of it include tardiness, fatigue, irritability, tearfulness, sadness, forgotten assignments, having no coat, being unkempt, and on and on…

The kids, of course, aren’t the only ones affected in a town that butts up against a military base. Many of the staff and teachers are spouses of active-duty soldiers who are deploying, deployed or returning from deployment. The effects of it they show include fatigue, stress, physical illnesses, depression and anxiety, to name a few.

And then there are those among us who know exactly what it is all about:  Retired military and their spouses among the staff and teachers who know from their own experience about the broader effects of this long war of multiple deployments, with physical or emotional damage to the soldier and physical, social and psychological impacts on the whole family.

These retirees are among the most concerned about the untended it.

So how do I create an opportunity to engage the heart in the midst of this line-up of challenges?

ACATAMIENTO: the vibrant zeal of the Sisters of St. Joseph!  I wait; I remain present and visible to each teacher, staff member and child. I wait for the invitation to engage and to interact beyond the hello, the hug, the compliment, the encouragement to move into the concerns related to the wiggles, the inattentiveness, the rants, the tardiness, and the stressors of the job.  When that door opens a little wider, then I am able to support and assist in mending the injuries of the heart and hearth.  The it then becomes a tangible topic of conversation.

How do I wait?  With patience and relationship building!

Each day I am present to each child who passes by me in the school lunch line. Each day I tie a gazillion shoes laces.  I help individual children learn sounds, letters, numbers or patterns; I cheer on a child’s choice of library book; and I model behavior asked of the teacher.  My presence and visibility to a teacher, paraprofessional and teacher aide who is over-stressed with job expectations (and daily life!) seems to be soothing for that person.

Days come and go with no mention of it.  What I do know is that the moment I miss a music class, or lunch, or reading time, I hear about it from the teacher, the aide or the child. I was absent (and missed!).

The dear neighbor has many faces, and there are many ways to serve. My role in this particular school remains: presence, visibility, and as I am invited.

What does Father Jean Pierre Medaille have to say about this in our Maxims?

Forgive all injuries and, to arrive at a greater perfection of Christian charity, gladly please as far as possible those who offend you and who displease you the most.  Do not be content at welcoming opportunities to serve when they arise; carefully and promptly seek them out yourself in order to imitate more perfectly your heavenly Creator. (MP I, p. 11)

Helping military families: ‘Do what’s in your heart’

July 22, 2010 by  

Sister Loretta Jasper speaks to the Salina Sunflower Lions Club June 14, urging members to reach out to military families in their communities.

When Sister Loretta Jasper spoke to the members of a Salina service club recently, she had the same message she’s been delivering for a year and a half: Reach out to the spouses and children of people serving in the military, and “do what’s in your heart.”

Since January 2009, Sister Loretta has been serving as a family counselor under a program ­designed and funded by the U.S. government. In that role, she has been to military bases in Germany, Alaska and the South, and has just completed the school year working with the children of military personnel at a Midwest Army base.

But, she told the members of the Salina Sunflower Lions Club — many of whom are retired military — the troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan today include nearly a third National Guard members and Reservists, and those families face different challenges.

Unlike military families who either live on a base or close to one, and have the support of other similar families and the base structure, members of the Guard and Reserves are “isolated” all around us, among people who may not understand what they’re going through.

“These are people in your community,” said Loretta, who has been a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia for more than 45 years. “These are people sitting next to you in church or who are in school with your kids and who you run into at the grocery store.”

Her job — and the challenge she posed to the Lions Club members — is to “help the kiddos and spouses who are left behind move through that time, when Mom or Dad is deployed and away and then when the parent comes back.”

In her June 14 talk, she urged the club members to “be a friend, a neighbor, a member of your church… Be aware that these families are in your community, and just be willing to be there when they need you.”

That, in fact, describes Sister Loretta’s job.

“I ‘support and assist,’ ” explained the Catholic sister with more than 25 years experience as a mental health counselor. “Sometimes that means doing nothing, just listening, just being the one who’s there all the time.”

Other times, it means organizing informal sessions for high school students, like she did at an off-base school from January through March. Some 30 teenagers from military families came to talk every day.

As part of those sessions, Loretta helped the teens create quilt blocks, that she described as “small snippets of visual history — that depict the effect war and multiple deployments have upon teenagers and families who have a caregiver in and out of the battlefield.”

One block, in particular, sums up the mixed feeling experience by these teens, she said: “I love the Army; I love the USA; I hate the war.”  Other blocks in the quilt include issues related to changing friends and schools; learning how to deal with the returning soldier/parent affected by the war; assuming the role of surrogate parent either by absence of the one parent; or inability of the remaining parent to tend and juggle the multiple levels of need in the household; and, the teenager re-directing personal anger related to all of these issues.

Two of Loretta’s family members volunteered to piece the quilt blocks together, and it now adorns a hallway at the school where it was made.

The names of the teens who created it are not part of the quilt, though. Loretta explained that confidentiality is an important part of her work with military families and children.

“We don’t do any documentation, we don’t write reports on people or even keep track of their names, and that’s pretty unusual in the military,” she notes. “But it’s important because in the military, you don’t want to be a wimp or a wuss, you don’t want it to look like you need help. So when they talk to us, no one knows about it — there’s no electronic record.” (That confidentiality also explains why details about Sister Loretta’s location have been intentionally omitted from this story.)

That privacy, though, can sometimes have the unintentional result of more isolation, particularly in the small, rural communities the many Reservists and Guard members call home, she said.

“That’s why you need to pay attention,” she told the Lions Club members, who included her brother-in-law, John Hunt of Salina. “There are families around you who need you to just be there for them. Do what’s in your heart — that’s all I can tell you.”

Messages Home: Quilt tells a story (& builds the village)

May 17, 2010 by  

Loretta Jasper, csj

Sisters, Associates, Family and Friends:

My first full school year of tending to needs of the heart and hearth with military kiddos, families and staff in school settings within the Junction City/Fort Riley area is coming to an end. Since September 2009, two of my three rotations have involved beginning and ending the year by working between the same two off-post elementary schools, with the middle rotation involving work with military affiliated high schoolers  within Junction City High School.

In March, during my last session of Brat Chat with the Junction City High School military kiddos, each student designed a quilt block that depicted part of his or her story as a military kiddo.  Leona Flavin and Karin O’Reilly, my sis and niece, kindly offered to transform the blocks into a quilt designed and machine quilted by each respectively.  The end result for one of the walls within Junction City High School? A lovely quilt — a small snippet of visual history — that depicts the effect war and multiple deployments have upon teenagers and families who have a caregiver in and out of the battlefield; aka, down range.

The one block shows it all: “I love the Army; I love the USA; I hate the war.”  Other blocks in the quilt include issues related to  changing friends and schools; learning how to deal with the returning soldier/parent affected by the war; assuming the role of surrogate parent either by absence of the one parent; or inability of the remaining parent to tend and juggle the multiple levels of need in the household; and, the teenager re-directing personal anger related to the above.

I returned to my two original off-post elementary schools in March to support and assist kiddos, families, and staff in wrapping up the school year.

As you might guess, many of the staff in the school themselves are either current or retired military.  Many staff have spouses who are either deploying, returning or re-deploying.  Talk about a bus person’s holiday!  The stressors that occur within the existing educational systems are only one aspect of staff concerns when one is a military spouse working with military kiddos.  Enter myself and my colleagues who are present and available to  support and assist with matters of the heart throughout each day for whomever.

In the process of providing a special time with the elementary school kiddos during lunch time, volumes are shared.  A simple plastic tablecloth with a centerpiece placed on a table in the school library creates the special place to have lunch.  I  ask the same question of each lunch group each time: “What has changed in your life since the last time we met for lunch?”

Responses from the 6- to 13-year-olds in a mere 20 minutes might include:

The quilt made from blocks designed by teenagers who have been working with Sister Loretta Jasper will soon decorate a wall at Junction City High School.

  • My Dad is home on R&R for two weeks. Having him home is like having the boom-a-rang come down from the roof. It is as if he never left, now that I see him again. Now when he goes again for a long time, I have to figure another way to imagine he is with me.
  • Now that my Dad has gone, my Mom cries all night and I cannot get to sleep.
  • I cannot sleep; afraid that (s)he will not return
  • Both of my parents are in Iraq. My grandmother has moved from Texas until school is out to take care of me.
  • When my dad returns to Iraq after his R&R I am afraid he will not come back, and I am afraid I will really have to be the “man of the house”.
  • I do not understand how the Army can continue to take our Dads away over and over again without knowing how our families are having such a hard time without them.
  • I talk with Mom/Dad via email/webcam/phone. Some kiddos: daily; some 2x month, depending upon the assignment of the parent and the reception in the locale where the parent is located.  (I continue to create ways for the child to enhance the conversation and interaction with the absent parent, and also provide parents with options to do the same with the child: help with homework, share activities and homework, transmit cards, photos, care packages, etc.)

Responses to the question “What did you do special for your mother?” from this same age group following Mothers’ Day:

  • Gave her the card made in school.  No gifts.
  • Made breakfast in bed: from cold cereal to pancakes.
  • Made all meals for Mom.
  • Neighbors brought in a bouquet of flowers… Dad is deployed; children are young.
  • Did my chores; and cleaned the house.

The village is large and includes many who continue to tend to the heart of those who are absent and those who are physically present. My sister and niece are a small part of the village as well.  They, too, are preparing for the September re-deployment of my grand-niece’s spouse. My grand-niece?  She is a teacher in the off-post middle school that is located less than one mile from one of “my”  elementary schools within the Junction City/Fort Riley area.

Do we really truly know our villages and our dear neighbors?

Loretta Jasper, csj

Messages Home: ‘Kiddos’ face tough transitions

March 10, 2010 by  

Loretta Jasper, csj

Sisters, Agregees, Associates, Candidates and CSJ Friends,

Come, March 11, I will be completing a 13-week assignment in Junction City (Kan.) High School supporting and assisting the military affiliated kiddos within JCHS. Honestly, I believe that I have the very best ministry on this planet.

I continue to spend time with kiddos as they move into JCHS/Ft. Riley at any point in the school year. I listen and encourage them in the making of new friends, in getting adjusted to a new school environment, in seeking out their interests and hobbies in their new venue. Many kiddos have moved to and are adjusting to being with the other parent and step family. Many are also preparing to relocate due to the soldier’s upcoming assignment. It is not uncommon that my intent with a kiddo is to merely be with the child: to pose options which will boost the adjustment into a new school and locale.  Oftentimes, I offer encouragement which will help the child stay in school vs. drop-out or transfer to the alternative school. Such encouragement includes providing resources: who to ask for help with academics. I call this support with smooth moves.

Of course, there are then the unending issues related to having a parent leave the home to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan for the first to fifth time; and/or, having the soldier return home with a whole new set of dynamics either within the home, or within the emotional or physical system of the individual soldier. I call these reintegration and deployment issues.

Pre-teens experience and feel the effects of being a part of military moves, adjustments; deployments and re-integrations; but teens seem to be impacted with an increased level of intensity. Teens have more difficulty changing friends and schools and activities.  Teens are often tasked with replacing the absent parent with care of younger siblings and increased responsibilities within the home in the midst of the deployment. Teens are highly attuned to the physical and emotional dangers of war; the experience of the soldier’s trauma upon returning from war, and the effect of the trauma upon the family.  It is not uncommon for a teen to intercept physical aggression between a family member and the soldier during re-integration.  The aggression may be triggered by quick movements; sharp sounds; the re-arrangement of the home during deployment; the family activity within the home, and/or the soldier’s shift of power from being deployed and in charge, to being a partner in a marriage and family.

Yes, for one such as I to support and assist a teen–a military kiddo during war time–is very special for me.  I do not have the much tougher job in the high school of tending to discipline, academics, or accuracy.  I try to support and assist the teachers and the staff in re-directing some of the “stuff” which wrangles the heart of a teen in the midst of the deployments, the relocations, and the new starts.

More often than not, my office is a hallway floor in the school where a kiddo and I sit for a few minutes to build trust and share heart.

  • Jon, in time, lets me know that he is feeling more at ease in the new school with new friends and he is trying to stay in school and strengthen his focus on academics.  He was recently taken aback when his soldier-Dad, who literally rescued him over Christmas from the street life in another State, gave him a big hug and kiss in the recent week.  Jon wasn’t sure he could handle such tenderness from his Dad.
  • Bree’s mom died unexpectedly over Christmas.  She is the oldest of four children. Soldier-Dad needs her to care for her siblings before and after school, and to tend to transporting them to activities.  Her grief, increased responsibilities in the home, and now being three months pregnant… Bree just wants to transfer to alternative school, graduate, and be done with her education.
  • Zack is furious because each time his dad returns from Iraq; Dad is “crazier” than the prior deployment.  He is physically aggressive with his mom and him; he throws and breaks household furnishings; he likes to spend time with the persons with whom he was deployed. Zack’s own anger has resulted in him being transferred for a short time to the alternative school, in-school suspension because of his own acting out in school, and anger management classes.
  • Lizzy deplores the emotional trauma her dad has tried to sustain upon his multiple returns from Iraq.  Her brother has recently returned from Iraq.  She has also lost her brother, emotionally, to the effect of war. Both Dad and brother are living at home with Mom and Lizzy.
  • I tap on the classroom door of a kiddo, greet the teacher and ask if this is a good time to “say hello” to Mari.  As Mari and I head for my office on the hallway floor one of the students chime: “You’re in trouble.”

“No,” Mari says back. “This is the Brat Chat (in school support group) lady. Persons who meet with her are not in trouble.”

Thanks, Mari!  Well stated!

Loretta Jasper, csj

Messages Home: The true heroes of war

December 7, 2009 by  

Sister Loretta Jasper is a “military life counselor” serving in two “off-post” schools neear Fort Riley, Kansas. This is one of her regular dispatches on the work she’s doing.

Sisters, Agrégées, Associates and Friends of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia,

As a Military Family Life Consultant, currently working in two off-post elementary schools in the Fort Riley area, I have the opportunity to soften and to re-direct the edge of stressors for teachers, staff, parents and children in schools where the majority of families serve in the military.

Given the high level of deployment and re-integration within Fort Riley, the enrollment of “my” schools changes daily. Friends come and go; parents come and go. Some children change schools, friends, and geographic areas as frequently as the Midwestern seasons change. As a result they are tasked with changing roles in the family as a parent leaves and then returns — to stay focused on school work, to sleep peacefully at night, to not be worried sick about the absent parent’s safety and sometimes to be concerned about the present parent’s ability to manage the household (aka, to parent effectively) during one more deployment. The child is concerned not only IF the military parent will return alive, but HOW will Dad/Mom be upon returning home.

Within the past month, while chatting with a classroom of 26 third-graders, only three were not affiliated with the military. Of those 23, half of them have at least one parent deployed, several have a parent who had just returned from Iraq, and several have a parent who was about to be deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan.

These children bubbled over as they shared how tough it is to change friends, to change neighborhoods and teachers, to be in schools which do not match up to other schools they have attended, or to currently be in a really good school knowing they will be moving.

Kara recently moved from an Army base in Alaska and enrolled in the first-grade of one of the two off-post schools I serve in the Fort Riley area. Kara’s first three weeks in “my” school included multiple emotional “melt-downs.” New school, new town, new friends, Dad gone, in addition to being behind her classmates in phonics and writing.

Her 6-year-old language was unable to sort through all of her frustrations, losses, and changes. Me, the o’-timey-teacher, opted to help mend Kara’s heart by teaching her “how to fish”…to help her with basic phonics and writing. She literally blossomed with each new step of learning. She loves learning and school. What a delight to see this little person bloom with eagerness and personal satisfaction. Meltdowns? Stopped.

Zach, a second-grader, was enrolled by his soldier/mother in early October while she was given a seven-day emergency leave from Iraq. Mom’s commanding officer in Iraq had evidence that Zach was indeed being physically abused by maternal grandparents and uncle, which resulted in multiple trips to the emergency room.

Within 24 hours, Zach changed towns, friends, schools, custodial parent ( who was Mom’s spouse prior to August deployment). Mom was soon to return to Iraq. Not only was Zach losing his mother again, but he was fearful of her safety in Iraq, and of his and his stepfather’s safety given the threats from maternal grandparents following hotline calls related to the abuse.

The maternal grandparents were Mom’s only option for the care of her son since her first of now third deployments. When she enlisted in the National Guard, deployment was not a given, much less multiple deployments. Mom enlisted in the National Guard to break her abusive family cycle and to increase the quality of her life: college education, financial sustenance, etc. Little did Mom realize at the time of her original enlistment she would be deployed three times and that her only option for the care of her son would be her abusive parents, hoping upon hope that they had changed through the years.

These are merely three of many instances of the true and unsung heroes of war: the children.

Loretta Jasper

Messages Home: A new education at two schools

September 28, 2009 by  

Sister Loretta Jasper is serving as a “military life counselor” at Fort Rucker, Alabama, for six weeks this summer. This is her second “Message Home” about her time there. To read her earlier report, click HERE for the first and HERE for the second.

Sisters, Agrégées and Associates,

Today, Sept. 28, 2009, begins my fourth week in the Fort Riley area. Seven of my colleagues began working in nine schools within the Fort Riley area: one high school in Junction City — off-base; one middle school and five elementary schools on-base; and two elementary schools off-base. When we rotate from this assignment at the beginning of Christmas vacation, another group will rotate in during the second semester. We first-timers in these schools and in this position within Fort Riley are setting the tone for those who continue.

The three off-base schools require Kansas-licensed mental health therapists. That includes me. I have the privilege of working within two very different elementary schools outlying Fort Riley. Spring Valley Elementary (350 students-K-5) is on the western edge of Fort Riley, in its third year of operation and is located in a newly established neighborhood comprised mostly of military families. Ogden Elementary (250 students-K-6) is an established school and community on the eastern edge of Fort Riley. Spring Valley is in the Geary County school district; whereas, Ogden is in the Manhattan school district. The two schools are about 25 minutes apart, which makes the drive between them a feast for my eyes, given the panorama of the Flint Hills. I am in each school two days per week, and rotate Fridays. Each of the districts is on a different schedule re parent/teacher conferences and planning days, which provides me with the opportunity to be more available to parents as they stop in for conferences and then to staff during the planning days.

The schools are staffed with spouses who are either in the midst of the soldier or adult child coming to or from Iraq/Afghanistan. The parents or caregivers of the children (since both parents or the single parent is deployed) are tending to the day-to-day of home, children, daily responsibilities and adjustments with to/from deployments. The children are trying to focus upon school, home, absent parent in the midst. Some spouses/caregivers are gainfully employed while the soldier is deployed “to keep the light bill paid”; and some are employed to keep their minds occupied in the soldier’s absence. Simply stated: we were not born with an equal set of skills to tend to life… some folks are doing well. Each person is doing life as (s)he knows best at a given moment.

The really good news? Each of “my” two schools is delighted to have me/my position in the school. This is understandable, given the thumbnail sketch provided in the above paragraphs. My/our role wherever we go is to support/assist. For persons who want outcomes and long-term effects? I am only able to know what happens in a moment… the inching along of life: the contemplative life-stance at its best… being in the right place, with the right heart-touch, at the right moment.

If a teacher welcomes my presence in the classroom to sit with and assist a wiggly child in tending to getting the number sentence or letter completed… yes! If the secretary shares a story about her own or her spouse’s transition from Viet Nam, listen! The principal shares about his recently married daughter adjusting to spouse being deployed to Iraq. A pint-sized kiddo has difficulty settling into math problems states his stepdad will be deployed in January and he is to be the “man of the house.” I am there! A student teacher from KSU while fixing a bulletin board in the school hall shares that she has a nervous stomach and cannot sleep because the man whom she married just prior to his deployment is returning within the next 48 hours. How about the child who is not eating lunch, and my negotiating he eat at least three bites to fuel the rest of the day. Who knows what I happen upon with staff, kiddos, parents as I walk the school hall or sidewalk. I am there! Support/assist/presence/listen/re-direct/problem solving.

Mom shares lunch with child in lunchroom and states they not only just moved here, but spouse was just deployed. A child was particularly belligerent in Physical Ed. one morning. Both parents, with Dad in uniform, shared lunch with the child… Dad returned from Iraq within the past 24 hours. A cluster of five kindergarten moms sitting together outside of the school with toddlers in tow, waiting the close of the day echo: “Our spouses are all in Iraq.”

Next step?

This week, the start of weekly support gatherings in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening for spouses, soldiers and caregivers in the school library.

Next week: Lunch in the library for kiddos with pre-deploy, currently deployed, post-deployed parents to connect and share.

Are you with me? I know it!

Loretta Jasper, csj

Messages Home: Notes from Alabama

August 2, 2009 by  

Sister Loretta Jasper is serving as a “military life counselor” at Fort Rucker, Alabama, for six weeks this summer. This is her second “Message Home” about her time there. To read her earlier report, click HERE.

Sisters, Agregees, Associates, family and friends—

I am currently “de-steaming”, following my walk and shower. We’ve had lots of rain this past week, and thick a.m. knife-cutting fogs. If I could just figure a way to tote my towel and shampoo while walking, I’d be set.

Anecdotes re: my motel digs
— A group of about 30 National Guards from Arizona who have been staying at “my” motel left a few minutes ago. They had a week of helicopter training in anticipation of being deployed to Iraq come Oct. At least several of this group are being deployed for the first time: one indicated he is retiring upon his return from Iraq.
— One of these a.m.’s I walked into the breakfast room for a refill of coffee after my walk, into this mass of camouflage-attired testosterone eating sugar coated cold cereal and toaster-heated waffles. Get back LO-Reh-Tah!!
— Last Saturday I happened to be in the lobby when they were checking into the motel. I could tell one soldier was having difficulty breathing. His commander indicated: “Anxious about being here?” I did the chat thing with the distressed soldier. He had been to the Emergency Room: MRI, and walked out with a bucket load of meds, etc. I stated: “Sounds like pleurisy to me.” It was. He called his Physician’s Assistant Mamma who concurred. Thurs., he was fine, after another trip to medical assist, and having the right medication in hand.
— Also, one of the soldiers also staying in this motel, was walking his dog, Dizzy, a cocker spaniel (need I say more for you cocker walkers). I did the chat thing again. This soldier was trying to move toward not needing to take his trauma stabilizing medications following a rather life threatening helicopter crash some time ago so he could resume piloting a helicopter. Without wearing the sign, Dizzy was his care dog. Dizzy, was most attentive to the soldier…responded to any unexpected movements around us. This soldier is here from CO. Springs.
— One of the chaplains who returned from Iraq three weeks ago, and family leave this past Friday evening, was checking into the motel. He recognized me as one of the supporters and assisters of his welcome home gatherings from Iraq. He had been visiting in California. Familiar faces are always so important and welcome!
— This a.m. while fending the knife-cutting fog during my walk, one of the soldiers from Arizona (with a New York accent) was running. He lost our motel. I’m guessing he might have missed the van leaving for the airport, had our paths not crossed at that point. Chatting serves so many purposes in the course of a day.

Updates and anecdotes, overall:
— This past Friday, I was stopping into the various areas of support and assist my predecessors and successors will continue to tend.
I stopped into one of three chapels at Fort Rucker to leave brochures and to chat a bit. The soldier who was tending the desk provided indications of having the desk assignment due to physical and emotional challenges.
— I also visited the child development center, chatted with various staff and said hello to children. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to translate the message which accompanies the various and sundry children who come and sit beside me when I arrive.
— This past week, I met with a couple who is here due to Compassion leave from Hawaii to be near her family. Married two years, buried their 19-month-old two months ago following their 10-month struggle with infant’s illness/death. Fortunately, soldier is being reassigned as a helicopter flight instructor here at Fort Rucker vs. deployed to Iraq in order to tend to the grief.
— This coming Friday as a farewell to me, the staff with whom I share people tasks, within the same large room of cubicles will join together for cookies and milk. This is a precedence created by my first colleague here at Fort Rucker when he completed his rotation in mid-February ’09. We will be eating chocolate chip cookies made by one of the staff. Fun, huh!
One week from today, Aug. 9, I will be returning to Concordia for the greater part of August before beginning a semester length rotation in a Fort Riley based elementary school.
I will be slipping in a bit late for the (bobbin) Lacemaking Retreat at Manna.
Your prayerful support remains invaluable to me. Know that those who wish they could join me, truly are doing so.
Loretta Jasper

Messages Home: Making lemonade in Alabama

July 14, 2009 by  

Dear Sisters, Agregees and Associates,

Note: For those who are waiting to read about my contacts within Fort Rucker; scroll down to bypass the personal, if you choose. Printing and routing this may be of interest to Sisters unable to access e-mail.

My permanent address is 923 S. Mound, Concordia as of 6/18, but I have been at Fort Rucker, Ala., Aviation Army, since 6/24, until 8/9. This past Thursday began the third of six weeks serving the soldiers, spouses, families and staff here.

It IS hot and humid, but I packed my Sri Lankan weight clothes, and have a sweater for the air-conditioning (which might be C-O-L-D at times).

My motel room is one mile from the fort’s one gate. I am so close that I sat on the front stoop of the motel to watch and hear the booms and cracks of the fireworks display at Fort Rucker last weekend. It saved me fending the traffic, and using the lawn chair I purchased just for the occasion. The chair? Returned to Dollar General, unused.

My one room in the Econo Lodge in Daleville now has specialty corners: food center with the apt. size micro and fridge, closet, laundry and drying center, reading, praying, and desk center. Thomas Merton would probably say it is the ritz. Be assured: I am not suffering. Beats homelessness, huh!

On my assignments to Germany and Anchorage I was not limited to distance I could travel on weekends. Here, since I am solo, I “might” be able to travel 1 to 1-1/2 hours from Fort Rucker on weekends. Oh well, what are six weeks on the time line of life? As you would guess, there are multiple places to (ad)venture on a weekend in this area: ocean, Atlanta, Montgomery, Birmingham, etc. I am, as a result, making lemonade from the lemons. Thanks God for books to read; for being able to have access to the fitness center and library, etc. I am enjoying a weekly trip to a farmers market in the town of Enterprise — 12 mi from Daleville to get local peaches, tomatoes, cucumbers. I do not have enough fridge space for cantaloupe, corn or watermelon. I would love to try the white peas, but they need to be prepared on the top stove.

This is a large and expansive installation since it is the training ground for many kinds of helicopter pilots. The same families and soldiers rotate in and out of here multiple times because of the levels of training. Soldiers who were here as trainees may now be the trainers.

My position here is a year round position which began only in January 2009. We rotate every six weeks. I was welcomed with open arms upon my arrival, and consistently have staff come to inform me of events taking place in the course of that day or upcoming week where my presence is encouraged.

In walking through the reception line at a promotion just this Friday, the newly promoted Command Sergeant responded to my name/role intro with: “You are the roving counselor!” He knows, and got the memo!

Early this same Friday a.m., a group of 88 soldiers returned from Iraq. They were welcomed in a short, yet uplifting and solemn ceremony in the presence of family: spouses, children, siblings, parents; or no one, after being in transit for 50+ hours with no clean-up or bed. I cannot even begin to imagine the level of feelings/emotions experienced by individual groupings.

Saturday, all soldiers and support groups were needed at an all-day gathering at the nearby lake to begin neutralizing and shifting in the presence of peers and other families. A big day at the lake, which merited my presence.

Monday/Tuesday continues the re-entry with input, discussion re: family, shifts from the battlefield to the family. This input is provided to soldiers and families in separate groups. I will be present for this.

FYI: Soldiers are to not drive a vehicle for the first 24 hours of being in the USA. Why? Depending upon the assignment a soldier may drive either too slow (still looking for hidden weapons); or too fast (to skirt what is coming toward him/her).

I meet with about 10 groups of soldiers each week who are either coming into Fort Rucker or leaving Fort Rucker to let each one know how persons in my position may assist and support each of them, spouse, family, children. This past week during a briefing with a group who is leaving by the end of this coming week, an 8-year-old daughter accompanied her mom to this session. The daughter asked if she could get help for her anger. Mom laughed. Another soldier responded by saying: “She probably doesn’t want to move.” Mom said: “No, she’s fine with the move.” She did not understand my message, nor heard her daughter. I continue to pray that the child gets her needs met.

Be assured, each of you is with me. Your prayer for right presence and responses at the right moment is welcome.

Loretta Jasper

Messages Home: Feb. 28, 2009

March 2, 2009 by  

From Loretta Jasper, CSJ, who is been working for a month at Rose Barracks in Vilseck, Germany. To learn more about her mission, click HERE.

As of Saturday, 2/28, 9 p.m. CDT, I am in my home in KC. My housemate, Rose Therese Huelsman, IHM, Monroe, MI. was my shuttle from the KC airport. Of course, at this point, my inner clock and the clock on the wall are still trying to meet in the middle given the time change of six hours between Germany and the Midwest. No surprise!

I left Germany with temperatures which had warmed in the prior week. We actually had one day of sunshine, given the grey skies, cold temps and lovely snows of my month in Bavaria/Germany. And, supposedly the temperatures prior to my arrival were too cold to snow. KC had just received a 5″ snow 24 hours prior to my return. All is well! Food, shelter, clothing, health, support systems: faith, family, friends. So much available to me!

The richness of my four weeks engaging with staff, families, and soldiers on post at Rose Barracks, Vilseck, Bavaria/Germany will be something which time will continue to digest and be integrated within me. (Such is my experience with most of what I encounter in my day-to-day–beyond words!) The added richness of having weekends available to hop a bus, train or car to soak in a bit of Germany and the Czech Republic (Prague) with colleagues, to engage with the locals wherever I/we went only adds to the treasures of this past month. Food, customs, quality of life and interactions among peoples, peoples’ stories, on and on!

My role with the staff, families, soldiers with whom I came in contact? To merely listen in a manner which will tend to the mending of brokenness and damage created by individual history; which oftimes has only exacerbated by the effects of service in the war zones, and multiple deployments to and from the war zones. My role in this venue has not been to tangle with the various philosophies which come with military service and service in times of war. My role in this venue is “presence to the dear neighbor”: open heart and sleeves rolled up. Simple? Not really. I have a few scars on my tongue from biting it. I am still sorting through the bluntedness of individuals’ reponses to being in the midst of horror, treating it as normal or “nothing”. But, how many times in the course of our day-to-day does “service to the dear neighbor” include presence and or experiences which are very foreign to our own experiences?

Many concerns have no easy solutions. But, being in the midst of this life this past month, once again, I learn even more so, that there are so many options:

— For example: How do I get where I am going when my GPS does not log in the address I am needing; and if the sun is not shining, I have no clue the difference between N-S-E-W? Ask; explore, re-explore, and just plain get lost.

— Perfection is limiting if there is no room for added challenges and the mistakes which come with challenges.

— What may be wonderful for me is truly strange and foreign to another and vice versa.

— There are many folks trekking this planet who are tending to life the best way known to them at a given time…

— And, that is how listening with the heart via “service to the dear neighbor” makes a difference in each one of us.

Now: On with living the day-to-day in Kansas City.

Loretta Jasper

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