Serving as a chaplain in the Air Force Reserves showed the Rev. Dr. Ken Walden just how few resources are available for reservists who find themselves deployed with active-duty military personnel in the Iraq War.
“The Iraq War has tremendously impacted military personnel and their families,” said Walden, who grew up in Dorchester County and has been Claflin University’s chaplain since summer 2012. “There’s a lot of research that’s been done for active-duty personnel, but not a lot of research has been done for reservists.
“Oftentimes, military reservists and their families are not in close proximity to military resources, such as hospitals and counseling resources. They could live anywhere between an hour to even five hours from the base, so they find themselves in isolated situations.”
Walden – his title is Chaplain Maj. Ken Walden in the Reserves – shares a history of the nation’s reservists and military chaplaincy, and what civilian and religious communities can do to be more supportive and nurturing of reservists in his second book, Challenges Faced by Iraq War Reservists and Their Families: A Soul Care Approach for Chaplains and Pastors, published by Pickwick Publications.
“Once upon a time, military reservists were looked upon as ‘weekend warriors.’ They served one weekend a month, and that was it – they came back home,” he said. “Even in wartime, a lot of Presidents did not want to call up the reserves … because they knew it would impact small towns in a very serious way, and they did not want to receive the political backlash.
“But for the Iraq War, the President found himself – the country, we found ourselves – with less than one percent of the American population serving in the military.”
That left no choice but to call on reservists to fill in the gaps in a force that has historically had many more individuals in its ranks, Walden said.
“There was once a certain pride in joining the military,” he said. “The military was one of the best choices that a young person had. But now, there’s not as much pride in joining the military, and people graduating from high school have many more choices.”
Having fewer active-duty military personnel means all available military personnel are likely to be deployed more often than they have in the past.
“For instance, in the Vietnam War, if we had a room of around a thousand soldiers, a very small percentage of those thousand soldiers would have gone to Vietnam more than once because we had enough people,” he said. “If we’re in the room with a thousand military personnel and you asked them, ‘How many times have you gone to Iraq?’ some will say three, four, even five times. And many of those folks will be reservists.
“There are physical implications, and emotional, financial and employment situations that have to be dealt with. Now, in the reserve world, we have gone from strategic to operational.”
Walden said the military is trying to improve on providing resources for those reservists and their families affected by the Iraq War. But because of backlogs in Veterans Affairs health care and the great distances many reservists must travel to that care, he said there need to be alternatives in the community.
“It’s not only the military personnel, but it’s the military personnel’s spouse, it’s the military personnel’s brother or sister, the military personnel’s parents, the military personnel’s children,” he said. “Those families are going through a lot of intense situations, and those families need everybody to help them.”
Walden has served as a military chaplain for more than 10 years at bases in North Carolina, Michigan, California and Washington, D.C. His first book, A Pastor’s Poetry: Volume One, explores various aspects of church life through original poetry, essays and articles.
Challenges Faced by Iraq War Reservists and Their Families is available through local booksellers and online.