“It’s lonely here,” says Maj. Gen. Thomas L. Solhjem, the Army’s 25th chief of chaplains,
As people rely on “social distancing” to curb the spread of the Corona Virus, the Army’s top chaplain says the term has also come to mean no contact with friends and family, but that is not right.
There is still a need for social connection and support despite the physical distance required. Technology and social media pave the way to keep the connection alive.
“Self-isolated chaplains are still virtually connecting with Soldiers in their units,” Solhjem said to an Army reporter. “Troops have been reaching out to chaplains on social media, with FaceTime, Skype, phones – whatever capabilities their chaplains have. Soldiers know we’re here for them, no matter what.”
Turnout for virtual services have increased from a few hundred views to thousands of views.
“People are looking for hope during uncertain times,” added Solhjem. “We’re investing in people, and connecting them in spirit, community, and now virtually. Physical distance has never limited us from connecting with people, whether it is carrier pigeons, radios, or handwritten letters from deployed locations.”
The increase in social isolation can lead to other habits that can have a negative impact, such as excessive alcohol consumption. Social isolation doesn’t mean completely alone. It means finding ways to keep connection while maintaining safe physical distancing protocols.
On the ground ministry teams are also spread across the state of New York to support activated troops on the frontlines of the COVID-19 outbreak, said Lt. Col. Scott Ehler, New York National Guard state chaplain.
“We’re here to remind them that during these trying times, we’re a beacon of hope. We’re there to take care of our service members and to make sure their spiritual needs are being met.”
Helping others throughout the pandemic is providing service members a sense of accomplishment as they prepare meals for people in need. They are also cleaning so that as restrictions are lifted people will be able to return to their community centers and places of worship.
“There is a sense of accomplishment [in New York,]” Ehler said. “A lot of our service members are feeling that way because they are helping people.”