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1.22.2008

Supply Lines

Today's UPI column #92

So There I was...

The missing link and I didn’t even know it yet.

It was late fall of 2001. I had just finished a multi-day training with J. Eric Gentry one of the top trauma healers around. Post New York, disaster training was all the rage. I was just putting in my continuing education hours – or so I thought.

Dr. Gentry teaches like he’s fattening geese for foie Gras - rich and fast. I found it to be fascinating. I found it to be challenging. I loved the idea of being an agent of change in a really bad place and time. I thought I had the right stuff.

Then I went back to my rather mundane counseling practice in Salem, Oregon. Mostly middle class people, with manageable middle class disasters. I wondered if I would ever have the chance to use what I had learned about mass trauma. It wasn’t really the sort of thing you ought to wish for.

A couple of months later I met a man. An African. I was editing an anthology of Quaker writings. This African Quaker had an essay that I needed to pick up. Fascinating fellow - David Niyonzima of Burundi, Central Africa. He was studying mental health at a Quaker university. He was within a couple of months of finishing his degree. He had gotten a good education – if you were planning to be a psychotherapist in Portland. But he was planning to go home where a simmering war between the government and three rebel groups had killed 300,000 people in the last decade. He was about to become the only man with a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology in a country of seven million trauma survivors. I asked him if he felt prepared to go do the work that was ahead of him. He gave me a look that signaled that he was trying to decide whether to be polite or honest. He chose honest.

“I am leaving with no tools. I do not know what to do.”

I asked him a few more question. It was clear that one-on-one paid insight focused therapy was not going to cut it in Burundi. Freud vs. Jung was not going to matter. Diagnostic codes for insurance companies were going to be useless. Feel good personality profiles would be culturally irrelevant. And the people who had sacrificed to get him this fancy degree were waiting for him to come home with the answers. He was a worried man.

Then I realized what my role was – I was to be his supply line.

We spent a lot of time in those last couple of months. I downloaded everything I had learned from Gentry to him and then I figured out how to get him some more. I started studying and making connections in order to pass it on. I have traveled twice to Burundi to teach teachers. David has taken what I gave him and multiplied it like loaves and fishes. He has made connections with many others in the field of traumatology. Tens of thousands of lives have been affected for the good.

I have learned the value of solid functional supply lines. No army of any merit can function without them. David and I are volunteers in an army of peacemakers, justice builders and fear-fighters. We are recruits to what Quakers call the war of the Lamb. It is a good fight. It is a good army. We may look at bit rag-tag to some observers, but my supply line has never gone down. I have never run out of ammo or food. The medics always show up when I need them.

I am praying today for a young man that I know who is not as well-supplied as I. He works for a different army – The United States Army. He is serving on an outpost in Afghanistan somewhere near the Pakistani border. He is doing his best. He is serving honorably. He has been told that he is fighting terrorism. He is about as far from civilization as you can get on this planet.

His army is an expensive one. We pay billions per week to support him. One of the things it gets him is a satellite link to his family. They can drive up to Fort Lewis every couple of weeks and get fifteen minutes of near real-time chat with him. One of the things the billions haven’t gotten him is a winter coat. The other morning his grandmother noticed that he was shivering. He reported that it was two degrees Fahrenheit. He also reported that the Army had not gotten winter coats to his unit. He told her that he was recently reprimanded for wearing non-regulation gloves while on a dangerous convoy mission to re-supply food to the unit. His bare hands got the food. They did not get coats.

I am absolutely sure that someplace the United States Army has a warehouse full of winter coats. That they cannot put one on this boy’s back halfway through an Afghani mountain winter is shameful. This is not rocket science. It is not even satellite technology. It is basic army 101.

And it makes me very glad that I work for a very different army.

Comments:
and as all the world knows, this is why you are one of my heroes. The next few columns, up to the last one - posted on Jan 31st - are vintage Peg: positive, measured, courageous, faithful. And well spoken... did I say that? Clean American english. What's up? You been eating meat again?
 
I visited Freedom Friends on my way back from Newberg this week and saw that grandmother happily showing pics of her grandson and his team in winter coats sent through that "supply line" you speak of that isn't army regulation. I wish your "supply line" could take care of ALL the shortcomings of the army.

In His Love,
Nate
 
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