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    Laying Brick, Lending an Ear

    Laying Brick, Lending an Ear

    Photo By Sgt. Anshu Pandeya | HUEHUETENANGO, Guatemala - U.S. Army National Guard Capt.Denise Denniston, chaplain...... read more read more



    Story by Sgt. Anshu Pandeya 

    372nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

    HUEHUETENANGO, Guatemala – Denise Denniston lays block helping at the school construction site. She and Sgt. 1st Class Filipinas Benitez are helping engineers of the 760th Engineer Company from Marion, Virginia build a school here in support of training exercise Beyond the Horizon 2019. But they aren't engineers; Denniston is an Army National Guard chaplain and Benitas, a religious affairs specialist.
    Beyond the Horizon is a joint training exercise, in which U.S. military forces specializing in construction, engineering, and health care train to improve operational readiness and strengthen relationships with ally forces, while also providing tangible benefits to the Guatemalan people.
    A captain with the 341st Military Intelligence Battalion out of Washington state, Denniston believes working alongside Soldiers helps build a better rapport with them.
    “I think chaplains can be intimidating because they're an officer,” Denniston explains, “and when we work aside Soldiers, they know that you're human and they get to know you more personally. And then they approach us more.”
    Benitez, with 99th Troop Command based in Tacoma, Washington, agrees. “As a chaplain, that's the only way we can reach out to the Soldiers is to go to the site,” she says. “They work from morning to dusk.”
    “I really enjoy how proactive they are with engaging the Soldiers and providing help wherever it might be needed,” said Spc. Alex Lochner, a carpentry masonry specialist with the 760th.
    Denniston, who is a clinical chaplain in her civilian life, applies the team concept to her civilian career as well. “I work with physicians, social workers, nurses, and we are a team that makes up the palliative care team at St Vincent's,” Denniston says. “We support patients with complex medical challenges and family dynamics so we get called in on the hardest cases to help families discern pathway forward for them.”
    These experiences have helped her become a better Army chaplain. She explains, “I feel like being a clinical chaplain, there's a lot of education that goes along with it and there's a lot of ongoing education around. I've just learned a lot about moral injury, PTSD, addiction. It's definitely perfected my counseling skills a lot more, and I get the opportunity to really work with some really gifted social workers and rubbed shoulders with people that are just really experts in your fields, which I find it such a blessing because I love serving Soldiers.”
    Not only do Denniston's experiences in the hospital help her, but being a United Church of Christ chaplain has also informed her military experience.
    “People like myself, who are liturgical, can support Soldiers that are more liturgical, especially my denomination, which is one of the few denominations that supports the LGBT community. So I can provide counseling, I can provide marriage retreats, singles retreats, marriage, and all those things that a lot of the other traditions are restricted to. So often people in my denomination and denominations like mine are sought out because there's such a need right now. Our chaplain demographic doesn't really make up the demographic of our soldiers. That's a real problem.”
    Still, Denniston has appreciated her experience in Guatemala and being able to help Soldiers.
    “This is the first training mission I've been on where I've actually been able to go out to the local community and get to know more of the culture and see some of the beauty as well as the struggles that are here, which I appreciated,” she says. “I think there's always a sense of hunger for ministry support and the sites enjoy having sometimes somebody else on the site so they can tell them about all the cool stuff and hard work they're doing. So I found that the working sites have been really open to us and they've been really appreciative of us trying to learn a little bit about what they're doing. So overall I think it's been a marvelous experience.”



    Date Taken: 06.12.2019
    Date Posted: 07.20.2019 21:57
    Story ID: 332090
    Location: HUEHUETENANGO, GT 
    Hometown: BREMERTON, WA, US
    Hometown: PORTLAND, OR, US
    Hometown: TACOMA, WA, US

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