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McCandless veterans service to feature short, poignant stories

| Wednesday, March 12, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Randy Jarosz | For the North Journal
A display of 6,673 flags was set up at Memorial Park Church in McCandless on April 5, 2013. The flags represent the number of American military personnel who had died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars at that time and make up the Field of Flags traveling memorial.

Short but poignant stories will be part of a service for veterans, their families and local residents on March 30 at Memorial Park Church in McCandless.

“We're offering this service to provide veterans the opportunity to feel God's loving presence and to offer the community an opportunity to walk alongside these vets in their healing,” said Jaime Dean, director of Small Groups and Community Care for Military at the church.

The service, set for 11 a.m., will include a video presentation based on a project and book by Army veterans Shaun Wheelwright and Mike Nemeth titled “Six Word War,” in which soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan were encouraged to share their stories and experiences in just six words. Some contributions were: “Incoming rockets? Turn up the music,” and “Tried my best. We all did.”

Dean, 48, of Marshall Township, chose six words to describe her feelings as the mother of a 23-year-old Army drone pilot serving in Afghanistan: “Mom's worry. Surrendered to hope. Peace.”

“We want to help veterans find meaning in their experience because a lot of them struggle with that,” Dean said.

She is collecting six-word essays from local veterans and military families to use in the video. People who wish to contribute may send their six words by emailing jaime@memorialparkchurch.org by March 24.

“It's a way to build a bridge toward veterans understanding their own story and being able to accept it,” she said. “There's a lot of power in storytelling.”

The service, called “A Warrior's Journey Home,” also will include a message from the Rev. Paul Becker, pastor of administration at Memorial Park Church, whose son was deployed to Afghanistan on March 3.

Roger Brooke, a professor of psychology at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and director of the school's military psychological services, will speak about grief.

Afterward, pastors and chaplains from local churches will be available to anyone seeking prayer. Brooke will be on hand to provide counseling.

Deborah Crawford of Shaler Township wrote: “Alone, I wait until you're home.” These six words describe her anxiety and anticipation while waiting for her daughter and son-in-law — Army Sgt. Dianne Crawford Dooge, 22, a combat medic, and Army Pvt. Wes Dooge, 21, an infantry mortarman — to return from tours in Afghanistan.

“There isn't much support for the parents when they live far from their child's military base,” Crawford said.

She has participated in the military support group at Memorial Park and finds solace in being with other parents.

She attended last year's Field of Flags ceremony, for which a display of 6,673 flags was set up on the church grounds to represent the number of American military personnel who had died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as of last spring. And she helped with a church breakfast for veterans.

Crawford is not a member of Memorial Park Church. Her involvement in its military ministry, however, inspired her to motivate leaders in her own church, Allegheny Center Alliance Church on Pittsburgh's North Side, to do more for military personnel, veterans and their families.

Church members are eager to embrace the outreach ministry, although they haven't started the program yet, she said.

Laurie Rees is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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