Cru Military Staff on a Mission to Provide Help and Hope for Military-Related Trauma

Posted in: Stories

Editorial Warning: Different types of trauma and suicide are mentioned. 

In recognition of PTSD Awareness Month, Alyssa Mersino, Social Media Marketing Specialist, sat down with Steve and Karen Dorner, Cru Military Field Staff, to learn more about their hearts for those suffering from PTSD and military-related trauma. 

How the Dorners’ ministry began  

The Dorners have served with Cru since 2002 and Cru Military since 2006. In 2009, they began helping with combat trauma seminars hosted by Cru Military across the country, and soon after they began teaching the seminars. The materials they used were the Combat Trauma Healing Manual and When War Comes Home, two resources provided by Cru Military for military members and their families experiencing military-related trauma. Then, in 2018, a partnership developed between Cru Military and REBOOT Recovery. 

Steve’s voice was thick with emotion. “We just love what we get to do,” he said. “We just finished our 11th course with REBOOT (5 in person, 6 virtual). We’ve seen people in dire straits, people who are on the verge of suicide and divorce, who in just 12 weeks come to the point where they’re not necessarily healed, but they’re on the path to healing and hope.” 

“I have a medic’s heart,” Steve said. “I was a combat medic with the infantry in Vietnam, and more than anything, I hated watching people die. It still hurts, the ones I couldn’t save. And with this ministry, we get to see the Lord save people in miraculous ways.” 

How do you, as Cru Military staff, continue to disciple participants after the REBOOT course is done?

Karen: After we graduated our first REBOOT group in 2018, we immediately created what we called “Spiritual Care Groups” for the warriors and the wives. We continued meeting on a weekly basis. We didn’t change location or date or time; we just continued the fellowship. The Combat Trauma Healing Manual was the curriculum for the warriors, and When War Comes Home was the curriculum for the wives. 

The Combat Trauma Healing Manual and When War Comes Home are two resources provided by Cru Military for military members and their families experiencing military-related trauma. These two books are an incredible aid to continue the journey to healing from military-related trauma. 

Karen:  So now we let our groups know that yes, it’s a 12-week course and it’s not a support group, but we will continue to offer opportunities to stay in fellowship and grow on a path towards healing from post traumatic stress. People have been very excited to continue doing that. So we continue to roll people into those groups as they graduate. 

Steve: We have people from our very first class in 2018 that we are still connected with, and some are on our team now. One couple, who came to us in a dire situation including past suicide attempts, is now faithfully serving on our team. Several other couples are leading their own teams both in person and virtually. The process really fits well into Cru Military’s mission to Win people to Christ, Build them in their faith, and Send them off equipped to share the gospel with others. 

How long does someone stay in a follow up/discipleship group? 

Karen: In a follow up group, they can stay as long as they want to. It’s totally up to them.

Steve: I keep up with, not with all of them, but those who want to be kept up with. Just random texts. “How are you?” Or they’ll call me and say, “Can we talk?” and we’ll talk. So we are always available. We have some that will just text me “I need help. I need prayer.” And I’ll start praying with them and send them some scriptures.

When Afghanistan fell, I texted all the Afghanistan veterans who were graduates from the course and just said: “I’m praying for you.” One of them, who was a medic like I was, said, “How did you know?” And I said, “because I know how I felt when Vietnam fell.”

Karen: But it is also reciprocal. We have some who check on us and who encourage us. It’s been a really wonderful thing to see how God has used that follow up time and especially with people who we’ve never met in person. I can’t explain how amazing it has been. 

This February, we had the opportunity to meet one couple who came to multiple virtual courses and were in town for a conference. We drove to their hotel and we hugged each other. They said, “Oh Steve, you’re taller than we thought you were.” The husband looked at us and said, “This is a dream come true” to meet each other in person. That was pretty awesome!

Do you have veterans come through the combat recovery course that didn’t see combat overseas? 

Steve: All the time. A lot of people say: “I wasn’t in combat. I wasn’t in the fighting. I was just in the back.” They were just in the back and that person who came to chow every day isn’t there. “What happened to Tom?” “Oh he got blown up.” Or, drone pilots who sit there and watch their drone kill somebody and then they go home and play with their kids. Or, people who are in the intelligence field and make a bad decision. They’re hit so hard. All these people are really hurting.

Karen: The term “combat trauma” can be limiting, so we’ve started using “military-related trauma.” And that can be anything that happened because of military service. We learned that there are many, many other situations that were bad. Things people can’t live with. They can’t reconcile. To me, that’s the heart of trauma, something that you cannot reconcile in your soul.

REBOOT Participants with Steve and Karen Dorner smiling

What is something that you would want other people to understand about PTSD? 

Steve [becoming emotional with tears in his eyes]: Because we’re dealing with some people who have been wounded, who have been lied to by the enemy, and who have been enslaved by two things. One is false guilt, the unforgiveness of themselves, and the other is their unforgiveness of others. I’m a simple guy, I know it’s a lot more complex than that. I’ve read about the brain, what it does, and all of those things. But it’s a wound of the soul and the spirit more than anything else. For some, it becomes too much. 

I love when I can see the lights come on in someone, they understand they are dealing with false guilt. I dealt with that myself. For probably ten years after Vietnam, I blamed myself for everyone that I didn’t save. I told myself it was my fault. And so they go through this: “If I had just been faster, if I’d made a better decision, if only, if only…I.” And Satan loves to use that trap –  “It’s all your fault.” 

And if they can overcome that idea of this false guilt, then the other obstacle is there’s true guilt too, especially in combat trauma because war is hell. And people in war get caught up in that mentality, the viciousness of war becomes a part of them, and they do things that they shouldn’t do. And they don’t understand that there’s a Savior of the universe who personally died for their sin. They never get released from it and they hold onto that sin until they end up suicidal. The Lord can set them free. 

Then, there is the inability to forgive others. The root of bitterness grows from you hanging on to your hatred of whoever caused the trauma. Many of these people are so afraid that if they forgive someone that means they’ve let them off the hook. If they could understand that forgiveness is not saying they didn’t do anything but it’s taking them off of your ledger and putting them on God’s ledger. Letting Him handle it. 

Those are two of the major things that I see: unforgiveness and the wounded soul, including false guilt. When those things come into acknowledgement and acceptance, the chains begin to weaken. 

Karen: It’s wonderful to see when they can understand that forgiveness of themselves and that, yes, we’re all unworthy of God’s grace but it’s a free gift and it’s available to everyone. God is the missing piece. 

Steve and Karen Dorner smiling with Combat Trauma Healing Manual and When War Comes Home books

How does your ministry bring military spouses into the healing process? 

Karen: Veterans will say “My spouse doesn’t know what all has gone on,” and they’ll say “Well, why would I come home and put this on them? Because it would be a trauma for them to know what happened to me. Because I went to that war to keep bad things from happening to my family. Why would I bring it home and tell it to them?”

In the context of a group where trust has been established, sometimes they’re able to let their guard down enough that spouses can begin to understand each other’s wounds. It works both ways. The spouse at home has experienced many, many traumatic and hard things. Not the same things, but situations that they never thought they would have to endure. Maybe weeks of waiting to find out if the other person was still alive. So, the person at home has wounds, too. And that’s been a great eye opener. 

We’ve had wives in courses who will admit “I just couldn’t understand what happened to him. This is not the man I married who came home. “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you get over it? Just suck it up.” We have a life to live. Get over it.” They will admit that they thought and said those things. And then they feel terrible because now they understand why that wasn’t possible. Until God stepped into the picture. 

The spouse who was deployed or in combat sees the other side of what happened at home. “Well I never knew you went through that. I never knew you had those days and days of being afraid. I never knew you had so much to handle.” So they learn each other’s struggles.

What is one the major areas of suffering for those experiencing military-related trauma?

Steve: For many people suffering with military-related trauma, it becomes their identity. They think, “I am the wounded. I will never be healed.” 

When I left Vietnam, I had a debriefing from a chaplain. He said, “When you get back to the United States, don’t let anybody know you were here.” [Steve put his hand to his heart.] So we held it inside. But you see, the enemy of our souls says the same thing to these current veterans. “Don’t let anybody know.” “They won’t love you.” “They’ll throw you out.” 

Our goal is to help them learn that they’ve been living with a false identity and begin to see their true identity in Christ. “I’m not unforgivable, I’m forgiven. I’m not unlovable, I’m loved.” There’s a chapter in the Combat Healing Trauma Manual titled “Who Am I Now?” that teaches this concept.

One of the things that I ran across and I share with our people, usually at graduation, is that the devil knows our name but he calls us by our sin; our Savior knows our sin and He calls us by our name. He calls us “beloved.” 

The devil knows our name but he calls us by our sin; our Savior knows our sin and He calls us by our name. He calls us “beloved.”

What is it like doing military-related trauma ministry? 

Karen: The reality of this work is that it’s very hard. Sometimes we sit down to start a virtual meeting and just feel “not in it.” But as soon as we see the faces, we are totally engaged and love it. And when the meeting is over, often we burst into tears because things are so hard. When things don’t go well for some of the participants, it’s especially hard. 

Steve: The spiritual warfare against us has been nonstop since we started this. It has been the most rewarding and most difficult 10 years of our lives.

How to get involved with Cru Military 

Cru Military engages active military personnel, guard and reserve members, as well as veterans and their family members, in the area of military-related trauma. Since 2018, more than 50 locations have been served by Cru Military staff providing trauma healing courses, spiritual care small groups, and discipleship programs, both locally and virtually.

Our mission is to create a military community where everyone knows someone who is a follower of Christ. We give people like the Dorners the opportunities and resources they need to continue their military-related trauma ministry. Your help is vital to our success.