FAIRFIELD — When the Navy was sending home sailors from their deployments in Vietnam, Chaplain Capt. Lester Westling was tasked with preparing them emotionally, mentally and spiritually for re-entry into the world.
Westling, an Episcopal minister, also realized that their families needed assistance to help their loved one to successfully readjust to living with their loved ones.
It was the reason he helped establish the Navy’s first marriage counseling clinic in San Diego, which inspired the Navy/Marine Family Service Centers.
“After 26 years in the military, I felt I could put these experiences and learning to use,” Westling said of why he recently finished writing “After the Parade: Adjustments Confronting Military Personnel and their Families,” a compilation of 17 essays dealing with problems facing military service members and their families when the military member returns from deployment.
“I wanted to produce something that is easy reading, is inexpensive and easily accessible,” said Westling, now retired from the Episcopal Church and living in Paradise Valley Estates in Fairfield. “My heart is with the military families. This is something that is needed by our armed forces.”
This is Westling’s third book. He published “All That Glitters,” the memoirs of his years as a Navy chaplain, in 2000, and “When Johnny/Joanie Comes Marching Home,” about reuniting military families after deployment, published in 2006.
“I felt that God had me do this as a mission,” Westling said of compiling “After the Parade,” which was published in April. “I find this to be a continuation of my ministry.”
Westling said that the issues that faced Vietnam veterans on their return – post-traumatic stress disorder, survivor’s guilt, family changes while they were deployed and traumatic brain injuries – are, at their core, the same challenges facing returning military service members and their loved ones now.
“Military families need all the help that they could get,” Westling said, pointing out that suicide among military members, one of the problems that plagues the military, has become a prime concern.
Westling writes that many of the changes in service members caused by deployment can’t be completely cured, but can be managed. In the book, he points out warning signs, what to do and what resources there are out there to help.
“When people know what they are up against, they know better how to handle it,” Westling said. “This offers a means of managing what can’t be solved.”
Westling has been an Episcopal priest for almost 60 years with a calling that included parish ministries in Northern California, missionary service in the Philippines and service as a Navy chaplain.
He joined the Navy to serve in Vietnam, spending two chaplaincy tours there, first with the 3rd Marine Division and then as a circuit-riding chaplain ministering to 65 combat units located along the Mekong and Bassac rivers as well as along the Cambodian border. Westling spent 26 years in the Navy, retiring with the rank of captain.
Westling has self-published all three books under Hillwood Publishing, which can be reached at www.hillwoodpublishing.net. The books are also available on Amazon.com.
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.