By Story by Sgt. Sydney Mariette
34th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade
“I wanted to serve and to support those in the uniform who struggle with mental health concerns,” said Capt. Andrew Dahlstrom, company commander for the Headquarters Support Company, 834th Aviation Support Battalion. “I [originally] wanted to be a psychologist in the Army to help address these problems and help Soldiers have fulfilling and meaningful lives.” Instead, Dahlstrom has become the Designated Religious Group Leader (DRGL) for Buddhism for his battalion.
During his first deployment to the Middle East, Dahlstrom has been supporting his Soldiers by initiating a Buddhist meditation group at Camp Buehring, Kuwait which he began in February 2020. Despite a pause during the initial spread of COVID-19, the group continues to meet in a socially distanced environment at the Spiritual Life Center on a weekly basis. Dahlstrom explains that each session is tailored to the participant’s comfort level and experience with meditation and Buddhism. All are welcome to these meditation sessions, where they begin with brief introductions, a reading (typically from the book, Buddhist Boot Camp), and a group meditation.
“I typically have the group meditate for 20 minutes at the start,” said Dahlstrom. “Then we will do either a guided meditation session or a silent one, depending on the feel of the group that day. At the end, I will invite [ring] the bell, signaling the end of the meditation and ask for general reflections or thoughts as the sitting group ends.”
Dahlstrom became interested in Buddhism at the age of 17 and discovered the Clouds in Water Zen Center while completing his doctorate in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. During mobilizing at Fort Hood, Texas, he and some of his Soldiers were able to attend a Buddhist service and many Soldiers announced their interest in continuing meditation while in theater. Hence, the need to become the Designated Religious Group Leader for Buddhism was realized by Dahlstrom and his battalion Chaplain, Chaplain (Capt.) Matthew Deitner.
“There were a large number of Soldiers within our Battalion that were interested in either Buddhism or meditation, or were culturally Buddhist,” said Dahlstrom. “As a result, Chaplain Deitner asked if I could be sponsored as a Designated Religious Group Leader by my Sangha (community).”
To become a Designated Religious Group Leader requires the applicant to gain sponsorship from both their Chaplain and by an official representative from the established religious community that the applicant is trying to represent. Dahlstrom coordinated with his Buddhist community at the Clouds in Water Zen Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota and Chaplain Matthew Deitner to gain approval to become the Designated Religious Group Leader for the 834th Aviation Support Battalion.
“His [Dahlstrom’s] willingness to share his experience in this faith practice has enhanced Soldier spiritual health in a way that we were not able to provide before,” said Deitner. “We are one of the most religiously diverse battalions in the state and his leadership in this area helped to expand spiritual resiliency efforts. As we strive to support faith groups of all sizes within our formation we recognize that all of us gain inner strength in different ways. By acknowledging and supporting everyone's spiritual health we become better all the way around.”
With the end of his deployment on the horizon, Dahlstrom has had the opportunity to train Warrant Officer 1 Erik Hodge, a mobility officer with the 82nd Airborne Division as a replacement for his Buddhist meditation groups.
“I am very excited and grateful that Mr. Erik Hodge came in to take the mantle, so to speak, to lead the sangha, as we are getting ready to leave,” said Dahlstrom. “Having sat in on a few of his groups now, I firmly believe the sangha is in good hands!”
Dahlstrom brought a weekly hour of peace to the Soldiers who participated in his meditation sessions and is leaving a legacy that will continue to impact deployed service members to come.
U.S. ARMY RESERVE
DEPT. OF DEFENSE
U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND
DEPT. OF HOMELAND SECURITY
BEST WARRIOR COMPETITION