Unit Ministry Teams Host Cultural Exchange with Kuwait Ministry of Defense
June 9, 2014
Camp Arifjan, Kuwait -- In the religiously pluralistic environment of the U.S. military, chaplains and chaplain assistants in the Army are accustomed to working with personnel of many different faith expressions and with those who hold no religious faith commitment. An often unrecognized benefit of being deployed as a Unit Ministry Team (UMT), however, is the opportunity to see how militaries from other nations provide for the religious needs of their service members. Through interactions with religious support providers from a different religious culture, UMT members are provided a tremendous opportunity to improve their cross-cultural understanding and enhance their professional development.
On May 12, Active Duty, Army Reserve and National Guard UMT personnel deployed to Kuwait had the opportunity to learn how the Kuwait military takes care of the religious needs of its Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines at a religious and cultural affairs information exchange program with staff members from the Kuwait Ministry of Defense Directorate of Moral Guidance and Public Relations (DMG). The U.S. Army Central (USARCENT) Command Chaplain's Office organized the information exchange with the DMG staff as part of Chief of Chaplain's mandated monthly UMT professional development training.
Maj. Jasem Al Selahi, an Islamic Affairs Officer, and Imam Salhi Rija, a Kuwait Army Imam, gave a presentation on the organization, training, roles, functions and responsibilities of military Imams and Islamic Affairs Officers. DMG Islamic Affairs Officers and Military Imams in the DMG's Imam Division provide religious support to all branches of service in the Kuwait military. They perform many of the same functions as chaplains and chaplain assistants in the U.S. Army. UMT members discussed similarities and differences in professional practices with their Kuwaiti counterparts. One notable difference is that Kuwait military Imams are Non-commissioned Officers and Warrant Officers, while U.S. Chaplains are Commissioned Officers. Conversely, many of the administrative and logistics functions performed by U.S. Army Chaplain Assistants are handled by the DMG's Islamic Affairs personnel, who are Commissioned Officers. Regardless of the differences, one similarity was evident between the two groups: the earnest concern and commitment to meet the religious needs of their respective military forces.
"I very much enjoyed seeing and hearing from an Imam because that is such a rare experience for me" commented Chaplain (Lieut. Col.) Joey Byrd, USARCENT Deputy Command Chaplain (Forward) who helped coordinate the exchange program.
I very much welcome and appreciate hearing from another military's chaplain corps the way they do business because it helps me to see that we are very similar with our challenges and our goals of providing the highest quality of religious support to those we serve."
Following the DMG's presentation, Mr. Mohammad Al Naqwi, a lecturer from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs Western Perception of Islam Center, gave a briefing discussing the core beliefs and practices of Islam. His presentation was insightful and appreciated by UMT members, providing a view of the Islamic faith from the perspective of a practitioner. Mr. Al Naqwi was also informative in explaining the differences between some of the religious Islamic practices and traditional Arab cultural practices that are not specifically derived from Islam itself.
Chaplain (Lieut. Col.) Peter Dubinin, Operations Chaplain for the 1st Theater Sustainment Command (Forward), observed that the information exchange was directly relevant to the mission of Unit Ministry Team members in Kuwait.
"I especially appreciated receiving instruction on Islam directly from teachers and adherents of Islam. This training is precisely the kind of training required as the Army moves to a Regionally Aligned Force structure. Direct knowledge of indigenous religions (culture) is essential to effective cultivation of positive personal and working relationships with our coalition partner nations."
Following the briefing, the presenters answered UMT member's questions and participated in a lively discussion session.
Religious and cultural affairs exchange programs enhance UMT members' understanding of other religions and cultures while supporting the core UMT capability of advising commanders on area religious issues. Collaboration on information exchange programs between the USARCENT Command Chaplain's Office and DMG helps strengthen the longstanding military--to--military relationship between USARCENT and the Kuwait Armed Forces, promotes mutual professional development, and fosters engagement with this key partner nation. Our deployed UMT will return to their home stations with valuable lessons learned from this rare opportunity to interact with military religious professionals of our host country.