Taking religion to the battlefield
September 1, 2011
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- At the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School, next to the director for the Center for Spiritual Leadership resides Chaplain (Col.) Dan Ames, the director of the Center for World Religions.
The center, birthed in 2008 under the direction of the chief of chaplains, offers the Chaplain Corps resources for learning cultural norms and behaviors based on regional religious practices and beliefs. They use that information to support military operations by providing analysis and understanding at a basic level in order to help U.S. forces avoid potentially disastrous misunderstandings between American Soldiers and religious adherents worldwide.
"We educate, equip and encourage Unit Military Teams to advise their commanders on how religion impacts military operations," Ames said. "Helping UMTs learn how to do this type of religious advisement is becoming increasingly important. In fact, the CWR was asked to train the entire Army Chaplaincy in the subject, 'Religious Advisement in Full Spectrum Operations,' as one of the two mandatory training sessions at this year's Chaplain Annual Sustainment Training."
Ames' staff provides instruction and education at all levels of the Chaplain Corps, he said, as well as supporting requests for information from overseas and in training environments.
The staff members come into their roles with experience. In addition to Ames' own experience organizing meetings with Iraqi religious and political leaders during his Iraq deployment, the center's deputy director led a strategic religious advisement mission during his own Iraq deployment.
Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Ira Houck, the center's deputy director, suggested the center's mission is best explained by the Army's new chief of chaplains, Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Donald Rutherford, who said, "We will provide our commanders with sound advice on the impact of religion on our operations."
"Chaplain Rutherford pointed to two distinct chaplaincy capabilities that reemerge from traditional chaplain tasks and capabilities of providing commanders with relevant analysis of religion's impact. The first task of the Unit Ministry Team is to advise the command on the religious and spiritual needs of our own Soldiers and family members.
"The second task -- the one CWR has been directed to focus on -- is to expand the advisory capabilities of the Army Chaplaincy by understanding how the religious factors of indigenous people in the operational environment affect military operations. This is called religious advisement," Houck said.
Those two tasks, Houck said, are based on the principles every member of the chaplain corps adheres to: nurturing the living, caring for the wounded and honoring the fallen.
"Army chaplains and chaplain assistants must now think and act in more integrative ways that cut across traditional boundaries -- such as between official and unofficial religious actors -- and in diverse missions such as assisting with diplomatic relationships and advising other national leaders regarding their military chaplaincies," he said.
"With command guidance, UMTs are capable of promoting greater coordination among the myriad of influential leaders in a given conflict situation."