By W. Wayne MarlowSeptember 18, 2013
ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- An Army chaplain's role includes prayers and communion, but also PowerPoint and communication.
"Chaplains come into the Army knowing how to be clergy, and so they are equipped to meet the spiritual needs of Soldiers and their family members," said the First Army Command Chaplain, Col. Michael Thomas. But it is key, he added, that chaplains and their assistants understand "how to integrate with their staff and commander. If a Unit Ministry Team cannot understand an Operation Order, it will be ineffective in being in the right place at the right time for meeting the spiritual needs of their Soldiers."
The key role and responsibilities that Unit Ministry Teams have on command staffs was one of the main points addressed during a U.S. Army Reserve Command Chaplain Training Assessment Meeting held here Sept. 9-10. The First Army Chaplains Office hosted the meeting, and Thomas talked about how UMTs help units succeed.
Thomas noted that First Army chaplains and chaplain assistants have "done a superior job training USARC Unit Ministry Teams in the mobilization process." Now, he added, "They will continue to train, assist, and advise in Combat Support Training Exercises (CSTX) and Warfighter exercises."
A CSTX is designed to train and prepare Army Reserve Combat Support units and to certify the unit's readiness. A Warfighter Exercise is a collective training event for battalion staffs and above that focuses on battlefield management and decision making.
"The end state of this meeting is, in the next two years, to see U.S. Army Reserve Unit Ministry Teams being trained and ready to provide comprehensive religious support to their units," Thomas said.
Providing this support requires chaplains and their assistants to understand how a staff operates, and their role on that staff.
One of the attendees, Master Sgt. Michael Bair of the First Army Division East Chaplains Office, said the meeting was productive on that front, but only the first step.
"The next step is to go back to our chain of command and discuss what we learned … and continue to dialogue in order to implement new procedures on how we train Reserve UMTs," Bair said. "When they do their culminating training exercise during their active training, UMTs should not just be doing their religious support role, but also participating as staff members."
This was the first training assessment meeting, but there are plans to make it an annual event, Thomas said. According to Thomas, the meeting was at Rock Island Arsenal partly because of its central location among the units, but also because of First Army's mission of training, assisting, and advising USARC units. One of the primary focuses was on ensuring USARC UMTs are ready to contribute to their unit's training exercises.
"The purpose was to work out what upcoming CSTX and Warfighter training events would need First Army Chaplain Section support training and observer/controller-trainer support," Thomas said.
To help ensure Unit Ministry Teams are available to support their unit's Soldiers, Thomas said they are trained on skills such as "privileged communication, traumatic event ministry, advising the commander on ethical issues, the chaplain's role in sexual harassment and assault response and prevention, memorial ceremonies, and the military decision-making process."
Thomas said the working relationship between First Army and USARC helped make for a successful meeting. "The camaraderie between First Army and the USARC sections is refreshing," he said. "There is a lot of positive synergy between those offices."
Bair agreed that the working relationship proved fruitful. "The summit was an excellent experience where the Reserve chaplains were able to come together with First Army Unit Ministry Teams and discuss the training of UMTs in the future," he said. "We really came to an understanding of each of our roles and how we can support each other."