RALEIGH, N.C. - Once a year, Army and Air Force chaplains that provide counseling, ministry, and pastoral services to soldiers for the state of North Carolina come together to complete a religious support training class at Fort Fisher, N.C.

The comprehensive religious training covers a range of topics.
One main topic is the National Guard State Partnership Program which is a key U.S. security cooperation tool that facilitates cooperation across all aspects of international civil-military affairs and encourages collaboration between nations in the aspects of education, agriculture, science and technology and business.

This year, leaders from the Botswana Defense Force Col. David Mapitse, BDF chief chaplain, and Col. Kagiso Kgaswanyane, assistant chief of staff personnel, visited North Carolina for a benchmark exercise to review Botswana's current methods of induction, appointment and deployment of chaplains.

The two BDF leaders sought to re-evaluate their chaplaincy program by using the NCNG, along with active duty components from the Army and the United Kingdom, as an example for their reorganization.

North Carolina's SPP began in 1995 with an initial partnership with Moldova, conducting similar trading of ideas and capabilities through government, industry, education and military disciplines. Botswana has been a partner with North Carolina since 2008.

"The State Partnership Program is an essential mission in leveraging resources at the National Guard State level to assist our European and African partners," said Army chaplain Steven M. King, 60th Troop Command chaplain. "More specifically, in reaching across state and national boundaries further builds the bridges of mutual respect and cultural understanding."

Similar relationships exist between other countries and National Guard organizations throughout the 54 contiguous states and territories.

Mapitse, a 20-year military veteran, governs 12 chaplains for Botswana. Botswana suffers from a HIV/AIDS epidemic that has plagued the country since its first reported case in 1985. Mapitse said having a working relationship with the community and understanding the HIV/AIDS problem is a critical need for newly ordained chaplains.

"This [HIV/AIDS] is one of the more difficult things to combat a chaplain because it leaves widows and children without a strong support system," Mapitse said.

Mapitse and Kgaswanyane visited North Carolina, also sought solutions from their counterparts in regards to recruitment and training in order to develop a more dynamic chaplaincy.

Upon visiting, Fort Bragg, N.C., Mapitse, Kgaswanyane, Army chaplains Ben Hodge, North Carolina National Guard senior command chaplain, and Steven M. King, 60th Troop Command chaplain, along with Army Master Sgt. Terry Thompson, senior command chaplain noncommissioned officer in charge, met with active duty Army chaplains Ran Dolinger, Fort Bragg Garrison chaplain and Mackberth Williams, Fort Bragg Deputy Garrison chaplain to discuss the different religions that the Army now recognizes and accommodates.

"The visit by chaplain [Col.] Mapitse and Col. Kgaswanyane also assisted us in better understanding the challenges faced by BDF chaplains in providing spiritual support, while also further growing their own chaplaincy structure," said King.

The group also discussed how chapels are built and shared with other religious groups along with its various functions.

The Botswana representatives also visited the Family Life Center, which is a Teaching Institute that certifies chaplains through a 16-month program that teaches the candidates how to be family life counselors and help family members and soldiers through traumatic situations.

Finally, Mapitse and Kgaswanyane visited with Army Lt. Col. Sarah Dicks, North Carolina's Recruiting and Retention Brigade commander, to discuss different aspects and criteria the National Guard use for recruiting candidates for military service.