FORT BRAGG, N.C. (April 22, 2015) -- Chaplains and chaplain assistants from across the Total Army Force gathered here at Fort Bragg for the 2015 Strategic Operational Readiness and Training Assessment Forum (SORTAF), April 14-16.

The annual forum is hosted the U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) Chaplain's Office to develop junior chaplains and chaplain assistants from organizations throughout the Army, primarily from active and Reserve Component brigade-level FORSCOM units, as well as elements from the Army National Guard.

Much of the training took place in small group settings, facilitated by senior chaplains and chaplain assistants. Participants rotated through five discussion groups, each focused on one of the FORSCOM commanding general's priorities, which are: increase and build readiness; improve health of the Total Force; develop leaders; operationalize Army Total Force Policy; and foster relationships and enduring partnerships.

"I Corps, III Corps, 18th Airborne Corps, United States Army Reserve Command and First Army have all put together white papers and training support packages [they will use to] train the Soldiers, get feedback from the Soldiers and they are then … charged to go back out to the field and basically train the trainers," said Sgt. Maj. Chantel Sena-Diaz, FORSCOM chaplain sergeant major. "So, they'll go out and train the force on what they're learning here.

"We'll also collect feedback from them so we can further establish what our baseline training standards will be at the battalion, brigade, division, and corps level, as well as our operational readiness … inspections, said Sena-Diaz."

To maximize the benefit of the three-day event, the participants stuck to a demanding schedule.
During lunch on the first day, attendees were split into five groups of chaplains and five groups of chaplain assistants, with a senior noncommissioned officer and a senior chaplain with each respective group.

Questions were prepared in advance to help generate discussion on training and readiness, but group members had the opportunity to ask questions of senior leaders from the corps or division level, one of the FORSCOM Combat Training Centers, or the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School.

It was an opportunity to discuss issues with senior leaders and receive "genuine and transparent answers," said Sena-Diaz.

During the second day of lunchtime discussion, participants were divided into 10 integrated groups, each led by both a senior chaplain and a senior chaplain assistant, to get answers to questions that concern Unit Ministry Teams, such as how to successfully integrate into their unit's staff as well as a variety of other challenges unique to providing religious support.

Parts of the SORTAF brought everyone together, such as presentations by the FORSCOM deputy chief of staff, G-1, Maj. Gen. Barrye Price; FORSCOM deputy chief of staff, G-3/5/7, Maj. Gen. Thomas James; the Army chief of chaplains, Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Donald Rutherford; and the Army Chaplain Corps Regimental Sergeant Major, Sgt. Maj. Alvin Chaplin, Sr.

Rutherford highlighted the importance of pastoral identity and the unique capabilities chaplains and chaplain assistants bring to the Army as ministry teams. Rutherford also emphasized training events like the SORTAF are intentional investments in them today so that they can provide leadership in the Army and the chaplaincy of tomorrow.

A special presentation on "Understanding the Rise of ISIS and the role of Religion in the Combatant Commander's Area of Responsibility" was provided by the Marine Corps University's Major General Matthew C. Horner Distinguished Chair of Military Theory, Sebastian Gorka, Ph.D.

Gorka pointed to visual and verbal examples to explain the significance of religion in ISIS.
Many of the chaplains and chaplain assistants expressed their appreciation for Dr. Gorka's presentation and said they had learned a lot.

"I've been in [the Army] since before the war started with regions in the Middle East. This has actually been the very first time … that I have actually received any type of training like that. It actually opened my eyes on understanding the ideology, it's about ideas. It's not about the material possessions, which really helped me out. It helps me as a trainer because I'm able to translate that into training words for our Soldiers coming to NTC. It was really useful," said Sgt. 1st Class Ruben Jaureguivillegas, Senior Unit Ministry Team trainer, National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Ca.

Price spoke to the group about the health of the force and James provided an operational update.
Chaplain (Maj.) Dave Meyer, the senior religious support observer controller trainer at the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La., summed up the sentiment of many SORTAF participants.

"I think this is very good. It's been very relevant. It gives us a chance to talk about a lot of the things that are kind of burning issues on our level and get some tremendous input from senior leaders. To have the FORSCOM G-1 [and] the FORSCOM G-3 come talk to us -- what a gift! We don't get those opportunities very often. So, to have those opportunities has been very, very helpful."

Chaplain (Col.) Thomas Solhjem, FORSCOM's command chaplain and host of the forum said the forum's theme, 'Investing in Junior Leaders Today … Leading the Chaplain Corps of Tomorrow' was reinforced by the intentional training topics, mentoring sessions and networking.

"Relevant and engaging speakers not only made SORTAF a success, but served as a model for how the Army should train future leaders," said Solhjem. "The interactive, small group training forum ensured that FORSCOM and the Army will complete their mission to provide trained and ready ministry teams to the combatant commanders."