FORT HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif. -- "Soldiers are not going to be equipped to fight if they are not spiritually resilient. They need to know who they are deep down inside and what they live for," said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Graham Harbman, 311th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary).
On three separate days out of the three-week Combat Support Training Exercise, beginning June 4, 2016, 49 Army Reserve chaplains and chaplain assistants conducted religious-support specific training to improve their skills in taking care of Soldiers. They covered a number of topics that they likely would not be able to learn outside a large exercise setting.
Nearly 5,000 Army Reserve Soldiers from all over the United States and elsewhere, participated in the June 4 through 24, 2016 Combat Support Training Exercise at Fort Hunter Liggett, California. The purpose of this exercise was for Army Reserve units to practice their technical skills in an austere tactical environment under combat-like conditions.
Most battalion-size units and above have a Unit Ministry Team with a Chaplain who is a commissioned officer and a Chaplain's Assistant who is a non-commissioned officer. These teams provide religious support to Soldiers and advise their commanders. During this exercise, the chaplains trained as part of their units and with the chaplains from other units. They were able to break away from their commands to conduct much-needed ministry-team specific training on several occasions under Harbman's leadership.
In addition to several other events, the chaplains integrated into a combat hospital during a mass casualty training event. They set up a spiritual triage for the wounded in order to help provide comfort as efficiently and effectively as possible under difficult conditions. Taking care of the medical providers is also an important chaplain role. Doctors and nurses function through a crisis on adrenalin, but when it is over they have to deal with the trauma. Talking about and managing the traumatic experience within twenty-four to forty-eight hours is critical in helping reduce long-term post-traumatic stress. Traumatic event management involves sharing feelings and talking about the experience. They were encouraged to learn to take care of themselves, as well.
"In the chaplain corps we can focus so much on taking care of other people we forget to take care of ourselves," said Harbman.
Counseling is a big part of a Chaplain's job. They talked through grief counseling techniques. The chaplains learned what to expect and how to prepare.
Army Reserve Soldiers come from many faith groups. During the exercise, the teams discussed the process for helping members of minority religions observe and practice their faith according to the First Amendment. Chaplains from other faiths can provide administrative support for other religions, but not perform ceremonies or rituals.
The training included a refresher on the United States Army Chaplain Center and School, Fort Jackson, South Carolina, taught rubric for evaluating sacred communication. Each faith has its own requirements for how they instruct and inform members, sacred communication is a catch-all title for this instruction. It is what Christians call preaching. The rubric does not evaluate the content or theology, instead, it looks at the process of how the sacred communication is conducted. Important communication-skill questions are asked, such as does it grab attention, is it organized, is it easy to follow, does it avoid technical jargon, and is there a meaningful conclusion?
The chaplain teams also practiced reacting to receiving fire in combat. Chaplain assistants must know how to protect Chaplains, who are non-combatants.
"Many chaplains aren't as good as they should be at their staff duties. And the other staff officers don't expect them to be very good. So to build credibility is to be the best staff officer in the unit, not the weakest," said Harbman. He described that chaplains must also know how to write a memo, understand their place within the command staff, be able to go to the commander with problems, and they need to know how to write a religious support annex.
Additional training included responding to conscientious objectors. Chaplains are required to assess the Soldier through an interview and the makes recommendations on the sincerity of the Soldier's statement to their unit commander.
Every military chaplain has a 4-year college degree and at a minimum of 90-hours post-graduate education in theology. Most have a Master's degree in Divinity. All Army chaplains attend the Basic Officer Leaders Course, like all other Army officers. In addition to basic Soldier skills, much of the training is learning to appreciate the pluralistic culture of the military.
Harbman said, "Chaplains learn to hold to own convictions and still care for Soldiers whatever faith group they come from."