BLACK ROCK CAMP, Nadi, Fiji - U.S. Army Cpt. Kara Dreflak-Utley (Chaplain), 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, and Maj. Jono Holland (Chaplain), JP, Ph.D., Lead Chaplain of the Central Region –Linton DHD New Zealand Defense Force NZDF Chaplaincy, with the assistance of Staff Sgt. Maria L. Baez, 25th Infantry Division, Artillery, Brigade, Religious Affairs Specialist, came with training programs to help develop the Fijian Republic of Military Forces (RFMF) doctrine, September 11-20, 2022. The chaplains also wanted to learn and create relationships with each nation involved in the Multilateral Training during Exercise Cartwheel 2022. They said it is really about building relationships and sharing best practices.
Village Tunidau, Force Chaplain for the RFMF, known affectionately as Padre Bill, holds the only chaplain position in the RFMF. Padre Bill oversees the chaplaincy program with a few riflemen within the Fijian Army and Fijian Navy; they have the additional duty of unit Chaplin with little doctrine.
“At the moment, the RFMF Chaplaincy program does not have a policy for chaplains,” said Padre Bill.
Chaplain Utley stated, “it’s been a collaborative event; the entire 25th ID Chaplains have come together to build a training program for this two-week exercise and to share our best practices with them on how we do chaplaincy in our military and to facilitate Padre Bill in developing their chaplaincy program.”
The New Zealand chaplain program has dedicated itself to helping the RFMF and sharing its program and its doctrine.
“We have some training programs in New Zealand that we hope to collaborate with our Fijian Chaplains here, and building those relationships, those connections is vital for us in New Zealand.” Chaplain Holland.
Multilateral Training was provided, which also took seven days to complete. Although the first few days were spent in class and could sound daunting, the room was full of song, laughter, and crying as they shared their experiences and objectives as chaplains.
Like most Army training, the class followed a crawl-walk-run pattern. First, the planning (crawl), the classroom training (walk), and finally, field training (run).
For future Fijian chaplains, multiple concepts of the U.S. Chaplain Corps were hard to understand. One of the areas introduced during the class was the role of the U.S. Army Religious Affairs Specialist and how they carried a weapon since the chaplain was not allowed. Most of the chaplains in training were riflemen with the Fijian Army and were leery of the concept. One topic of serious discussion was how a chaplain of one specific faith could accommodate soldiers from all religions. U.S. Army Chaplains have to be able to provide spiritual support to all religious denominations. Maj. Taylor J. Durling, Exercise Cartwheel Commander for the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, said during graduation that he was impressed by the success of the training.
“The opportunity for them to learn about the role of 56M, Religious Support Specialist, in the United States military and conducting the joint field service was important,” said Durling.
While in the Field, the Chaplains and trainees not only held a multilateral religious service on Father’s Day for the soldiers who were conducting jungle training in the Nausori Highlands Training Area. They participated in several rigorous situational training exercise lane events while integrating with the soldiers from all nations involved.
Padre Bill said, “Integration and collaboration while working with the different partners here is unique; how we can work together from different backgrounds and cultures impressed me.”
It would seem the effort by the partner nations was not spent in vain. Padre Bill stated this is new to him but is impressed with the training, personal writing, and development of the new doctrine and promotion program for the entire RFMF, which will be in effect and complete within a year.
“I was so impressed that this training has happened, and I have a one-year plan with the RFMF to establish a proper chaplain structure,” Padre Bill said. “When that structure has been implemented, the participants or unit chaplains will be promoted to Warrant Officer.”
As it stands, Padre Bill is the only one holding the official chaplain position within the RFMF. At this time, the Soldiers in attendance had been elected by their units to be chaplains as an additional duty. However, he is not without support; regardless of the current position, rank, or branch, each soldier in attendance is unique because they all hold a pastoral role in their denominations. The new doctrine will appoint these soldiers as chaplains and be promoted to Warrant Officers.
“Changes and development are part of our commander's intent, and I would like to see the RFMF uplift the level of their knowledge so that they can serve the personnel in the RFMF in whatever circumstances we are in,” said Padre Bill.
On the seventh day of training, an award ceremony was held where the 12 participants, eight Fijian army participants, one Fijian Navy, and three chaplains from the Nadi International Airport, Fiji, received a Certificate of Achievement for completing the training and were celebrated in prayer, song, and exaltation.
Durling stated, “I see this is the first step in something we wish to continue.”