FORT BLISS, Texas – Chaplain teams with units across First Army participated in an annual symposium to strengthen partnerships, talk resource management, systems requirements, and facilitate observer coach/trainer development in preparation for large-scale mobilization operation contingencies here Sept. 12-15.

The week-long symposium boasted various subject-matter experts/guest speakers to foster teamwork and readiness between First Army chaplain teams and their reserve component counterparts throughout the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps.

Chaplain (Col.) Kevin Forrester, First Army command chaplain, underscored the importance this partnership by opening with a World War I quote by Gen. John J. Pershing, "We no longer differentiate in the ultimate sense between Army, National Guard and Reserve Forces. Every energy is bent to the development of the Army of the United States. Our purpose is to think only of the American Citizen and prepare them for duties in war."

The more than 50 chaplains and religious affairs specialists discussed large-scaled mobilization operations, or LSMO, which refers to preparing and validating large numbers of reserve component units for contingency operations through Mobilization Force Generating Installation, or MFGI, expansion, with the support of Army mobilization enterprise partners. Currently, First Army operates two “active” MFGI’s at Fort Hood, Texas and Fort Bliss, Texas.

“Past symposiums have been focused on ‘what we [Chaplains] do,’ this year’s symposium is absolutely focused on where we need to be,” said Forrester. “We are focused on harmonizing ourselves with the Army. In the past, we have been focused on preparing for counter-insurgency operations in the Middle East and Central Command area of operations, now we are honing in on large-scale combat operations and how it contributes to the larger picture.”

In the event of LSMO against a peer adversary, reserve component soldiers of both the U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard will be crucial to fighting and winning the conflict.

Guest speaker, Chaplain (Brig. Gen.) Thomas G. Behling, director of the Joint Chaplains Office, National Guard Bureau; deputy chief of chaplains for the Army National Guard; and the command chaplain for U.S. Army Forces Command, honed in on the unique dual mission of the Army National Guard to emphasize the importance of their role in the Total Force.

“The Army National Guard has a unique dual mission: the Federal mission of maintaining properly trained and equipped units available for prompt mobilization for war, national emergencies, or as otherwise needed; and the State mission of providing trained and disciplined forces for domestic emergencies or as otherwise required by State laws.”

The key to success in LSMO will be the smooth integration of all three components that comprise the Total Force – Active, Guard, and Reserve.

“This year’s symposium theme is religious support for large-scale mobilization operations, which focuses on helping train all our Chaplain Corps OC/Ts how to be ready should large-scale mobilization be our nation’s call to First Army,” said Forrester. “We encouraged participants to start thinking about what would be required if we went to LSMO.”

The forum afforded attendees the chance to break down and analyze LSMO requirements and challenges.

“We need to look at this from a Total Army, and a Total First Army perspective; we have First Army Division East here; First Army Division West here, because even though each of our brigades have slightly different missions, we all have to be on the same page if LSMO becomes a reality,” said Forrester. “We need to identify what the needs are as we start to recognize all of the challenges LSMO will present to us, and this allows us to start making preparations in the near future.”

In a symposium first, participants were provided a tour of McGregor Range, New Mexico for a first-hand experience of a MFGI.

“We worked with First Army in planning the symposium by taking care of some of the onsite logistics at Fort Bliss and leading the MFGI training operations tour at McGregor Range where we took the entire group out to show them where and how reserve units train, what culminating training events looks like, and how 5th Armored Brigade conducts their training/validation operations to give participants ideas they may find useful during their planning process,” said Chaplain (Maj.) Scott Dennis, 5th Armored Brigade chaplain and senior OC/T. “The next day, participants worked in groups to build a standard operating procedure for First Army chaplain section OC/Ts nationwide. Our mission is unique because we focus on OC/T readiness while remaining responsive for religious support and pastoral care to our units when issues arise.”

Attendees additionally gained a shared understanding of LSMO challenges across the mobilization enterprise and worked to create mitigation strategies to reduce friction points.

“Being from a unit geographically distanced from the rest of my counterparts, I appreciated the opportunity the symposium offered, providing the ability to meet with other members of First Army to share ideas, products, and OC/T experiences/practices to better the organization as a whole,” said Staff Sgt. Dominick D. Williams, senior brigade religious affairs noncommissioned officer with 174th Infantry Brigade out of Joint Base McGuire-Dix Lakehurst, New Jersey. “Being from a unit where we are always traveling to train soldiers, the tour led by Chaplain (Maj.) Dennis helped us meet and map our points of contact to better visualize and plan for future training, especially in the event of LSMO.”

The symposium facilitated discussions to bridge the gap across geographically-dispersed units, serving the same mission, with the same readiness goal in mind.

“Coming in from the Army National Guard, it was a great experience to talk about First Army chaplain's unique role as an OC/T, which gave me a much better realization of what the organization does as a whole,” said Chaplain (Capt.) Paul G. Kauffman, deputy chaplain, First Army Division East out of Fort Knox, Kentucky. “The presentations forced everyone to think outside the box and emphasized the importance of building relationships with partners to help with future planning and collaborations.”

The desired future state is to achieve strategic objectives across Chaplain OC/Ts for mobilizing and deploying combat-ready Reserve Component forces, so that they can win on a complex, multi-domain battlefield.