Unit Ministry Teams on Fort Polk congregate to train
Fort Polk’s Unit Ministry Team plot points before they begin a land navigation exercise during UMT training to improve navigation skills in the field Oct. 22. (Photo Credit: Angie Thorne) VIEW ORIGINAL

By: Spc. Kelly Acevedo

Public Affairs Office

FORT POLK, La. — The chaplain corps is an integral part of the Army. Chaplains aid Soldiers in need of support, emotional guidance and spiritual challenges. Their help is not limited to Soldiers; chaplains support military families as well. Unit Ministry Teams across the Army are crucial to winning the wars of our nation. This month, UMTs across Fort Polk gathered for hands-on training in live scenarios that UMTs face in battle.

The UMT at the Joint Readiness Training center’s Operations Group organized the field training exercise for UMT’s on Fort Polk to develop operational religious support readiness and capability. Chaplain (Maj.) Erik Alfsen and his team of religious affairs specialists noncommissioned officers prepared two months in advance.

The exercise was designed to improve the confidence of chaplains and religious affairs specialists, estimate prioritization of religious support in real life scenarios and reassess land navigation and communications in an operational environment.

“A lot of our training is done in chapels through power points, so it’s great to get out in the field,” Alfsen said.

UMTs are essential for missions within their units. They work alongside commanders, informing them on Soldiers needs on a need-to-know basis “Commanders recognize chaplains serve as a sensor. The great thing we see here at JRTC is that UMTs are actively employed by their commanders to be able to keep a finger on the pulse of the unit and provide care to Soldiers,” Alfsen said.

Alfsen and his team began the exercise with a demonstration on how UMTs should prepare for land navigation. They introduced a new approach to effectively get to destinations which began with how a map is taken care of.

UMTs folded their maps to focus on the area they would cover. They then laminated their maps with clear acetate covers and used cardboard cut outs as a base. Tape was used to seal the map in. Once finished, Soldiers were ready to plot their points to begin the course.

The course consisted of four stations. Each station tested UMTs on their ability to support a unit down rage.

The first station was an advisement lane. This tested how UMTs advised the executive officer and refined their plan based on the scenario given to them.

The second station was a field service lane. UMTs needed to provide religious services, sacraments and religious rites according to their own faith and tradition.

The third station was a counseling lane. UMTs were tested on how they assessed the needs of a unit that experienced numerous losses and how they triaged while identifying the needs of Soldiers. This lane helped improve confidentiality and assess UMTs ability to counsel Soldiers struggling emotionally and spiritually in a combat environment.

The fourth and final station was a communications and reporting lane. UMTs had to properly put an Advanced System Improvement Program radio into operation, send a religious support update to a brigade UMT and properly call up for medical evacuation. This reintroduction of radios was to improve radio etiquette and practice problem solving.

Upon completion of the course, the UMTs made their way back to the start line for an after action review. This discussion was to evaluate one another as a group, assess standards and present different approaches to better such training for the future.

Alfsen hopes this new approach to train helped UMT Soldiers develop priorities of religious support to deliver ministry at the right place at the right time and improve confidence.

“That’s what they’re trained to do — screen Soldiers and maintain confidentiality. Soldiers need to know that whenever they talk to a UMT, whatever they say is between them and that’s valuable to chaplains because I can only talk to one person at a time, but my religious support specialist can help me assess needs,” Alfsen said.

Alfsen hopes UMTs across the Army train in field environments to exercise tactical and operational skills. Integrating hands on training will only maximize UMTs efficiency when supporting Soldiers and units.