NY Army Guard chaplains attend training workshop with African counterparts

By Eric DurrApril 23, 2024

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) hosts chaplain workshop in Zambia
New York Army National Guard Chaplain (Col.) Douglas Brock, the State Chaplain for New York National Guard poses with Zambian Chaplain Captain P. Kopakopa during a meeting of African and American chaplains in Lusaka, Zambia, on April 8, 2024. The Zambian Defence Force invited Brock and New York Army National Guard Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Timothy Miller, along with other American chaplains to attend a five day workshop for African military chaplains in Lusaka. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ebony Neal) (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

LUSAKA, ZAMBIA--The New York National Guard’s state chaplain, and deputy state chaplain, spent April 5 to 13 in Lusaka, the capital of the southern African country of Zambia, sharing experiences and ideas with military chaplains from five African militaries.

Chaplain (Col.) Douglas Brock, the state chaplain and Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Timothy Miller, his deputy, took part in a chaplains’ workshop conducted by Zambia’s chaplain general, Brig. Gen. Rev. Dr. Henry Matifeyo.

Military chaplains from Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, and Namibia were among the 60 chaplains attending the event.

The five nations are part of the Southern African Development Community, a 16-nation organization which is focused on economic development, but which also works together in defense and security cooperation, according to the organization website.

Brock and Miller were part of a twelve-member American contingent, headed by U.S. African Command Chief Chaplain (Col.) Karen Meeker, who were also invited to attend.

He and Miller were there because chaplains from South Africa were expected to attend, Brock said.

The New York National Guard is aligned with the South African National Defence Force under the National Guard’s State Partnership Program.

The South African’s did not make it, but taking part in the conference was a great experience, Brock said.

“It was a remarkable opportunity to connect and learn from our international peers, “reminding us that despite diverse backgrounds our mission remains the same: to compassionately support our service members and their families,” Brock said.

The African chaplains face the same issues that American chaplains do, said Miller, who also serves as the division chaplain for the 42nd Infantry Division.

“Their Soldiers deploy on peacekeeping missions to the Democratic Republic of Congo and face the same stresses Americans who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan dealt with; separation from families and PTSD inducing events,” Miller said.

He and Brock, and the other Americans, including chaplains from the North Carolina Army National Guard, talked about American programs for coping with PTSD and the stresses of deploying and returning from deploying, Miller said.

“We are all in the same type of environment,” Miller said. “It might look at little different, but we all have the job of nourishing the souls of those who are part of the military no matter what flag they may be under.”

“Our chaplain core competencies are to nurture the living, care for the wounded, and honor the fallen,” Miller added.

The Americans also discussed how the U.S. Army is making changes to programs to train and develop chaplains.

The Americans also learned from the Africans, Miller said.

Democratic Republic of Congo Army Chaplain Col. Tshinyime Kasongo Celestin, spoke movingly about how he had to deal with his own trauma after seeing soldiers who had been killed and mutilated by rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Miller said.

Another retired military chaplain talked about how he provided care for Soldiers stricken by a deadly fever during a deployment, Miller added.

Brock said that being present at the workshop was also a great way to promote the State Partnership Program, which pairs National Guard’s with foreign militaries for training and personal engagements.

The North Carolina National Guard chaplains were there because their state has partnerships with , Botswana, Zambia, and Malawi.

Hopefully the other chaplains saw that there were benefits to working with members of the National Guard, Brock said.

Along with the formal discussions, there were plenty of opportunities to talk unofficially with the other chaplains, Brock and Miller said.

A nine hour bus trip with all workshop attendees from Lusaka to Livingstone’s Victoria Falls, a waterfall on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe that is twice as high and twice as wide as Niagara Falls, was particularly memorable, Miller said.

The American chaplains were also invited to preach at local churches and invited to a wedding as well.

In remarks posted on the Africa Command website, Meeker emphasized the importance of these relationships.

“As we come together, sharing insights and experiences, we’re not just strengthening the support for military personnel and their families, we’re forging a bond that transcends borders,” the Africa Command chaplain said.