VICENZA, Italy -- Strengthening relationships. Raising awareness. Learning through partnership. Two U.S. Army Africa chaplains recently traveled more than 4,000 miles to participate in the Ministry of Defence/Namibia Defence Force World AIDS Day ceremony in Windhoek, Namibia.

Col. Jonathan McGraw, U.S. Army Africa's command chaplain, and Lt. Col. Clyde Scott, deputy command chaplain, stood alongside their chaplain counterparts to gain a better understanding of how the Namibia Defence Force commemorates World AIDS Day. More than 1,000 Namibian soldiers and civilians took part in the celebration.

"We appreciate the positive impact of our joint efforts in the Namibian military," said Adrienne Fuentes, coordinator for the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), in remarks made during the ceremony on behalf of the U.S. Mission in Namibia.

"I applaud the leadership of the Namibian military for your robust leadership where stigma and discrimination is strongly discouraged, and where people who are living openly with HIV are supported without any discrimination," Fuentes said.

McGraw said his Unit Ministry Team's close relationship with the Namibian chaplains is an essential part of sharing experiences and techniques to counsel Soldiers and families from a spiritual perspective.

"Facing the challenges of AIDS, the Namibian Defence Force has established an impressive commander-led, community-based, chaplain-integrated program that is working," McGraw said. "I was very impressed with the number of Namibian soldiers lined up to voluntarily test their HIV status during the World AIDS Day event. It was three to four times what was experienced in past years."

The U.S. chaplains' World AIDS Day participation follows a previous visit to Namibia in which the ministry team led a seminar about counseling Soldiers and family members about the impact of HIV/AIDS.

In addition to observing the World AIDS Day commemoration, the U.S. chaplains met with several key U.S. Department of Defense partners to discuss possible areas of collaboration. A highlight of the event was an invitation to march in a two-mile AIDS Day Parade, sponsored by the Namibian Defence Force. Led by the NDF Army Band, the chaplains marched with more than 800 NDF soldiers, as citizens cheered from the sidewalks.

"Despite the challenges of AIDS/HIV there is optimism about the future and love of their families and country," said McGraw. "This was a great example of the NDF and USARAF's shared commitment to AIDS/HIV prevention in Namibia."