VICENZA, Italy - Recently, Chaplain (Col.) Jonathan McGraw preached a sermon to the congregation attended by members of the Malawi Defense Forces (MDF) to include Brig. Gen. Chitza Banda, director of medical services.
“It is very encouraging to have a U.S. chaplain visit our chapel service,” Banda said. “We can see [the U.S. Army] has professional chaplains like the MDF.”
According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, sub-Saharan Africa is clearly among the most religious places in the world. Religion is a critical structure in sub-Saharan African society given the widespread reality of failed states and collapsing governments.
“Following years of civil war we are helping them re-establish their chaplaincies,” said Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Eye, USARAF chaplain's assistant. “Across the board we have been trying to help [African nations] professionalize their chaplaincies.”
U.S. Army Africa chaplains are in a unique position to promote security, stability and peace through their engagements with African Land Forces because of the importance of religion in Africa. This year the USARAF chaplaincy will participate in 14 engagements on the continent to provide different assistance to Namibia, Burundi, Malawi, Ghana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Liberia and South Africa.
USARAF chaplains learn much from their African counterparts through engagements. An example is a recent invitation to attend an AIDS prevention course taught by South African chaplains that has helped significantly reduce the HIV/AIDS rate in the South African Defense Forces.
“African chaplains are asking how they can better advise their leaders on ethical and moral issues, family life, AIDS education and stress with peace keeping deployments,” McGraw said. “They are asking us for these skills. That’s why we’re providing them.”
To increase capability of the Burundi Defense Force chaplaincy to assist in raising the resiliency of their troops frequently deploying on peace keeping missions, the USARAF chaplaincy is in the process of creating training products for combat and operational stress education with the Burundi Defense Forces.
“These training products include laminated butcher board slides, pocket-sized soldier training cards of the 'Six Rs' [Reassure, Rest, Replenish, Restore, Return, Remind] for combat stress prevention, and PowerPoint training presentations with lesson plans in both English and Burundi's official language, French, as well as the soldiers’ language of Kirundi,” McGraw said.
“Our real goal is to provide the training information in a way that they can use most effectively in the field or classroom,” he said.
Another area of training that USARAF has focused on is AIDS/HIV education.
“There is a high rate of AIDS infection in African militaries, which can impact their ability to deploy in support of peace keeping missions,” McGraw said.
Relationships with the Namibian Defense Force have focused on HIV/AIDS ministry, education, and counseling. The engagements with Namibian chaplains expand awareness of skills to assist their ground force commanders in deploying their forces more affectively.
“We are engaging religious leaders off and on post,” McGraw said. “Learning from them, engaging with them and providing training they think would benefit their mission.”
Continuing the USARAF mission, USARAF chaplains will assist African chaplaincies with their own long-term infrastructure development, skills and training in combat stress, HIV/AIDS awareness and family ministries.
“It is an honor to engage with African chaplains and religious leaders of all faiths,” McGraw said. “Their work and ministry is central to life in Africa and we are proud to support them.”