VICENZA, Italy -- Recently, a two-man traveling contact team journeyed to the Defense Institute for Superior Army Training in Bujumbura, Burundi to work with 16 Burundi National Defense Force (BNDF) chaplains and psychologists with a focus on family counseling.
"After more than two decades of civil strife and now peacekeeping missions in Somalia, the Burundi National Defense Force is developing the skills of its chaplains' corps to deal with some of the resulting emotional and family challenges," said Chap. (Col.) Jonathan McGraw, command chaplain, U.S. Army Africa.
The other half of the TCT, Chap. (Lt. Col.) Jason Duckworth, is an expert in military Family counseling and is incoming Clinical Director, U.S. Army Family Life Chaplain Training Center, Fort Hood, Texas. He and McGraw worked with BNDF chaplains and psychologists to address family and soldier counseling priorities identified by their Burundi counterparts.
"We're particularly fortunate to have Chap. Duckworth as a subject matter expert on this contact team," McGraw said. "He's been instrumental in mentoring many U.S. Army Family Life Chaplains. His expertise will help expand the BNDF chaplains' capabilities."
Duckworth said soldiers share many of the same stresses, no matter what country they live in, so he and McGraw focused the engagement on concrete family counseling skills used during pre-deployment and reintegration as peacekeepers return from Somalia.
"I find that soldiers of all nations have a lot in common. There are many threads that connect soldiers, whether they are from the U.S., Germany, Africa or anywhere else. We've shared many of the same journeys, so we have a great opportunity to share some of the tools and techniques we've learned with our partner nation counterparts," he said.
Duckworth shared counseling techniques adapted for Burundi use.
"During the TCT, one of the most useful tools we shared was Solution-Focused Therapy. It's designed to be completed in four-to-six sessions and we've seen very good results with this model. It's a brief model, meant to get positive results in a short amount of time. The Burundi chaplains and psychologists picked-up this counseling skill quickly through role playing and counseling one another," Duckworth said.
McGraw explained Burundi forces are also involved in an African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia known as African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). Somali peacekeeping mission tours are a year long, similar to those of their U.S. counterparts in Afghanistan and formerly in Iraq.
"BNDF AMISOM mission is unique as they are in an expeditionary status that is somewhat new to them. The U.S. Army has learned a lot during the last 10 years with respect to the deployment process and multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan," McGraw said. "By the end of the year we will have mentored more than half of the BNDF, so we have experiences we can share with them in regards to expeditionary tours," McGraw said.
BNDF Chaplain General (Brig. Gen.) Adelin Gacukuzi agreed saying the pre- and post-deployment counseling sessions were especially well received, and both chaplains and psychologists benefited very much from the experience.
"The chaplains and psychologists have gained a lot of knowledge in pastoral counseling skills during the week," Gacukuzi said. "Our military [organizations] and challenges are similar, so the cases studied are relevant to us in the BNDF because our military members are now returning from Somalia." Duckworth said Burundi chaplains and psychologists walked away with a skill set they could use almost immediately, and the next step in partnering is already being formulated.
In fact, there is a possibility for future post traumatic stress classes.
"This is very rewarding work and the Family Life Chaplain Training Center would be open to returning to help USARAF anywhere they may need my skill set," Duckworth said. "I enjoy coaching and sharing skills that have been proven to help soldiers and their Families, and am excited to create an on-going relationship with the Burundi chaplains and psychologists."
This type of program is a great chance to continue professional relationships.
"We are working on a follow-on training using email so we can help them as they use these counseling models in the future. We'll modify some of the models by continuing the dialog and increasing their counseling skills," Duckworth said.
Gacukuzi said he would like to have further engagements with the USARAF chaplains to build upon the information they provided.
"We would especially appreciate any assistance to further develop the chaplains corps and its [African Union] mission in Somalia," Gacukuzi said.