MONROVIA, Liberia (July 20, 2012) -- As the Armed Forces of Liberia reconstruct their military, AFL soldiers are starting to become more involved in a dangerous and stressful combat environment. To help the soldiers deal with the effects of combat, two U.S. Army Africa chaplains continue to build their relationship with Liberia by conducting another chaplaincy professionalization engagement, this time focusing on combat stress, which is very timely since the AFL have recently initiated their first deployment of troops.
USARAF Chaplains (Col.) Jonathan McGraw and (Maj.) Allen Staley provided professional development for 19 Armed Forces of Liberia, or AFL, chaplains, chaplain assistants, and medics on how to deal with combat stress at the Edward Beyan Kesselly Barracks near Monrovia, during the week of July 2.
Although facing challenges with their policies and structure, McGraw said they continue to make progress with their chaplaincy program.
"We learn every time we come down and engage. The chaplains in our Army focus on the moral and ethical issues and advise the commander on those kind of things. We find that in Africa they want to learn more about how to integrate with the staff and how you're able to be an adviser to the commander. I think that gives a balance to the military if the commander has a moral and spiritual leader who he can talk to and be accountable to," McGraw said.
With this being his third engagement in Liberia, Staley said he has learned how to build mutual respect with the AFL through these seminars.
"We accomplish this [respect] through seeking to understand each other, experiencing each other as professionals, and by respecting each others' cultural uniqueness by not trying to impose our cultural biases on them, but by offering them ideas that they can corporate into their cultural experience. The way they continue to successfully achieve ministry and organization with limited resources is truly inspirational to us. Of course we have a brotherly spirit between us as we get to know each other more," Staley said.
AFL Chief of Chaplains 1st Lt. Dessaline Allison, said the subject matter of this event is really important because of the unexpected changes to their army.
"For the past five years we have been involved in just training and just trying to acquire new skills. About three weeks ago we had our first deployment experience with several companies moving to [one of our] borders. The president issued an order, and in three days we were ready to be deployed and it was just new to us because we had been preparing to become fully operational in a couple of years. All of a sudden we get the order to deploy soldiers now."
McGraw said the Liberian chaplains are already great pastors, but they want to develop more soldier care counseling skills since Liberia has very limited behavioral health capability. McGraw said he hopes the chaplains can apply some basic counseling skills and have a broad impact on the military as well as the pastors in the local community.
"The outcome is that after this week the chaplains will have the skills to identify the signs and symptoms of soldiers with combat stress and ways to replenish them and help to come back to their job. They're also going to have the ability and materials to train their soldiers and leaders in the Liberian army from the squad or platoon level up," McGraw said.
According to Allison, the AFL is still in its foundational stages, and this training couldn't have come at a better time.
"When the new military started in 2006 we taught that we have to have spiritually strong soldiers and leaders who are trained to obey commanders. The chaplaincy actually started three years ago but with no skills in how to reach out to soldiers. This military chaplaincy development comes at a time when we need it, especially being deployed in a stressful combat environment,[and is] going to help us sharpen our skills to be able to provide for and help the troops in need," Allison said.
McGraw said instead of coming to talk "theory," he and Staley want to leave the AFL with an actual "capability."
"We structure these events in a way that equips leaders to equip others. We take a small enough slice to target the critical skills and in the end they have a skill they can share with each other and practice," McGraw said.
From their relationship, both the USARAF and AFL chaplains enjoy the partnership developed from the chaplaincy professionalization program.
"When we hear they [U.S. Army chaplains] are coming to Liberia, we feel so happy about it. Our interactions will take us to the next level and the chaplains have really been a good help to us. We look forward to more future engagements. We want to use this time to professionalize our chaplains to move into action and better prepare ourselves as an emerging military," Allison said.
McGraw said he enjoys the collaborations and he also looks forward to future events.
"Every time we come down here we learn from our African partners how rich their ministry is, how they're able to touch the spiritual lives of the soldiers and their families, and how to build a stronger and moral, ethical military as these militaries are getting back on their feet. Building their combat stress control capability helps the chaplains and chaplain assistants to help soldiers in a combat setting. In the next engagement we will talk to them about developing pastoral counseling skills for use in marriage and family counseling," McGraw said.