PRETORIA, South Africa – Two New York National Guard chaplains shared their priorities and experiences with their South African counterparts Nov. 25 at South African National Defence Force headquarters in Pretoria.
Lt. Col. Scott Ehler, the New York National Guard state chaplain, and his deputy, Maj. Timothy Miller, outlined their efforts to help Soldiers cope with adversity through several programs and efforts.
These include the Strong Bonds Program, in which couples deal with the stresses of military life and strengthen their marriages during weekend retreats.
They also discussed the Army's spiritual fitness and resiliency outreach. Both programs are designed to help Soldiers develop the qualities needed to sustain a Soldier in times of stress, hardship and tragedy, Ehler told his South African counterparts.
"Establishing a relationship with the South African chaplains has been amazing," Ehler said.
"In sitting down to talk with them, we quickly realized that the issues that service members face regarding spiritual fitness are the same no matter the continent," he said. "As we talked about the different programs that the Chaplain Corps offers, we recognized how much we can learn from each other."
The New York National Guard has maintained a partnership with the South African military since 2003 through the National Guard's State Partnership Program.
Under the program, state National Guards are paired with other nations to conduct training exchanges with their military forces.
The South African chaplains, in turn, briefed the Americans on their philosophy on military basic training and education and the chaplain's role in the South African military.
South African chaplains focus on five areas in their training, the South African team explained.
Chaplains take basic military training, learn staff methods and the role of officers.
A key focus for the South African chaplains is combating the spread of HIV, and AIDS itself, through an emphasis on the spiritual and ethical conduct of military personnel.
Both the American and South African chaplains said there was potential for future exchanges.
A good start, according to Ehler, would be for the U.S. State Department's International Military Education Program to offer South Africans a chance to take classes in the United States.
The Americans, in turn, would like to learn more about how South African chaplains do their jobs, he said.
Previous meetings among U.S. and African military chaplains have been hosted by the United States Africa Command.
"We look forward to continued communication and the next chapter of exchanging shared spiritual capabilities," said South African Chaplain Elsabe Francis, acting chaplain division chief of staff for the South African National Defence Force.