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NEWS | Nov. 16, 2012

National Guard chaplains train in spiritual and survival skills

By Capt. Audrey Matthews 177th Armored Brigade

CAMP SHELBY, Miss. - Instead of weapons, chaplains carry their faith when they deploy. But even a chaplain needs to know how to defend him or herself against a personal attack.

While deployed, unit ministry teams work hard to provide spiritual guidance and increase Soldiers’ resilience. Members of First Army Division East walk a fine line when providing deploying unit ministry teams mobilization training. They must ensure they not only can provide their pastoral duties, but also survive on the battlefield. Since chaplains are non-combatants -- they don't carry weapons -- their security normally falls to their assistants.

During recent training with the 1-104th Calvary and 1-109th Infantry Battalions, both of the 55th Brigade Combat Team, a Pennsylvania National Guard unit, the units' UMTs not only received their classroom instructions on providing pastoral care to Soldiers down range but were also introduced to hands-on survivability techniques.

The survivability techniques, taught by Chaplain (Capt.) Donald Thomas and Sgt. 1st Class LQuitha Brock, of the 177th Armored Brigade, included techniques designed, not to harm, but to allow the chaplain to escape from immediate danger. This included showing the deploying unit ministry teams how to break various holds and get away if they were grabbed by someone with hostile intent.

"Chaplains are non-combatants," explained Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Harry C. Huey Jr., First Army Division East chaplain. "As a result, there is a heavy burden of responsibility upon the chaplain assistant for the security of the chaplain in a deployed environment. Survivability training enables the chaplain to bring something to the table that supports the assistant in maintaining UMT security. Survivability training also helps the assistant to think through security dynamics that he or she may not have addressed in previous training."

Like many training units, a practical exercise provided the UMTs a chance to put their newly acquired skills into action. Following three days of training, the UMTs navigated a situational training lane exercise, moving through a hostile environment to the casualty collection point to provide care for wounded Soldiers.

Sgt. Timothy Wright, 1-104th Calvary chaplain assistant, led the teams throughout the area. Maintaining a low silhouette, the teams successfully negotiated the danger zone. Before reaching the CCP however, the teams encountered and reacted to two hostile role-players.

When they reached the CCP, they found five injured Soldiers and a priest needing various degrees of care. The teams quickly reacted and provided pastoral care. Afterwards, the UMTs and the trainers discussed the training event, highlighting the things that went well and things they need to improve.

"The hands-on practice versus the classroom training allowed me to see blind spots and things you can improve on," said Chaplain (Capt.) Douglas Knepp, 1-104th Calvary Battalion.

Chaplain (Maj.) Ryan Krauss, 1-109th Infantry Battalion, said many Soldiers feel that even in the "heat of training" things happen quickly and Soldiers need to think before they react -- himself included.

"I should take my time before jumping in; be more deliberate," he acknowledged.

"Unit Ministry Team training at our MFGIs is crucial to the preparation of our deploying chaplains and chaplain assistants," Huey explained. "Our end state is that deployed Soldiers receive the best possible religious support no matter how austere or dangerous their area of operations may be. To reach that end state we have to provide our Unit Ministry Teams with training that prepares them to coordinate and conduct religious support wherever their units may deploy."

"Communicate. Have a plan A, B and C," emphasized Sgt. Melvin Rountree, 1-109th Infantry chaplain assistant. He suggested the UMT "hook up with the medics for the MASCAL (mass casualty)," which is another training exercise. Rountree felt the additional training would better prepare Soldiers for situations on the battlefield.

"It's not muscle memory yet but we did good overall. We have a year with each other for it to become second nature. Maybe I can come back and teach this class," said Sgt. Timothy Wright, 1-104th Calvary chaplain assistant.

"The First Amendment ensures a Soldier's right to the exercise of his or her religious faith. Our training prepares chaplains and chaplain assistants to provide for that most basic right of our Soldiers – no matter where they may be deployed and no matter the conditions of that deployment," Huey said.