GARMISCH, Germany — Just as they often help to rejuvenate the spirits of those they support, U.S. Army Europe’s chaplains and chaplain assistants took time out of their schedules for reflection and renewal this month during their annual Religious Support Operations Leadership Training conference here.
About 161 chaplains and chaplain assistants, making up 80 Unit Ministry Teams, came from locations throughout Germany, Italy and Kosovo for the five-day event.
The conference provides UMTs specific training on pertinent religious support topics, as well as providing UMT members with updates from their career fields. This year’s training coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Army Chaplain Assistant Program and the 234th anniversary of the Army Chaplain Corps.
“This type of training is vital to the development of the Unit Ministry Teams in Europe. It allows for their spiritual resiliency to become stronger and better,” said USAREUR and 7th Army Chaplain (Col.) Charles Ray Bailey. “The teams learn ways to enhance their skill set in order for them to take care of the military families in Europe.”
The office of the U.S. Army chief of chaplains determines the focus of the training for all chaplains and chaplain assistants. This year’s theme, “Spiritual Leadership: Renewing the Soldier’s Mind,” centered on spiritual resiliency. Colonel Bailey determined the specific topics to meet the training requirements for operations in Europe. Topics for the conference were “Transforming World View,” “Christian Perspectives of Grief” and “Spiritual Resiliency.”
“Expanding our UMTs’ knowledge base in the areas of world religion and cultural issues and enhancing their ability to deal with the human dimensional aspects of issues that Soldiers and family members may encounter, makes the teams more proficient and allows them to better perform the religious support mission back at their unit,” he said.
The colonel said this year’s training also complements the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, a holistic fitness approach that enhances the emotional and physical health of Soldiers, families and Army civilian employees designed to improve performance and build resilience.
“The Soldiers’ mind is just one aspect. For Soldiers to be strong and resilient, we need to consider all aspects of their lives – body, mind, spirit,” Colonel Bailey added.
Chaplain (Col.) Gordon Groseclose, chief of the department of pastoral ministry training at the Army Medical Department and School at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, said he believes the dynamics of resiliency are what helps Soldiers deal successfully with the physical, emotional social, family and spiritual aspects of their lives, with spiritual resiliency capturing one part of Soldier resiliency.
During his presentation, Colonel Groseclose emphasized the importance for attendees to develop and grow their own resiliency.
“Chaplains and chaplain assistants work in a tough environment. They continue to give and give and run the risk of their well running dry. Part of spiritual resiliency is to be able to realize the need to stop and replenish your well, to always have something to give when someone needs a cup of water,” he said. “Training opportunities like this are important for them to stop to reflect and recharge so they go back renewed and refreshed physically, emotionally and spiritually.”
As they concentrated on “Renewing the Soldier’s Mind,” they were also able to rejuvenate themselves, as some time at the training is spent networking and communicating with one another.
“It is just such a refreshing break from the day-to-day stress we face. It’s not like when we have a bad day we can unload on the Soldiers we support,” said Sgt. Faheem Blount, a chaplain assistant at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. “I really value training like this. I can relieve some of my stress that’s been accumulating, and at the same time learn some new ways to help myself better support my Soldiers.”
Sergeant Blount said he has dealt with his fair share of stress while supporting the wounded warriors at LRMC. Before that, he was deployed to Afghanistan with an airborne brigade combat team for 15 months, where he suffered through the deaths of several Soldiers in his unit.
Chaplains and chaplain assistants benefit from all facets of the conference, said Sgt. Maj. Pamela Neal, USAREUR senior chaplain assistant.
The conference is conducted in two phases, to allow all USAREUR UMT members to take part, while still ensuring uninterrupted chaplain and chaplain assistant support to the command.
“It’s the one time a year we can all get together to get necessary updates and training to ensure we are better able to provide religious support activities all throughout Europe,” Sergeant Major Neal said.