HOHENFELS, Germany -- Chaplains from the U.S. and South Africa got the chance to meet and collaborate during exercise Allied Spirit IV, taking place Jan. 10-Feb. 5 at the U.S. Army's Joint Multinational Readiness Center.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Terry Simmons, 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command chaplain, hosted South African National Defense Force Col. Mnyalaza Tobias Masuku, chief of staff for the chaplain general, with a goal to build relationships between the two forces.
Masuku was accompanied by SANDF Col. Hendrik Phillipus Kotze, the force's chaplain training director, U.S. Navy Capt. Stephen Pike, U.S. Africa Command chaplain, and Sgt. Major Alejandro Gonzalez, AFRICOM's senior enlisted religious affairs advisor.
"We're coming here to see what the very experienced U.S. [military] is doing with their chaplain service," Masuku said. "All the projects you are doing, we are also doing on a smaller scale in South Africa. That's why it's so important to copy from each other."
"While there are many doors still shut throughout the African continent, the chaplaincy is one door that is open," Simmons said. "Now is the time for us to take care and learn from each other. We can help the rest of the world as a team."
Simmons explained that the U.S. benefits from South Africa's improved chaplaincy program in several ways.
"First, the future is that we don't go alone," he said. "Everybody is reducing. Fiscally, we have learned that what we do has to be a joint effort. It's got to be together. The second part is what we are learning from each other. They have some great values training in Africa, in their different countries, that is something very beneficial to us."
South Africa's chaplaincy is the third largest, after the U.S. and the United Kingdom, and shares many commonalities to the U.S. chaplaincy, said Pike.
"We share similarities," the AFRICOM chaplain said. "We share a common faith and a common point of entry to be able to begin a dialogue."
For example, both the U.S. and SANDF use "ministry of presence" as a foundation for their program.
"Our principle is wherever the soldiers are, the chaplains are. In the office, on the shooting range, in deployment, in the hospital," said SANDF's Kotze. "The same is true for the U.S. military chaplains."
The SANDF and AFRICOM guests observed many aspects of JMRC's current exercise, Allied Spirit IV, that is designed to prepare forces in Europe to operate together by exercising tactical interoperability and testing secure communications within NATO Alliance members and partner nations. The exercise provides a hands-on laboratory for training and communication.
"We teach others how they can best provide religious support for their Soldiers," said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Crystal Jones, JMRC chaplain and observer, coach and trainer, known as OCT. "We want to build a relationship on a religious support side, and we go into how that can help the U.S. and their counterparts work better as a team."
As part of the Chaplain OCT Program, military chaplains go through scenarios supported by simulated villages during the training. These villages are populated by civilians on the battlefield who play defined roles to help the training units achieve their training objectives. Once the scenario ends, OCTs review the training and help the units see where and how they can improve.
When asked what kind of difference this training could make, Kotze said, "A massive difference. I think it will save lives, definitely, without a doubt. Because now the chaplains have gone through this, and next time when it's for real in battle, they will have that experience to draw from."
"A chaplain -- whether a chaplain is in the South African forces or any of our other partner nations throughout the continent of Africa -- we share common interests," Pike said when speaking on the value of the South African military chaplaincy engagement. "We're engaged in improving the human condition. That's a common goal for them, as well as it is for us. And it's a great point of entry to dialogue between our two great military forces, to be able to touch bases at that fundamental level, the human level."