U.S. Army Africa Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Sid Taylor and Lt. Col. Graeme Bicknell from U.S. Army Medical Command recently traveled to Burundi to provide resiliency training. Seminars were modeled after the Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program, a comprehensive approach to taking care of soldiers.
Taylor and Bicknell presented the week-long program to 31 Burundi personnel that included two chaplains, two psychologists and 27 medical staff.
Taylor said Burundi Forces requested support to address the human dimensions of combat stress and military deployment cycles.
“Our resiliency program is a great tool to address many of those needs. This engagement helped familiarize Burundi medical, behavioral health and chaplain leaders with the Army’s Resiliency program, also known as the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program,” Taylor said.
Taylor further explained the five dimensions of the program: social, emotional, spiritual, family, and physical. He said the goal of the program was to help Soldiers cope and recover from challenges brought on by sustained operations.
“Burundi Defense Forces have been participating in peacekeeping missions in Somalia for several years. During and after deployments, Burundi soldiers face numerous post-traumatic and family issues. This engagement provided tools to help them cope with the stressors of deployments,” Taylor said.
“Our intent is to give all our people the understanding and tools they need to better deal with the Army’s inherent stresses so they can grow and gain confidence as a person and a Soldier in spite of adversity,” Bicknell said.
As a member of the African Union, the Republic of Burundi has an active role in a regional peacekeeping mission in Somalia. Course material covered by the engagement team specifically targeted the operational tempo Burundi personnel experience during their African Union Mission in Somalia known as AMISOM.
AMISOM is an active, regional peacekeeping mission managed by the African Union with the approval of the United Nations in Somalia. AMISOM supports the transitional government and assists the implementation of a national security plan. Additionally, AMISOM participants train the Somali security forces and assist in creating a secure environment for the delivery of humanitarian aid.
The Republic of Burundi is a landlocked country in the Great Lakes region of Eastern Africa bordered by Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s a relatively small country in comparison to other African countries at 10,745 square miles and a population of about 8.8 million people.
Travelling to Burundi to deliver an organized presentation has its share of operational hurdles.
“The language barrier was the most interesting challenge. Luckily, our two French interpreters worked with us throughout the engagement and managed to translate some of our presentation slides as well,” Taylor said. “However, even with the interpreters, it was a challenge to convey and capture every detail.”
Taylor said the USARAF’s relationship with the Burundi military is growing and evolving.
“This isn’t the first time USARAF chaplains have engaged their counterparts in Burundi. We’ve had several engagements with the Burundi Chief of Chaplains to assist with leadership development, advising commanders, and other deployment issues,” he said.
“This is an enduring relationship and we are working to continue to build strong partnerships that, in turn, increase the capacity for our Burundi associates,” Taylor said. Burundi forces expressed appreciation for the presentation.
“I want to take this opportunity to thank you. You have taught us something really important. It will help our families,” Burundi Warrant Officer Niyungeko Ildephons said.
According to Taylor, this won’t be the last TCT for USARAF chaplains in Burundi.
“This was our third trip to Burundi. We are working on bringing Burundi chaplains to the U.S. to visit our Family Life Center and possibly one of our U.S. Army hospitals. We are discussing future opportunities for collaborative activities that will be beneficial to both the U.S. Army and the Burundi military,” Taylor said.