Two U.S. Army Africa chaplains traveled to Bujumbura, Burundi in December 2011 to lead a five-day training symposium in partnership with Burundi Ministry of Defense medical providers and chaplains to develop strategies to reduce adverse responses to combat-related stressors.
Soldiers worldwide are familiar with the rigors of conflict and the devastating effects it has on them and their families. Spending months, even years, away from families in dangerous environments can wreak havoc on the morale and readiness of units.
During the first such USARAF-led seminar of its kind conducted in Africa, U.S. Army Africa Command Chaplain (Colonel) Jonathon McGraw said the seminar showed Burundi chaplains and medical personnel how to help their leaders identify signs and symptoms associated with combat stress.
"We walked the participants through Combat and Operational Stress methods used in the U.S. military so that they would have the ability to train the trainers, as well as pull soldiers off the line if they show signs of combat stress," McGraw said. "The chaplains and physicians are excited to work together for a purpose, and for their commanders."
Eight of Burundi's ten Army chaplains along with six of the eight military psychiatrists and 16 army nurses and officials attended the seminar and shared their combat and operational stress experiences with McGraw and U.S. Army Chaplain (Major) Allen Staley.
U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Miller, U.S. Embassy Burundi's senior official and defense attache, said the chaplain symposium helped representatives from the five Burundi military regions learn how to identify issues before and after deployment so they could manage stress issues more effectively. "Pulling together this small group of individuals has a huge impact for the (Burundi) military," Miller said. "Those who attended the training now have the capability to take that training and teach military units throughout the country."
By the conclusion of the course, the chaplains and medical professionals were able to recognize and explain signs and symptoms of combat stress and apply this knowledge to help soldiers who are deployed. They also certified and practiced how to train others within their units.
Burundi supports peacekeeping efforts in Somalia as part of the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) with five battalions of peacekeepers who rotate annually from Mogadishu, Somalia.
"It is important to assist with the soldiers and their families, [and] to prepare them and to reintegrate them when they return," said Brigadier General Adelin Gacukuzi, chaplain general of Burundi Army. "It will be helpful to share the experience and benefit from the experience of those who have done this job [for] a long time."
Gacukuzi also said a key take away from the symposium is sharing their new-found combat stress education with other partner nations in the region that do not have a chaplaincy core. He said it is part of their duty to share their knowledge with other countries to help with regional peace, security and stability, and help them through the ramifications of decades of war.
McGraw said other militaries have expressed interest in learning how to manage stress within their military ranks. Now that the course is validated in Burundi, USARAF chaplains will use input from this interaction to better the course material for use with other partner militaries.
"This is our first module we can use across Africa wherever the need arises as a low-tech way to train leaders to identify symptoms, regardless of whether or not they are chaplains," McGraw said. "We demonstrated a process that African militaries can adapt to their culture and needs."
Headquartered in Vicenza, Italy, U.S. Army Africa is the Army Service Component Command for U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). Dedicated to positive change in Africa, U.S. Army Africa enables full spectrum operations while conducting sustained security engagement with African land forces to promote security, stability, and peace.