GRAFENWOEHR, Germany – What are the procedures when a forward-deployed convoy is attacked, the command vehicle and occupants are disabled and the highest ranking Soldier in the convoy is a noncombatant?
On July 12, the final day of the first tactical religious support course offered by the Joint Multinational Training Command, unit ministry teams comprised of U.S. Army and NATO chaplains and chaplain assistants participated in a live-fire exercise to address that question.
Chaplain assistants typically train with their assigned units and their chaplains rarely participate in pre-deployment live-fire exercises, but Senior Unit Ministry Team, also known as UMT, Instructor for the Joint Multinational Training Command, Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Steve Peck created the course to better prepare U.S. and multinational chaplains for their role in the deployed environment.
“I think including noncombatant chaplains and chaplain assistants in regular convoy training with the rest of the military helps open their eyes to the challenges of having a noncombatant in the convoy,” said Chaplain (Col.) David Moran, the senior chaplain at the major command level for U.S. Army in Europe, who observed and evaluated the course.
During the convoy mission, executed by Support Platoon, 4th Squadron of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, the vehicles sustained simulated direct fire and the support platoon Soldiers and chaplain assistants dismounted, executed tactics, techniques and procedures, and returned fire with live ammunition as they would during an actual attack.
Thirty UMTs from all over Europe, including two Croatian priests and a Slovakian Protestant chaplain, participated in the course.
This is probably one of the only places in the world this training can happen because of JMTC’s proximity to NATO and coalition partners, since JMTC trains U.S. service members with multinational partners, Peck said.
“In addition to having the unique opportunity to have NATO chaplains as part of this exercise, this is the first-in-Europe, large-scale live-fire exercise, which chaplain assistants get to practice their security techniques with their chaplains and a larger security element,” he added.
NATO chaplains bring elements of their unique culture, their religious differences and their different approaches to chaplaincy to the training, and they and U.S. chaplains learn from each other.
Following the convoy portion of the live fire exercise, the Soldiers resumed their journey to the mock combat outpost where the chaplains provided concurrent religious services in the various buildings there.
While the chaplains' services were underway, the COP was attacked; the chaplain assistants ushered the chaplains to safety and ran to the perimeter to return fire.
During the firefight, the chaplains counseled and comforted the wounded and performed last rites to the dying while the observer-controllers evaluated their performance and discussed alternatives in their religious support and security planning.
The Chaplain teams said the five-day course and live-fire training was invaluable and the after- action review comments were positive, specifically noting the rarity of such realistic chaplain assistant training.
“For me personally, it was a journey that helped me to get to know [the] Protestant faith, said the Croatian chaplain in training Nenad Palac. “Because Croatians are 90 percent Roman Catholics and that's one factor that I'll be meeting tomorrow on the battlefield in Afghanistan.
While the live fire portion of this course may have been the first of its kind geared specifically to chaplain training, it is not likely to be the last, especially if Moran has anything to say about it.
“[It was] excellent training, a worthy initiative and this class ought to be conducted every quarter to train as many as we can,” said Moran.
The course challenged the Soldiers in approximately 45 duties and tasks required of unit ministry teams during deployment.