USARAF chaplains make difference in Africa
Juliana McGraw, Volunteer, U.S. Army Africa Public Affairs
BOANE, Mozambique – Natural disasters can wash away roads, destroy businesses and homes and impact a nation long after the scars of destruction have healed. In January 2012 Mozambique experienced severe storms and floods, resulting in the deaths of 22 people and forced thousands of people from their homes. These events made a training exercise to Mozambique in Behavioral Health in Disaster Relief/Humanitarian Aid, practical and relevant.
U.S. Army Chaplain (Maj.) Alan Staley partnered as support staff with Col. Stephen Bowles, U.S. Army Medical Command subject matter expert in the field of Psychology and Behavioral Health [currently teaching at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.], to Boane, Mozambique August 6-10, for a military-to-military event on the topic of military health, specifically Psychology/Behavioral Health in relation to Disaster Relief and Humanitarian Aid.
“This is a very motivated group that has a need for this service,” said Bowles. “The [Armed Forces for the Defense of Mozambique’s] FADM’s blend of line and medical officers provides a unique and forward thinking approach to information exchanges mission.”
Twenty-five participants, including junior field grade officers, company level officers, senior noncommissioned officers, medical and behavioral health providers, received training and shared experience in the realm of behavioral health support during Disaster Relief and Humanitarian Assistance. The topics of behavioral health and deployment cycle support as well as the role of the chaplaincy in relation to behavioral health were also covered.
This mil-to-mil event was well received as 22 of the participants stayed after the official closing ceremony and expressed its benefits.
“The importance of this event is to know how to help one another when affected by mental health issues, even in peaceful time and in times of war…to save lives, like when there are disasters and accidents,” said Sgt. Maj. Lopes Muxaque Macome, Head of Discipline, NCO School. “I feel well to work wih military from other countries, particularly those of the U.S., for it is where I am able to acquire experience in military life and being able to exchange views on problem resolution along military career.”
The explanation of how chaplains interact within behavioral health led the FADM to express interest in establishing their own chaplaincy. Staley noted that the request for a chaplain subject matter expert was most likely in response to the success of a similar event last year in Malawi.
“After this event I have a better understanding of the FADM’s appreciation of and desire for a new chaplaincy program, knowledge of some of initial steps in approaching the beginning of a chaplaincy, and awareness of what chaplains will ‘bring to the fight’ as it were,” Staley said. Capt. Joao Tomas Chave of the FADM said the importance of this event is to cultivate respect for learning and exchange experience with other Armed Forces, in this case the U.S. Army.
“Speaking concretely of the event, I learned how to deal with mental health in the military,” Chave said. “I would like this type of event not to end here; we should have more time to deepen the various topics covered . . . in our Army, it would be important to always have a link between the chaplain, medical team, psychologist and the sociologist.”