By CAPT John M. Shimotsu
U.S. Pacific Fleet and U.S. Pacific Command chaplain, USN
While the religious needs of our Sailors and Marines have always been a focal point for our leaders, a Chaplaincy Symposium during this year’s Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise 2014 highlighted how multi-national navies are able to come together to work on common spiritual interests in an international environment.
Forty-eight chaplains and religious program specialists/chaplain assistants participating in RIMPAC from Australia, Canada, the United States, and for the first time, the Republic of Korea came together with a focus on supporting the religious needs of personnel across a Combined Task Force and planning Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief (HA/DR) response efforts in a day-long event in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Unlike many other multi-national exercises, RIMPAC has an in-port phase that facilitates learning about the possibilities for, and limitations to, interoperability across navies. Meeting the religious and spiritual needs of our Sailors and Marines was the focus for the first part of the symposium. Topics included an overview of the exercise, a discussion on contrasts in chaplaincy in different countries, details on the religious organizations and language abilities of chaplains, and the possibilities of visits by chaplains to other ships, or “cross-decking,” during the at-sea phase of the exercise. Understanding how to communicate, what reports were expected, and who needs to be involved in coordinating visits, both within a unit and at higher staffs, were important topics.
While a similar agenda had been covered at previous RIMPAC Chaplaincy Conferences, the next part of the symposium was entirely new for RIMPAC.
Made possible by the support of the Deputy Director and Associate Professors from the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS), the second part of the symposium enhanced the ability of the participating chaplains and RPs to advise leaders on the complexities of religion with regard to an HA/DR mission. This began with a panel discussion on religion in the region, a presentation on advisement from a Commander’s Perspective, and an interactive case study exercise. The case study drew on an actual intractable conflict with religious identity markers. To maximize the breadth and richness of the learning experience the large group was divided into three and each group had a variety of ranks, nationalities, religions, ages, and genders.
The APCSS professors were impressed by the knowledge, experience, analysis and teamwork of the participants during the case study exercise. Depending on their knowledge, skills, abilities, and assignment, a chaplain might be involved in advising on an HA/DR Mission. However, the focus during these missions for chaplains will remain supporting the religious and spiritual needs of those executing the mission.
The strength of interoperability among the chaplains was clearly evident when the symposium came to a close and the current Task Force Chaplain, Capt. Jere Hinson, the U.S. 3rd Fleet chaplain, had to return to California due to permanent change of station orders. He was relieved by Senior Chaplain Collin Acton of the Royal Australian Navy, who will serve as the Task Force chaplain for the remainder of RIMPAC.
Chaplains and religious program specialists/chaplain assistants continue to play a crucial role in the overall mission success of our forces by ensuring their spiritual strength and development. Just as with our operators, ensuring the interoperability of our chaplains is crucial. In future multi-national exercises, including RIMPAC 2016, chaplains from participating nations will continue to be encouraged to accompany their units for continued involvement in training events ensuring that our collective ability to provide for our personnel remains a priority for leadership from all nations.