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By Staff Sgt. Nicolas A. Cloward
Utah Army National Guard
As the sun rose over Mount Timpanogos ,the cold air surrounding Camp Williams began to dissipate deeper into the valley. Chaplains and religious affairs specialists slowly began to fill the foyer of Sunrise Hall. Some greeted each other with pleasantries and soft-spoken exchanges, while others introduced themselves to one another. No matter their rank, or whether they were Air or Army National Guard, they were all congregating for the same reason, to participate in the annual chaplain’s sustainment training exercise held April 10-11, 2021. After a short meeting over refreshments, they all gathered together for the invocation led by Col. Larry Bazer, deputy director, National Guard Bureau-Office of the Joint Chaplain.
After the invocation, everyone had an opportunity to formally introduce themselves and speak on their experiences as chaplains and religious affairs specialists. They soon loaded onto a bus and were taken downrange to kick off the exercise.
Sgt. Maj. Jody W. Courts, chief religious affairs noncommissioned officer for National Guard Bureau, Army National Guard Staff Chaplain Office, was invited to participate and observe the training this year. He explained that the chaplain’s sustainment exercise is an annual event where the Utah National Guard Joint Force Headquarters chaplain section gathers together to conduct mission-essential training. It allows Airmen and Soldiers an opportunity to participate in weapons familiarization, plan activities, address internal issues and discuss future priorities within the field of religious affairs. He added that this year's training focused on the roles and duties of the religious affairs specialists.
The religious affairs specialists conducted small-arms weapons training at the combat-pistol range, where they were briefed by the Small Arms Readiness and Training Section and familiarized with the 9 mm SIG Sauer pistol.
"The religious affairs specialist is a very particular MOS (military occupational specialty) in that we work one-on-one with the chaplain," said Courts. He explained that they primarily provide pastoral support to the service members assigned to the unit and civilians and family members. Still, they're vital in advising the commander on religion, morale, ethics and unit welfare.
Often referred to as "chaplain assistants," the religious affairs specialists provide far more than just assistance. In addition to providing spiritual and moral support to their unit members, they also offer protection to the chaplain during wartime.
"Chaplains are non-combatants, religious affairs specialists are combatants," explained Courts. "That means we are assigned a weapon and must be proficient with that weapon."
He emphasized that weapons training strengthens their ability as combatants in the unit ministry team to effectively employ their weapon to protect the chaplain and others around them.
“Spending time on the range and developing a perishable skill such as weapons qualification and handling and using a pistol is crucial,” he said. “It gives them a chance to step away from the chapel and sharpen their fighting skills and build their motivation.”
The next event they trained on was becoming familiar with entering and exiting the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter safely. Once aboard the aircraft, they were taken on a short tour of the Camp Williams training site to experience what it's like while traveling in a military helicopter. This portion of the training helped to familiarize them with the safety involved while traveling alongside the chaplain supporting service members' spiritual well-being.
The following morning, the chaplains and religious affairs specialist conducted two religious services bringing their sustainment training to a closing.
"The bottom line is, [service members] need to be spiritually fit,” Courts said. “They need to be spiritually fit so they can go out and execute their duty, so that in the end, we can go out and fight and win our nation's wars, and that's what this is about.”
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