NEWS | May 5, 2016

Military chaplains “commune” in support of multinational mission

By Tech. Sgt. Andria Allmond 7th Mission Support Command

PAPA AIR BASE, Hungary -- Four chaplains from three countries joined together to provide an interdenominational religious service for multinational military and civilian officials May 1 during exercise Anakonda Response 2016.

The service provided an opportunity for spiritual fellowship among the participants in this ongoing exercise. The white lining of the tent evoked the heavenly theme, contrasting with the dark green and brown-clad congregation. Despite the Spartan setting, a sense of something profound filled the space –transforming it from a shelter into a sanctuary.

Reserve Soldiers, active-duty military and National Guardsmen from Hungary, the United Kingdom, and the United States came together to participate in the nearly two-week long event, which tested both their resiliency and aptitude. While participants worked to overcome language and terminology challenges during some exercise scenarios, for this worship service, one concept proved common ground – faith.

“We come (into a multinational exercise) thinking about our differences, thinking we want to learn how others operate and show them how we operate,” said Lt. Col. Brian Harki, 7th Mission Support Command chaplain. “Yet, when we come together, there is a commonality that we have amongst all of us. And that is the sacredness of our faith. Our mission is to the soul of the Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine, which we do without reservation, regardless of what language we speak or what uniform we wear.”

Two U.S. chaplains joined with Hungarian Army and British military chaplains in the nearly two-week training led by the Hungarian Defense Forces and 7th Mission Support Command, an Army Reserve unit in Kaiserslautern, Germany. Sustaining troops during a high-tempo exercise, they supported expression of their faith for their troops during the nondenominational service held on the base.

“I especially enjoyed the sermon given by the Hungarian chaplain; a religious service helps put things into perspective and keeps you motivated in a high-stress situation,” said Staff Sgt. Cristina Hreso, a public health technician from the 111th Medical Group at Horsham Air Guard Station, Pennsylvania. “Also, having a service that incorporates chaplains from different nations gives you a big picture of how the military functions in the world theater.”

The Reverend Giles Allen, of the British Army’s Royal Army Chaplain’s Department, led the Sunday service, and noted both the parallels and differences between the nations’ militaries during both the mass and the exercise.

“There are so many similarities,” Allen said of the multinational forces. “But you do things differently, just as well. And I’m learning so much.”
Allen continued by good-naturedly describing the slight, but noticeable, difference in the version of common prayers recited by his predominately U.S. congregation “When it came to the Lord’s Prayer, the majority [of the U.S. troops] seem to make it longer and grander and bigger…I don’t know; Americans place stress on different syllables.”

Allen also noted that the British Army encourages it’s chaplains to be faithful to their own denomination, whereas other nations, like the U.S., rely on military chaplains to be more flexible within their given denomination.

“[U.S] chaplains are devout to their personal faith, but we are expected to be pluralistic,” said Maj. Nathan White, a 7th Mission Support Command chaplain. “We deliver mass within the realm of our denomination, but still provide religious support to advise commanders and ensure the 'free exercise' rights for all Soldiers are advocated. This includes those who hold no faith.”

So, while some differences were noted, these did not impede the chaplains’ spiritual mission or their enthusiasm for working together again.
“There are things that are historically different between the United States and Hungary,” said Hungarian Army Chaplain 1st. Lt. Ferenc Szavo, a military chaplain for five years and who gave a sermon during the service. “But I think we can work together very well.”