Making Chaplain Corps history, U.S. military chaplains flew out to Grenada to participate in Tradewinds 2016's humanitarian operations for the first time.
"[Tradewinds] is a natural fit for chaplains," said Col. Charles Towery, SOUTHCOM deputy command chaplain. "[With] people in crisis, disasters taking place, people look for a spiritual care component."
Towery traveled to Grenada with two National Guard chaplains, their chaplain assistants and a chaplain from the Joint Chief of Staff office. Working in a classrooms, the chaplains acted out response planning scenarios with chaplains from six other nations.
"We'd create scenarios with a large map on the floor, like a tsunami hitting Grenada," Towery said. "Once the exercise starts, we'd staff emergency operation centers and attend briefings."
The chaplains role-played how they would go about organizing security and medical transportation details for people in regions affected by disasters. For this, they would need to collaborate with other military branches.
"It's all about how we interrelate with other groups, like maritime and transportation," he said. "We wanted to learn a lot about the other inner workings, planning for a disaster."
An Air Force chaplain, Towery's lack of experience working with maritime units brought him and the other chaplains seaside. They oversaw exercises simulating ship boarding and chases with drug runners while on boats in the middle of the action.
The chaplains' goal is to "have a real impact when crisis happens," he said.
Towery and the other chaplains value relationships developed during Tradewinds 2016 with other military commanders and their Caribbean counterparts.
"When something really does happen, and there's need, there's already those relationships developed," Towery said.
A partner nation boat prepares to board the U.S Army landing ship Aldie during a mock boarding June 10 in St. George's, Grenada, as part of Tradewinds 2016. For the first time, U.S. military chaplains participated, overseeing exercises simulating ship boarding and chases with drug runners.
Photo Credit: Petty Officer 1st Class Melissa Leake/U.S. Coast Guard
While describing Caribbean chaplains as more hands-on in disaster relief efforts, Towery noted the managerial role the Chaplain Corps takes on with the abundance of agencies willing to help.
"In Grenada, the national emergency disaster team, similar to FEMA, used the exercise to practice its emergency disaster plan," he said. "[The Chaplain Corps] is the liaison with nongovernmental organizations, faith-based organizations, who show up when disaster happens."
The Red Cross, U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Army's Global Response Force are pertinent in contributing to relief work worldwide. Caribbean Community and the Caribbean Disaster Management Agency are Caribbean-based organizations willing to give support as well.
About 20 states' National Guard forces also have agreements with several South American and Caribbean countries to help at a moment's notice.
"When recovery starts, there are lots and lots of helpers," Towery said.
Towery hopes that by including chaplain officials in Tradewinds, military leadership can "learn to [better] understand the significance of religion" when making decisions. He is eager to continue the chaplains' presence at the exercise.
Chaplains from the U.S. and Caribbean nations pose for a photo at St. George's University in Grenada in June when they were participating for the first time in Tradewinds, a multinational maritime security and disaster response exercise.
Photo Credit: Sgt. Jason Drager/U.S. Army
A SOUTHCOM initiative, Religion Matters, incorporates faith to care for service members and their families, to network with allies in other countries and to enact disaster relief or military exercises.
"As the US is planning missions … [it would] really benefit you to consider religious environment … set you up in a much better position," Towery said. "[The Tradewinds] exercise helps it to take another step [and see] how other countries have thought of how."