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    U.S., Estonian Chaplains Complete Exchange Program

    U.S., Estonian Chaplains Complete Exchange Program

    Photo By Sgt. Heather Doppke | Chaplain (Lt. Col.) James C. Thomas, United States Army Reserve Command chief of...... read more read more

    JOINT FORCES TRAINING BASE LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. –As part of the Military Reserve Exchange Program, a 79th Theater Sustainment Command chaplain visited Estonia May 8-20, and the 79th hosted an Estonian Defense Forces chaplain in California July 9-23, 2018.

    Army Reserve Chaplain (Capt.) James Orestad, with the 652nd Regional Support Group out of Helena, Montana, traveled to Estonia in May as part of the coordinated international exchange program that helps develop cultural understanding, regional expertise, language proficiency and interoperability.

    Orestad, who’s been an Army Reserve chaplain for five years and works as a border patrol agent while not ministering to troops, said the trip was a fantastic experience and he valued the opportunity to share his Army experience with Estonian counterparts.

    “This gives us the ability to understand each other’s procedures and cultures and helps the ability to work together,” Orestad said of the MREP program.

    Orestand pointed out that the Estonian military is younger and much smaller than the U.S. military, and he feels programs like this enable America’s allies to grow a more mature force. The Estonian military, as it is today, was re-established after soviet occupation in 1991 and is made up of about 16,000 troops. Estonia requires compulsory military service for all eligible males for a minimum of eight months, after which citizens are required to perform reserve training until the age of 61.

    Orestad gave briefings at different locations in Estonia, including a class to a group of basic trainees. He said those in the Estonian military and medical staff he interacted with were especially interested in the procedures our Army chaplains use for crisis intervention.

    He also attended ceremonies while in Estonia, as his visit coincided with the anniversary of the re-establishment of the Republic of Estonia in 1990. Orestad said some of the reenactments of Soviet occupation during the ceremonies were hard to watch, yet gave him a renewed sense of the importance of his job.

    Estonia was occupied both by Soviet forces from 1940-1941 and 1944-1992, and by Nazi Germany from 1941-1944: an era marked by oppression and the attempted annihilation of Estonian national heritage. Mass expulsions were carried out by Soviet forces and it is thought that around 21,000 Estonians were forcefully moved to prison and labor camps in Siberia. If they survived the month-long train voyage with almost no food and water, most perished upon arrival at the camps due to starvation and exposure to the elements. Reasons for expulsion included religious, academic, and ethnic status, not conforming to communist rule, and leadership in the former Estonian government. More than half those deported were women and children.

    In observance of the nation’s history and the part religious persecution played in the Soviet occupation, Orestad said it made him hold onto the value of religious freedom even more dearly.

    “We try to export this American value of freedom of religion for a reason,” he explained. “Not because we think it’s nice to have … but because, historically, continuing to this day, when you don’t have that value, the road leads to madness and death. The world is full of examples of where this goes wrong.”

    Orestad said seeing firsthand the effects of a lack religious freedom made clear to him why it is always important to respect each Soldier’s religion, and ensure they feel supported by ministry staff. He also said it is very important as an advisor to the commander, to be aware of a country’s religious beliefs and cultural customs, and if at all possible, not tread on them in wartime.

    Chaplain (1st Lt.) Marko Tiirmaa, an operations staff officer of the Estonian Defense Forces, who was chosen as the Estonian representative to travel to America, also expressed that religious and cultural awareness is extremely necessary. He shared how many cultures live life governed by religion, and how a lack of awareness can easily result in situations of perceived disrespect.

    As part of his duties, Tiirmaa teaches a defense class to high school students, which educates them on how to be good citizens. The class provides instruction on what defense of their country means. Tiirmaa said he teaches religious awareness as part of the course to help students gain awareness of other cultures.

    Tiirmaa, a full-time Lutheran chaplain in Estonia, traveled to Fort Hunter Liggett, California, July 9-20, to observe summer training exercises. Tiirmaa said from what he saw, he didn’t find many differences between the U.S. and Estonian armies.

    During his time there, Tiirmaa was available to provide ministry support to Soldiers during real world events. When a training accident occurred where Soldiers were injured, Tiirmaa re-located to a troop medical clinic and was able to observe the emergency response process and ensure all Soldiers involved received religious support if requested.

    “It took only a few hours to acknowledge [all] personnel who were involved in this misfortune … this process was very correctly carried out,” Tiirmaa explained.

    Tiirmaa said he observed effective staff officer training for chaplains, which he said is also important for the Estonian army. He explained that in Estonia army priests and pastors are very good at providing religious support, but can use more experience in staff officer work.

    Following his time at Fort Hunter Liggett, Tiirmaa spent three days with the 79th TSC chaplaincy staff. Tiirmaa said participating in the MREP was a very important opportunity for him.

    “As allies we should always have these kind of communications … being a part of this kind of exercise we get a realistic picture of the readiness and the training process of the allies’ army. It’s very useful,” he said.



    Date Taken: 08.06.2018
    Date Posted: 08.22.2018 11:40
    Story ID: 289671
    Location: EE

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