PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii - Capt. Francis D. Bonadonna, deputy fleet chaplain for U.S. Pacific Fleet, had a rare opportunity to create scenarios for the chaplain corps during the amphibious portion of exercise Talisman Saber 2013, being held off the coast of Australia July 15 through Aug. 6.
Since October of 2012, Bonadonna has been working with Australian chaplains to create scenarios that will function as a learning experience for both countries.
As the first chaplain to write scenarios for the exercise, he faced unique challenges that other members of the planning committee didn't.
"It was difficult for me because other groups had an idea of what the people did before them. As for me, I was the first person so I had a lot to figure out," Bonadonna said. "However, a lot of people were willing to help me."
Talisman Saber is providing chaplains a great chance to learn from their coalition counterparts and to see how religion affects people differently in the diverse Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
"Many times there are strengths and capabilities that are grown inside our own chaplain corps and we discover those strengths and sometimes the gaps that one another has, and we work together to bolster one another's capabilities," said Capt. Brent Scott, fleet chaplain for U.S. Pacific Fleet. "If a contingency arises in this area of operation, if Australia and United States are working side-by-side to respond to that contingency then we already know how we work together and what our weaknesses and strengths are."
Bonadonna couldn't agree more.
"I think the significance of it is two-fold, by working with another ally it becomes a wonderful opportunity for us to learn from them and for them to learn from us because we don't do business exactly the same," he said. "Operationally, it helps us to see how religion operates on more than the interpersonal level. Now we have to start to think about how religion plays a factor in the larger sense. The Indo-Asia-Pacific region is the most diverse and complex region in the world."
The scenarios that were created were based on real life events and tactical-level chaplains will face situations where commanding officers will use them to determine how religion could affect humanitarian efforts; all designed to give tactical-level chaplains a better understanding of their role and improve the chaplain corps.
"The chaplains working at the operational level are able to put within the scenario injects that will make those tactical level chaplains work and so we're testing their ability to work in scenarios that are unpredictable," Scott said.
"Though they may not have the answers this should provide them with the ability to get the answers and develop our chaplains to be better," Bonadonna said.
Talisman Saber is a U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM)-sponsored exercise that trains forces in a mid-intensity, high-end warfighting scenario involving a combined joint task force. Designed to improve U.S./Australian combat training, readiness and interoperability, approximately 18,000 U.S. and 9,000 Australian personnel will participate in the exercise.