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NATO chaplain chiefs build relationships

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (June 20, 2003) -- For the first time in 12 years, the chiefs of NATO nations' air forces' chaplaincies have come to the United States for their annual conference.

The weeklong NATO Allied Air Force Chief of Chaplains Consultative Conference, held jointly at both the Pentagon and Andrews Air Force Base, Md., ended June 20. It is held each year to build relationships between the chaplaincies, said the chief of the Air Force chaplain service.

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"We want to build relationships with our NATO partners," Chap. (Maj. Gen.) Lorraine Potter said. "I think for us, that is the reason the (U.S. Air Force) chief of staff would host this."

While there is a yearly conference for all NATO chaplain chiefs, regardless of branch of service, the allied air forces chaplain chiefs choose to meet independently because of the unique differences between the air forces and the other service branches.

"In the air forces, you do have the responsibility of war, but we are not usually involved with eyeball-to-eyeball or hand-to-hand combat," Potter said. "You are usually at a distance. The other thing is the responsibility that some of our folks have because of the kinds of weapons and machinery that we use. The issues are different for us."

Chaplain chiefs from the air forces of 14 of the 19 NATO nations attended the conference. In addition, senior military chaplains from both Lithuania and Romania attended. Those two nations are preparing to enter the alliance.

The chaplains shared ideas and viewpoints on religious tolerance, their responsibilities to commanders and their responsibilities to the troops. Potter said the U.S. Air Force serves as a working model of how to accommodate other faiths.

"The other chaplaincies are looking at our model and asking how we accommodate other faiths and how we work together," Potter said. "This is an opportunity to show the uniqueness of America and our religious freedom. There is a miracle in our chaplains. We have very strong people who are passionate about their faith, yet they can minister to people who believe differently than they do. We are modeling respect for individuals and for other religions. (Other NATO chaplains) want to learn about that."

Recent world events were also covered at the conference, Potter said. Chaplains discussed how to help military members deal with the ethical and moral questions posed by conflicts such as the war in Iraq.

Cooperation is what Potter said most of the chaplains will take away from the conference.

"The most important thing is that we have met other persons from other countries, and we have started to build relationships," she said. "When necessary, we can call on each other. The world is too big not to cooperate."

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