COVID-19 has impacted many exercises for the ADF and for Chaplain Stuart Asquith on Exercise Cope North it was no different. 

He said while he was on Andersen Air Force Base and North Field he had to provide his chaplaincy services differently. 

“COVID has restricted the relationship-building tools of my trade. Spontaneous chats in the mess, sitting together in public spaces, day-to-day social engagements – all have been necessarily limited, and even a friendly smile has been difficult to exchange while wearing masks,” Chaplain Asquith said. 

“Here in Guam I’ve had to re-imagine how I get to know people and how I let them get to know me.

“During these unprecedented times, I think a chaplain being present and available for people to express what’s going on for them has never been more important.”

The biggest highlight for the Melbourne native was learning about the approach to spirituality and pastoral care taken by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF), also known as the Koku-Jieitai.

“Being the chaplain assigned to Exercise Cope North 21 has provided me with a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow as an Australian deployed in an international context,” he said. 

“It’s been really interesting coming to a greater understanding of Japanese culture, spirituality and religious practices, while building friendships and explaining parts of Australian culture.”

Japanese Exercise Director Colonel Daisuke Kadota said he recognised the value chaplains brought to the deployed force.

“It has been wonderful to see the RAAF chaplaincy capability in action and the Koku-Jieitai have benefitted from getting to know Chaplain Asquith and learning about his role,” Colonel Kadota said.