The Marine Corps’ men of God gathered at their annual senior leadership symposium, the Ministry Leadership Conference, to discuss topics and gain practical knowledge in order to stay “Engaged to win the struggle for influence.”
“We are focused on building dialogue with other nations, and are discussing and learning ways to build trust,” said Rear Adm. Alan T. Baker, Chaplain of the Marine Corps and Deputy Chief of Chaplains. “Who better than the religious team to help build and mold the trust we are trying to communicate to the peoples of the world?”
According to the briefs given by the U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, G-5 plans and operations, 10 percent of the people in the MARFORPAC area of responsibility hate the U.S. and want it completely destroyed. Another 10 percent love the U.S. and want to have its way of life. The other 80 percent are waiting to be swayed.
“It’s that 80 percent we are focusing our influence on,” said Col. Russell Smith, assistant chief of staff G-5. “And we are only going to be an influence in Asia if we are out there amongst the people.”
In order to ensure global security and American interests in the Asian-Pacific regions, the U.S. is striving to make a positive impact in the hearts and minds of the people, said Smith.
With this key point in mind, the Chaplains will spent three days here discussing the best way to help the Marine Corps in its struggle for influence in the MARFORPAC AOR.
“This training will help us provide an impact and give the commanders the advice and support they need,” said Navy Capt. Bill Reed, force chaplain, MARFORPAC. “This will also determine how we as chaplains and [religious program specialists] can make a greater impact on religious leaders to influence cooperation throughout the whole scope of operations.”
The threat of anti-American and anti-democracy influence is a real-world issue according to the some leaders of MARFORPAC.
“The struggle for influence is just as important as the kinetic operations Marines are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Smith said.
Even now, other superpowers are flexing their diplomatic, military, information and especially economic power throughout the world, Smith said.
Headlines from news outlets around the world support this claim.
•China flourishing in African vacuum: Finance Asia, Hong Kong, Jan 6, 2008
•China says Kenya violence proof Western democracy unsuitable: Globe and Mail, Canada, Jan 14, 2008
•China, India vow to build relationship Of friendship, trust: NEWS Post India, India, Jan 14, 2008
Smith provided this and other information to the chaplains to help them better understand the Marine Corps’ strategies and concerns for dealing with the prospect of our own impact and threat of outside influence.
“We want [the chaplains] to know about what we’re doing out there in the struggle for influence,” said Col. James L. Stalnaker, chief of staff, MARFORPAC. “We are not planning to make every chaplain a front line strategist, but we want to make them understand how great an impact they can make.”
The conference also included briefings from Dr. Pauletta Otis, a professor of security studies at the Command and Staff College, Marine Corps University and Dr. Ehsan M. Ahrari, a professor of counterterrorism at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies.
These professionals shared their personal insight into the roles of religion, religious influence in democracy and in war and violence.
“The struggle for influence is directly related to the policy related to Islamic influence,” Ahrari said.
“[Chaplains] are the military’s early-warning system when concerned with religious violence,” Otis said. “That is why [they] are invaluable. People will talk to [them] about the religious climate more than anyone else.”
The chaplains will continue to learn from these outside sources and from each other through discussion and classes. According to Rear Adm. Baker, all the knowledge and experience they plan on gaining, they will take back to the rest of the chaplain corps in order to aid the Marine Corps in the continuing the struggle for influence.
“We as chaplains and RPs can have an impact on this AOR,” said Reed. “We can affect hearts and minds and engage to win the struggle for influence.”