Ohio National Guard News

Exercise Platinum Wolf 2018
enhances cultural and religious understanding

Story and photos by Senior Master Sgt. Elizabeth Holliker, Ohio National Guard Public Affairs

Col. Andrew Aquino (from left), chaplaincy director for the Ohio National Guard; Col. Saša Milutinović, head of division for religion for the Serbian Armed Forces; and Col. Slajan Stamenkovic, duty commander, 4th Army Brigade, Serbian Armed Forces, gather together with United Arab Emirates soldiers for a traditional Emirate meal, June 19, 2018, at Serbia's South Base and Boravac Training Area, during Exercise Platinum Wolf 2018. The goal of the meal was to ensure the soldiers' religious dietary needs were properly met and share ideas for continued religious support of the Emirate soldiers in the future. Platinum Wolf 18, a two-week multinational peacekeeping exercise, brings 10 nations together to enhance military cooperation and interoperability, June 11-22.

Three Soldiers sitting on floor in tent laughing. Man frying bread in pan on floor of tent.
Local man rolling out bread dough with pin on bakery board on the floor. Local men making rice dish in pan on floor of tent.
close up of Soldiers sharing  rice and chicken plate.

platinum wolf logoSOUTH BASE, Serbia (06.19.2018) — Exercise Platinum Wolf 2018 brought 10 nations and more than 500 soldiers from around the world to Serbia’s South Base and Borovac Training area to participate in a multinational peacekeeping exercise. As the nations came together for the two-week event, they each brought unique cultural and religious differences that could pose challenges to communication, cooperation and interoperability, but that was not the case for this year’s exercise.

Living in a tent city, built to resemble a forward operating base environment, most nations had designated tents. Soldiers lived in close quarters and some tents housed multiple nations, providing a direct opportunity to interact with one another on a daily basis, even outside of training events. While tent city environments lack the creature comforts of home, members of the Serbian Armed Forces division of religion went out of their way to make sure each soldier felt as much at home as possible. There were three designated spiritual areas, available 24 hours a day, in an effort to support cultural and religious needs for any soldier and any religion.

“No matter what the religious belief, we must support that,” said Col. Andrew Aquino, chaplaincy director for the Ohio National Guard. “That’s really the charter of the chaplaincy, to support the soldiers' reach to God, in whatever form that takes. During wartime or a conflict, the soldier’s soul, heart and spirit are the most cherished things we take care of. That is our charge as chaplains.”

Understanding the religious needs of each nation participating is important to the Serbian Armed Forces, and ensuring needs were met was a task taken seriously. Serbian Armed Forces Capt. Bratislav Milenkovic was assigned to assist soldiers through the training events, translating when necessary, and ensuring that soldiers who needed properly prepared Halal meats and spices for their meals got them. Halal, which refers to what is permissible under Muslim law, specifies how the food is sourced, harvested and prepared.

To show gratitude for the efforts put forth by the Serbians and the division of religion, soldiers from the United Arab Emirates extended an invitation for representatives from both Serbia and Ohio to attend a traditional Halal meal in the tent city. UAE soldiers prepared a meal of machboos, a traditional rice dish with chicken; khubz, a traditional flatbread; and honey cut from hives in the UAE.

“Our religion invites people to eat with us,” said one of the soldiers. “It shows respect for each other and that we are the same.”

Col. Saša Milutinović, head of the division of religion for the Serbian Armed Forces Chaplaincy program, Aquino and 15 UAE soldiers gathered around two communal dishes on the floor and ate together. Throughout the meal, the soldiers not only expressed their thanks for the special care Serbia provided, but also explained how the meal was prepared, as well as proper Emirate dining etiquette. The meal ended with a group photo, hugs, handshakes and a promise for future meals together.

“Now we have more friends,” Milutinović said. “We also have a better understanding of their country, religion and traditions.”

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