Trails and Prayers
August 16, 2012
JOINT BASE MCGUIRE DIX LAKEHURST, N.J. - Glistening with sweat, soldiers ranking from private to colonel, snake their way through the sandy trails and hills of Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst.
Army 1st Lt. Jonathan Graham, a chaplain candidate working from the 244th Engineer Battalion in Denver, Colo., walks up and down the line offering words of encouragement and asking questions about the devotional that occurred at the halfway point.
"This is what the chaplaincy does," said Graham. "It focuses on the spiritual welfare of the soldier."
This combination of spirituality and physical fitness is a trend in the Army, specifically with the inception of the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program. It combines the five dimensions of strength that make up today's soldier: spiritual, physical, emotional, family and social.
"In the profession of arms, the spiritual element is just as imperative as physical fitness," said Command Sgt. Maj. Steve Whittaker, the sergeant major of Army Support Activity Fort Dix, here at Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst. "Strong minds equal strong bodies."
"Operation Soul March" was the second of its kind this year. The first took place in March. Army Sgt. George Grey, a chaplain's assistant at the soldier's chapel on Army Support Activity Fort Dix said it was such a success the chaplains brought it back. This was a great opportunity for soldiers from different units to get together in a more relaxed environment, he added.
The event took place in the woods behind New Jersey Ave., and included a 5 kilometer ruck march, with a 10-minute devotional at the halfway point conducted by chaplain candidates. Following the march, participants were treated to a complimentary breakfast.
The event was open to all service members regardless of rank or religious conviction.
"This event was not a Bible study," said Army 1st Lt. Brandon Brackett, also a chaplain candidate with the 244th conducting his practicum here at Fort Dix. "We don't want to exclude anyone who doesn't read the Bible, we want to include them."
Chaplaincy is a hard calling in that a candidate has to reach people from all religious persuasions and walks of life, said Brackett.
"As chaplains we have to avoid the temptation to impose our personal beliefs upon everyone else," said Brackett. "Regardless of a person's personal faith background we all have a spirit that needs to be fed."
At the end of Graham's devotional, he encouraged his listeners to discuss what they had learned and share their experience with others, allowing soldiers of different faith backgrounds to find common ground.
"This event was an opportunity for me to bond with other soldiers around me and God himself," said Army Spc. Clint Robinson, a medical technician with the 7245th Medical Support Unit, out of Picatinny Arsenal, N.J.
Robinson added that his physical and spiritual fitness are crucial to his success as a soldier and an individual in the civilian world.
Not only did "Operation Soul March" welcome all faiths, it also has the potential to become a joint-forces event in the future.
"When we host our next one, I want to invite all our joint base partners," said Col. Jeffrey Doll, the commander of ASA Fort Dix. "We certainly extend an invitation to all of our partners to come out and do a little Army 'esprit de corps.'"