Spiritual fitness in combat
October 11, 2012
Story by Capt. Anouar Bencheqroun
Task Force Ripcord, 503rd Military Police Battalion
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Choosing to serve in the Army is a unique and challenging career choice that demands a lot from the soldiers and families who serve.
The Army brings with it many unique challenges, which is why Army leadership has developed various programs to help build the resilience, mental strength and performance of soldiers, families and Department of the Army civilians alike.
The Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness program is one such program that incorporates five dimensions of strength: physical, emotional, social, family and spiritual.
Capt. Randy Loux, a Mazomanie, Wis., native who serves as the chaplain with the Fort Bragg, N.C.,-based 503d Military Police Battalion (Airborne) currently deployed to Camp Nathan Smith in southern Afghanistan, works with soldiers and families to help strengthen all these areas, but specializes in spiritual strength.
"Whether back in garrison at Fort Bragg, N.C., or in a combat zone in Afghanistan, spiritual fitness should be the no. 1 priority because when a soldier is first and foremost 'spiritually fit,' then all the others will naturally fall in place," said Loux.
That's where his Religious Support Team, consisting of himself and Pfc. Jasmyne Stinson, comes into play.
"[Commanders] are responsible for making sure their soldiers have the opportunity to stay spiritually fit," says Loux. "We are obligated to provide for those religious services or practices that we ourselves, due to our affiliation with our endorsing church body, cannot personally perform."
The RST exists to provide religious support and perform various religious services for the soldiers in their unit to ensure the free exercise of religion.
There are several ways that the RST helps to promote spiritual fitness in a combat zone.
At Camp Nathan Smith in Kandahar city, there are three chaplains that support five weekly worship services, which provide religious opportunities for Protestants, Catholics and Latter-day Saints.
"If there ever is a demand for worship opportunities currently not offered, then we would certainly do everything possible to either perform those services, or provide another chaplain who can assist," said Loux.
According to Capt. Erin Barrett, a regular attendee at the services, "Chapel services are a time to relax, receive spiritual renewal from the challenges of the previous week and strength to face the challenges of the new week."
The RST also offers weekly religious study classes to give soldiers other opportunities to stay spiritually fit.
Soldiers gather in an informal environment to discuss religion and come closer to their faith while broadening their knowledge of their beliefs. It is also a time for other soldiers to learn about other religious concepts.
Many soldiers Loux provides religious support to are spread out across small camps, which requires him and the RST to travel frequently to visit their soldiers.
"We set up regular battlefield circulations to visit them where they are embedded," said Stinson, Loux's chaplain assistant. "Visiting our soldiers provides us with several opportunities [to] perform religious field services, one-on-one counseling, deliver much-appreciated care packages as well as getting to learn about them on a personal level."
Wherever the RST is located, one of its primary goals is to spend time with the soldiers through its "ministry of presence."
"Without the presence of the RST, morale would be low," said Pfc. Robert Holmes, a human resources specialist with the 503rd MP Bn (ABN). "It brightens my day to see the RST and be able to speak with them about issues I may be facing."
"To see the RST is a sense of spiritual motivation," added Spc. Ronald Durand, who serves as a signal support specialist with the 503rd MP Bn (ABN). "I am able to speak and vent to them. The weekly services also help keep our mind off the battlefield and what's going on outside the wire."
Loux sums up his feelings about his role as a military chaplain by saying, "What a blessing. We get to serve God and our country. It is a privilege that very few Americans get to do."