Staff ride emphasizes spiritual fitness, resiliency

By Jane Gervasoni, Public Affairs Office, U.S. Army Public Health CommandSeptember 3, 2014

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In a clearing surrounded by trees behind building 1675 on Aberdeen Proving Ground--South is a cemetery containing 167 graves. Many of the headstones are those of infants or young children of military personnel who served at APG.

"Looking at the headstones, one can only imagine the grief and despair felt by the parents and families left behind and wonder how they continued in their service to the nation after experiencing such losses," said Lt. Col. David Bowerman, U.S. Army Public Health Command chaplain.

Bowerman explained that building 1675, now the home of the USAPHC Environmental Health Engineering and Health Risk Management portfolios, had originally been part of a 29-building complex that included the World War I post hospital, and that the cemetery behind the building held some of those who had died in the hospital.

The hospital was one stop on a staff ride held Aug. 28 that included a tour of many USAPHC buildings with information about their history. It was organized by Bowerman to combine history, resilience and spiritual fitness by incorporating how previous military and civilian used their personal resources to persevere.

The Army defines resiliency as the mental, physical, emotional and behavioral ability to face and cope with adversity, adapt to change, recover, learn and grow from setbacks.

More than 40 civilians who attended the ride were challenged to understand the resiliency of those who lived and worked at APG--South from its beginning in World War I through the many conflicts leading to our present day.

Bowerman described the trials endured by former inhabitants of APG as "moral injury," a kind of post-traumatic stress that is a normal reaction to crime, accidents and similar world-changing events that cause people to question the way they perceive their world.

One thing that healing moral injuries requires is that the injured person tell his/her story to a sympathetic listener.

"I think the way we can recover is by taking one step at a time and having people who listen as part of a growth process," said Melinda Battle-Henson, administrative assistant in USAPHC's Health Hazard Assessment Program.

Bowerman agreed.

"From the Susquehannock Indians who were decimated by smallpox to those buried in the cemetery who died from the 1918 influenza epidemic to the civilian workers who died in the 1945 explosion and fire in building 5158, we can learn lessons to help us be resilient in the future," Bowerman said.

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