Single Soldiers often find themselves far from home and family when arriving at a new duty station. Army leaders have long sought ways to welcome these mostly young new Soldiers and build a sense of unity and esprit de corps through programs and activities.
One Special Forces unit, the 3rd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) took a unique approach to taking care of their single Soldiers by providing them with series of events designed to both bring them together and promote unit cohesion. Unlike most single Soldier programs, which offer day and weekend trips in and around the local area, the 3rd Bn., 1st SFG (A) Soldiers take theirs during the work day.
Yes, you read that correctly. Their Soldiers need not sacrifice their personal time to participate.
"We have multiple single Soldier initiatives ranging from events with Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers to Duty Days with the Chaplain to rally points at resilience events that are put on by Joint Base Lewis-McChord Morale Welfare and Recreation," said Chaplain (Cpt.) Christopher Kitchens, the battalion chaplain.
In the middle of a work week, 12 Soldiers led by Chaplain Kitchens, left JBLM to explore the Ape Caves, located south of Mount St. Helens, Wa. The 2.5 mile hike in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest took Soldiers through the longest continuous lava tube in the U.S. and exposed the Soldiers, many not from the Pacific Northwest, to the unique natural phenomenon.
"These events help me to reset and relax," said Mike, a Special Forces staff sergeant in 3rd Bn., and single soldier himself. "It's great that we can do this in the middle of the week."
During the hike Chaplain Kitchens talked to the Soldiers individually and collectively about resiliency. Getting out for the day, away from the flagpole, is a much needed escape for Soldiers that doesn't come often enough during their busy schedule, said Kitchens.
"Single Soldier events provide these Soldiers with a guilt free opportunity to step away from the proverbial plow for a day, reset, and get back in the fight with a renewed sense of purpose and a fresh vision," said Chaplain Kitchens. "This ultimately increases soldier readiness as well as sets the stage for longer and more productive careers."
The battalion commander Lt. Col. Joshua Thiel, a geo-bachelor due to his wife's job, says he used his newfound perspective to emphasize a more balanced engagement for the Soldiers and Families in the unit. "We are finding that we are stronger together," said Lt. Col. Thiel.
Thiel and Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Schleif, along with Chaplain Kitchens and Stephanie Roe, the Family Readiness Support Assistant, have taken personal ownership and placed a command emphasis on their Family and Single Soldier programs.
One of the command's programs encourages Soldiers to participate in JBLM organized events by sending their unit guidon and establishing it as a rally point. Soldiers and Family members, who otherwise would not likely meet, can rally and partake in the JBLM event together.
In line with the Special Forces principle of people being more important than hardware, the battalion leaders have found their initiative to have been well received.
"These have been great, said Staff Sgt. Mike. "I've met more and more people and I'm looking forward to attending other events, especially ones on a work day!"