FORT SILL, Oklahoma (June 14, 2018) -- As a storm danced in the distant sky, 45 warriors from across the 75th Field Artillery Brigade gathered for the Spiritual Fitness Olympiad hosted by 2nd Battalion, 4th Field Artillery. On May 18, 15 teams of three Soldiers volunteered for the physically challenging event focused on spiritual fitness.

Following a briefing on the day's events, battalion Chaplain (Capt.) Alvin Owens gave an opening prayer, and the Soldiers set off to compete in four challenges that would test their strength, endurance, and most of all, heart.

It wasn't long before the teams realized that not everyone was competing on an even playing field.
"When people realized that some of the things weren't fair -- just the looks on their faces -- you could just see their eyes saying, 'This isn't fair,'" Owens said.

The challenges were arranged to be intentionally unfair to see how each team would handle adversity under pressure. For example, during the one-mile run, where Soldiers had to carry a water can and a kettle bell, each water can had a different amount of water in it. Some of the cans were only one-fourth full of water, some were half full, and others were full. The weight of the kettle bells ranged from 10-40 pounds. It all depended on what the Soldiers grabbed when they first arrived at the pile. Competitors had to grab the first water can they touched without the opportunity to determine which were lighter.

Spc. Eric Espinoza, 696th Forward Support Company, said that even after he noticed the odds weren't in his favor, his team pushed harder against the competition.

"I noticed it wasn't as hard for some people to run with the equipment as it was for others," he said. "I could feel the water coming out of (my can) and down my back as I was carrying it. I saw the team ahead of us just kind of swinging it in the air."

Espinoza's water can was completely full, but as he ran, a thought came to him: "I thought maybe it's like this for a reason," he said. "I'm just going to keep pushing."

Another way the odds were stacked against the Soldiers was during the sled-push event. Soldiers pushed sleds and did burpees in between reaching each side. There were 15 teams competing with only four sleds available. Some sleds held weights and one held nothing. When a group needed a sled that was in use, they had to wait until one became available. The same rang true with the log-carry event. Only four logs existed, all of varied sizes and weights.

While some Soldiers grumbled, most dug deep and pushed harder to adapt and overcome the differences.

After the physical training challenge, the olympiad concluded with a discussion led by Owens about handling the adversities of life. The focus was on the question, "What do we do when life seems unfair?"

"I think everyone has this expectation that we will always be treated justly and fairly, but the reality of life is that it's not always fair," Owens said. "There are times in our lives where we'll maybe take the blame for something we didn't do, for example, and there are parts of our lives that just seem beyond our control."

But Owens' training focused on how to respond to adversity.

Soldiers shared and discussed some coping strategies and spiritual fitness practices they used to help overcome challenges and pitfalls of life.

Owens tied in the story of Joseph, a character from the Bible, for the big take-away: "Adversity and challenges in life will make you bitter or better. That one letter difference is up to you."

The biblical story is about a young man with the gift of interpreting dreams. Jealous of the favoritism their father lavished on Joseph, his brothers sold him into slavery. Even after the betrayal and being unjustly thrown into an unfair circumstance, Joseph decided to make the most of his situation by working diligently for his new master.

Joseph became his master's personal servant and was soon second in command at his home. His story in the Bible continues to show situations in his life in which he was put in unfair situations, but overcame them simply because of his resilient attitude and belief that he was part of a bigger plan.

Circumstance after circumstance where Joseph experienced hardship, through no fault of his own, he made the decision to work the best he could. His ability to get better instead of bitter about life situations helped him save Egypt during a time of famine and to become successful in all he did.

"When we're spiritually fit, we discover our purpose," Owens said. "It shapes our world view. Joseph used his spiritual fitness to interpret the world. He said 'God's got a plan. There's something bigger than this situation at work here.'"

Owens said that many of the Soldiers participating in the spiritual olympiad experienced frustration when they realized the activities were rigged, but chuckled after he revealed what the challenge could teach them about the resilient and spiritually fit mind.

"When we begin to look at our life as purposeful, it helps us smooth over the rough patches," Owens said.
At this moment in time, when 75th FA Soldiers are countering every U.S. adversary across the globe, it is imperative that we focus on readiness which includes spiritual fitness, Owens said.

Dr. Donald Meichenbaum, Ph.D., a professor from the University of Waterloo, Canada, cites ever-growing research that indicates a strong connection between spiritual fitness and resiliency in his book "Trauma, Spirituality, and Recovery: Toward a Spiritually-Integrated Psychotherapy."

The Army can surge its manpower, but it is impossible to surge resiliency and spiritual fitness. This is accomplished incrementally over time with events such as the Spiritual Fitness Olympiad and commanders encouraging, supporting, and resourcing these types of programs, Owens said.

Though the event was hosted by the 2-4th FA, the winners of the events hailed from 15th Transportation Company, 100th Brigade Support Battalion. However, as Lt. Col. Julian Urquidez, 2-4th FA commander, said prior to the event, "It's not about who's best in the brigade; it's about who is best for the brigade." This event brought teams and units closer together while equipping them with tools for resiliency.

When all was said and done, Soldiers walked away with a powerful experience, reinforcing the importance of spiritual fitness and how the unseen influences one's view of the everyday physical world.

Espinoza said the event was a good reminder for him to get back to the practice of his faith.
"In life there's always going to be speed bumps and obstacles," he said. "As Soldiers, no matter what comes our way, we have to be ready to complete the mission."

With leadership investing in training events, such as this one, we become a more ready and resilient force, improving our ability to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America, said Owens.