FORT HOOD, Texas -- Hosted by Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Thomas Solhjem, the Army Chief of Chaplains, the Chaplaincy Integration Pilot program made its way here, Jan 19 - 21.
Intended to focus on the “spiritual readiness” of Soldiers, the U.S. Army Chaplains Corps has partnered with Dr. Lisa Miller, professor of psychology and education at Columbia University, to integrate a partnership program for Army command teams, behavioral health specialists and chaplains.
“There is a mischaracterization of what is spiritual and what is religious,” Solhjem said in describing the purpose behind CHIP. “If you say the word spiritual, people immediately equate it to religious. So (the purpose of) this training is to bring the science behind spirituality into our Army.”
“Why is this important?” Soljehm asked. “We’ve been giving our Soldiers about 20% of what they need. We haven’t been giving our Soldiers all that they need to live out successful lives and to be successful while performing their duties,” he said.
“A 20-year bifurcation of spiritualty from overall fitness, training, and culture in the U.S. military has weakened and made vulnerable the Soldier,” Miller explained during the training. “The cost is degraded outward performance and lessened inner reserves to solve problems, as well as personal suffering, including suicide.”
Soljem explained that the research Miller brings to the table will allow Army chaplains, behavioral health specialists, and command teams to work together to ensure Soldiers have a place to go and a variety of people to talk to, regardless of religious or spiritual specificities. The training is intended to help key leaders show their Soldiers that they don’t need to have a faith-based perspective in order to ask for and receive help.
It is also intended to train key leaders into looking for different aspects of a Soldier’s wellness in order to ensure he is mentally and physically fit.
“Science mandates the need to support the spiritual core throughout the life of the Soldier for fitness, resilience and recovery,” Miller said.
Spiritual health as an essential part of a Soldier’s well-being is something that has been greatly highlighted in recent years. With programs like Holistic Health being added to the Army Fitness Doctrine, which is a program dedicated to the individual’s physical and mental fitness, the Army is showing that they understand the need for not just physically fit and combat-ready Soldiers, but that mental health plays a huge role in the health of the individual Soldier as well. With the addition of CHIP, the Army is showing that it understands the spiritual needs of a Soldier is just as important as the physical and mental requirements.
The program will allow chaplains, religious affairs specialists, and behavioral health specialists to work together on the mental and spiritual needs of a Soldier. The chaplain’s will now have a way to refer Soldiers to behavioral health if needed, but also provide them a venue to continue to see to the care of the Soldier working alongside the behavioral health specialist.
“This program speaks to me and resonates the importance of behavioral health and the (unit ministry teams) to have a shared purposeful and meaningful connection,” Maj. Darnell Durrah, 1st Cavalry Division psychologist, said. “That results in communicating.”
Durrah explained that understanding when brigade and battalion chaplains meet and having an open invitation to those meetings is very important as part of this integration, in order to allow both sides to share talking points about news and important information when it comes to behavioral health and the chaplaincy program.
Seeing behavioral health and the chaplaincy program work together is the most important thing, Durrah said.
“Ensuring that the behavioral health techs are nested with the religious affairs specialists, and seeing that they are doing walkabouts together, and the chaplain and behavioral health components are seen together; it creates a synergy of colleagues, as opposed to just peers,” he added.
1st Cav. Div. Chaplain (Capt.) Ernest “Jay” West placed an emphasis on the command team aspect of the program during the three-day training. “Neither behavioral health nor the Chaplain Corps can do what we do on our own.” West said. “One of the things we are attempting to accomplish this week ... is to begin to change the culture.”
West continued, “I heard this morning that commanders have been negatively conditioned to believe that matters of spirituality belong to the chaplain, matters of behavioral health belong to the behavioral health team, I do my referrals, and my actions as a leader are complete. I want folks to know that is absolutely false. It takes all of us, the Golden Triangle – the command team, the unit ministry team, the behavioral health team – and in the center of that triangle sits the individual Soldier.”
The reason the spirituality aspect is so important, West said, is because it comes to intersecting lethality with spirituality.
“Up to now, commanders have understood lethality as simply putting steel on target, and as a way of keeping us safe,” West said. “Dr. Miller, in the process of her work, invites Army leaders to think about the why.”
He continued, “Why does lethality matter? Well, for the same reason, people first matter, right? Because it comes from a place of believing in something greater then ourselves, a place of giving back. And that’s just another way of saying spirituality, isn’t it?”