Chaplains from 193rd Infantry Brigade participate in a breakout session to discuss topics of the day during the Spiritual Readiness Pilot at Fort Jackson, Feb. 17.
Chaplains from 193rd Infantry Brigade participate in a breakout session to discuss topics of the day during the Spiritual Readiness Pilot at Fort Jackson, Feb. 17. (Photo Credit: Josephine Carlson) VIEW ORIGINAL

As part of the Army’s continual support to “people” as its number one priority, the Army Chaplain Corps joined forces with Army Behavioral Health and other care providers to treat Soldiers holistically and support their overall readiness through Spiritual Readiness Pilots, (formerly known as Chaplaincy Integration Pilots).

Last week, the pilot program made its way to Victory Hall, as key stakeholders at Fort Jackson, including brigade and battalion command teams, unit ministry teams and behavioral health providers, came together to advance their work as partners in caring for Soldiers.

The Spiritual Readiness Pilot program, developed by the Chief of Chaplains Initiatives Group in coordination with Dr. Lisa Miller, Professor of Psychology and Education at Columbia University, aims to explore ways to complement Behavioral Health Care with quality unit-level chaplaincy care.

Miller spoke to the group about inherent spirituality. She opened her presentation by assuring everyone that the science she was presenting had been developed by her lab and other labs over many years and had been vetted through peer review.

“The science tells us every single young man and young woman was born from day one with an innate capacity for spiritual life,” Miller said.

Army Chief of Chaplains, Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Thomas Solhjem described the importance of spirituality in a memo introducing the program. “Spirituality is important to the Army because scientific research by Dr. Miller and others confirms the protective value of personal spirituality against suicidality, clinical depression, risk-taking, and substance dependence and abuse.”

Chaplain (Col.) Jonathan McGraw, director of the initiatives group, said they have been studying the spiritual needs of Soldiers for the last two and a half years, by looking at Columbia University’s psychology of spirituality and Yale University’s Life Worth Living program. “So we’ve brought those two together and we’ve set up with our chaplains a new way to assess the spiritual needs of the Soldier through an inventory, to then look at how their spiritual connection is … what’s their tradition?”

Army Training and Doctrine Command Chaplain (Col.) Gregory Edison said he was looking forward to continued training and seeing the science that supports the idea that we’re born with a “spiritual core. This is a great asset to the chaplains and religious affairs specialists to validate what we know, as a profession of religious support care for the soul of the Army – the science to prove that.”

During the program on Fort Jackson, Miller, along with Dr. Angela Gorrell of Baylor University, trained chaplains on a five-step model for supporting spiritual readiness. The model is designed for use at the battalion level and will help new Soldiers focus on developing a “personal life operating system” as a foundation to “a life worth living”.

Gorrell said, “There are several key questions that we ask in (our Life Worth Living program), for instance, ‘What is a meaningful life? What does it mean to lead our lives well? What does it mean for life to feel right?’” Gorrell added that she is giving the chaplains ways to help Soldiers answer these questions for themselves.

Command teams and drill sergeants attended sessions to learn about developing spiritually fit Soldiers. There was also training for chaplains and behavioral health providers to improve their collaboration and referral efforts.

Surgeon General of the Army Lt. Gen. R. Scott Dingle could not be at Fort Jackson in person but provided remarks by video. He spoke about combat medics and healthcare providers taking care of physical needs and the importance of those who take care of mental and spiritual needs.

“It's time for us to synergize because people are first … it’s time for us to synergize so that we can be combat multipliers to ensure that our Soldiers and our Family members are getting a holistic approach that takes the mind, the body, the soul, the mental, the spiritual, the physical into account for the overall readiness of our Soldiers and the entire Army Family,” Dingle said.

Army Chief of Behavioral Health, Lt. Col. Sam Preston said this is a powerful collaboration already resulting in changes to policy concerning behavioral health risk management. “We added a paragraph based on clinical practice guidelines and science that it is important for providers to assess collectively and comprehensively the spirituality and religious background of individuals seeking care, specifically those who are suicidal.”

Preston went on to explain this is important because as behavioral health providers they need to understand the population they are serving.

“Good medicine is looking at individuals comprehensively, not simply the chemistry, the physiology, and the psychology of it, but also who they are as an individual,” Preston said.

Army Deputy Chief of Staff, G-1 Lt. Gen. Gary Brito, co-chair of the People First Task Force, spoke to the chaplains and behavioral health care providers about the corrosives of sexual assault, sexual harassment, extremism, and racism, and also the importance of the “triad” of spiritual, physical, and mental readiness.

Speaking about his position on the task force, Brito said, “I want to focus on the first word, People … Please trust me, the audio and the video from our Chief of Staff of people being a philosophy and a priority could not be stronger today.”

“I'm glad to be part of the team with you. You are definitely going to help us meet the desired end state of everything that the people first task force is working on, more importantly what our army needs right now …” Brito said.