FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Fort Leonard Wood’s chaplains participated in a spiritual readiness pilot program here March 29 to April 1, hosted by Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Thomas Solhjem, the Army Chief of Chaplains.
The goal of the Chaplaincy Integration Pilot is to explore ways unit-level chaplains can more effectively complement behavioral health care through the fostering of spiritual core development in Soldiers, Army Chaplains Corps officials said.
As Army fitness doctrine has become dedicated to physical, mental and spiritual health, the Army Chaplains Corps has partnered with Dr. Lisa Miller, professor of psychology and education at Columbia University in New York, and the founder of the Spirituality Mind Body Institute, to scientifically show the importance of spiritual health to the whole, or holistic, individual.
“We’re not just bringing the science to spirituality; we’re cultivating a paradigm shift,” Solhjem said.
The Army currently faces great challenges in combatting suicide, sexual assault, risky behavior and poor decision-making skills, especially among Soldiers aged 25 and younger, who comprise 50 percent of the force, Army Chaplains Corps officials said, adding these challenges are due, in part, to the dismissal of religion and spirituality as the primary means to ensure Soldier well-being, leading many to suffer due to spiritual distress.
“We’ve been giving our Soldiers about 20 percent of what they need,” Solhjem added. “We haven’t been giving our Soldiers all that they need to live out successful lives and to be successful while performing their duties.”
Chaplain (Maj.) Patrick Hester, chaplain resource manager at the Religious Support Office here, attended the pilot and said spiritually fit Soldiers are more “resilient to the stresses of life.”
“Spirituality deals with that inner part of our being where we connect with something greater than ourselves,” he said. “Most often, spirituality is associated with connecting to transcendence — some transcendent being, some transcendent reality — that’s greater than the self. Through that — for some, it’s prayer; for some, it’s meditation; for some, it’s helping others — we enrich the deeper aspects of our being.”
Miller said depression, addiction and suicide are on the rise in our country.
“Death by suicide now surpasses that of death by auto accidents,” she said, adding the solution to this problem is “the reintegration of the spiritual core into wholeness.”
“When you support the spiritual core with spiritual fitness, you end up with a Soldier who, the science shows, is more resilient, more relationally connected and ethical,” she added.
Miller pointed to twin studies, commonly used in the research of behavior, that show “we are inherently spiritual beings.”
“There is a docking station — a hard-wired docking station to spiritual awareness in us from day one,” she said.
To assist the chaplains in better engaging, evaluating and advising command teams on the spiritual health of Soldiers, five skills were taught during the pilot. These included conducting a spiritual readiness assessment; evaluating a Soldier’s connection to a spiritual community; helping Soldiers identify personal health-sustaining spiritual practices, helping Soldiers examine life meaning and purpose, and working together with other behavioral health providers.
Additionally, the pilot provided an opportunity to brief drill sergeants here on the role every leader plays in helping develop one’s spirituality to become and better more resilient Soldier.
Staff Sgt. Graham Murrah, a drill sergeant assigned to Company A, 35th Engineer Battalion, called it “a big help.”
“It definitely was a valuable experience,” he said. “As leaders, we need to know and understand our Soldiers and be empathetic and compassionate. Part of that is being able to identify the difference between who needs behavioral health and who just needs to sit down with a chaplain and figure out what’s going on in their lives. It doesn’t matter what religion they are; the chaplain is there for their spiritual needs.”