Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Thomas Solhjem, and Command Sgt. Maj. Ralph Martinez stand near the sanctuary of the Cache Creek Chapel Complex April 16, 2021, during a visit to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Solhjem is the Chief of Chaplains of the Army, and Martinez is the Chaplain Corps regimental sergeant major. (Photo Credit: Jeff Crawley) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT SILL, Oklahoma (April 20, 2021) -- The Chief of Chaplains of the Army, and the Chaplain Corps regimental sergeant major visited Fort Sill April 15-17, as part of their weekly care visits around the service as they check on the Army family during these difficult times.

“Army families are strained,” said Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Thomas Solhjem. People have had to deal with COVID-19 for over a year, racism and extremism, civil unrest, a new administration, and sexual harassment and assault, and suicides.

“COVID has taken its toll in the isolation, separation, the inability to have freedom of movement,” Solhjem said. Some Soldiers have lost family members to COVID.

Although technology has made virtual socialization possible, there is nothing that can replace the human touch and the human connection, he said.

That’s why unit ministry teams, like health care professionals, have never stopped seeing people while following pandemic protocols, the chaplain said.

Solhjem and Sgt. Maj. Ralph Martinez visited with Fort Sill unit ministry teams.

“We’re thanking and praising unit ministry teams for what they’re doing,” Martinez said. The teams are dealing with families who are teleworking, homeschooling their children, family members who may have lost their jobs, or caught COVID. Those are all additional stressors to families.

The unit ministry teams have been creative as they find ways to connect with families and revitalize them, Martinez said.

The Army’s senior spiritual leaders also met with Sill commanders. “Leaders need care, too,” Solhjem said. “We are here to hear their concerns, not only personally, but for the people they are responsible for.”

Solhjem said he and Martinez often travel with their wives to installations to perform small group leader-spouse engagements, and chaplain-spouse engagements. “It’s about making family connections.”

There are five pillars to holistic health and fitness: spiritual, mental, physical, dietary, and sleep, Solhjem said. “Spiritual is the docking station, it’s the driver for the other areas.”

Researchers have determined that 30 percent of one’s spiritual self comes from their DNA, while 70 percent comes through socialization, Solhjem said.

Between ages 18 through 25 spirituality accelerates, Solhjem said. “That’s who we are receiving into our Army … they are at a point where they are most needy and susceptible to spiritual integration.

“What we find is that many coming in (to the military), this generation, lack coping mechanisms. The ‘grit,’ if you will, of a spiritual core to help them through difficult and traumatic times,” the chaplain said.

Pilot course

The service has recognized training Soldiers in spiritual readiness has been marginal, and so is re-emphasizing it in Army Field Manual 7-22 Holistic Health and Fitness, Solhjem said.

And, a Spiritual Readiness course is being developed by Training and Doctrine Command. A pilot course will be conducted at Fort Sill this fall, Martinez said.

Day 1 will be for unit ministry teams and caregivers, Martinez said. Training will cover a five-step process to determine where people are spiritually.

On the second day, behavioral health teams along with the unit ministry teams will hear more about the spiritual process. Psychologist and pastor Dr. Angela Gorrell, assistant professor of practical theology at Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University will lead the training, Martinez said.

On Day 3, command teams at all levels and Military Family and Family Life Counselors will hear from professor Dr. Lisa Miller, founder of the Spirituality, Mind, Body Institute. She will speak about the science of spirituality, Solhjem said.

Drill sergeants will attend Day 4 of the Spiritual Readiness course. The Army Drill Sergeant of the Year will open the session, along with a sergeant major from the Chaplain Corps, Martinez said. Miller will also present her research.

The challenges (suicides, sexual assaults, extremism, racism) today’s military face are not unique to the armed forces, Solhjem said. “These are happening at college campuses, they’re happening at high schools,” he said. "It’s concerning.

“These are systemic issues in our culture and society, and I believe if we (the Army) can get this right, that if we can show a mirror back to civil society, we will help our nation to be stronger and healthier not only in mind and body, but most importantly in spirit,” Solhjem said.