Everyone knows there is no topic more near and dear to a sergeant major’s heart than fitness.

We get after the physical side of it in the gym; the mental side through professional education and LPDs; the emotional side with initiatives like Foundation Day and a renewed focus on building cohesive teams and caring for our individual squads.

This month I wanted to use this space to address the spiritual side of fitness, and I’ve asked our awesome Religious Affairs NCOIC, MSG Varian Montgomery, to weigh in.

MSG Montgomery:

Over the past few months, as I have integrated myself within the First Army headquarters and assumed my role as the Chief Religious Affairs sergeant major, I have truly been amazed at the level of Army professionals within every directorate enabling Total Force readiness across the First Army footprint.

For more than a year, during these difficult Covid-19 times, many of us have been forced to telework and deal with constraints placed on social interactions both at work and in our personal lives. Even as some of those restrictions lift, we must never lose perspective of the human dimension of our service – of our connections with teammates, families and the entirety of the Compo 2/3 Total Force we enable – as well as the values and beliefs that drive us every day.

The necessity of spiritual fitness has never been more important, but I am consistently asked what that concept really means.

Many relate to it as something that is squarely focused on the concept of religion. Others believe it’s something chaplains do where food is involved! But AR 600-63 defines spiritual fitness as “the development of the personal qualities needed to sustain a person in times of stress, hardship, and tragedy. Qualities that come from religious, philosophical, human values and form the basis for character, disposition, decision making, and integrity.”

In simple terms, it’s your ability to believe in the importance of your mission. It’s having faith in your leaders and in the dependability of your fellow Soldiers and Civilians. It’s possessing the necessary training and skills to survive (even thrive!) when faced with adversity. Spiritual fitness means being prepared to meet and cope with challenging situations in our personal lives and while executing those tasks associated with our Army mission. Overall, this is the kind of fitness that enables us to deal with hard questions such as the meaning and value of our service, our contributions and our lives.

Utilizing Spiritual Fitness events to increase a Soldier’s ability meet and cope with challenging situations in the military is nothing new to Army leaders. For years, our nation’s senior leaders – both in combat and in garrison – have recognized the power and necessity of spiritual fitness. In “War As I Knew It,” a book based on Gen. George Patton’s diaries, Gen. Patton describes circulating 250,000 copies of a weather prayer to every Soldier under his command in Third Army. (A day later, the rain and snow – which had been unceasing for the better part of a month – completely stopped. The skies remained clear for six straight days, allowing our Allied aircraft enough time to return to the skies and deliver a crushing defeat to the Nazi war machine.)

In the book, “The Best and Worst of Times: The United States Army Chaplaincy,” General George Marshall is quoted near the end of World War II as saying, “I look upon the spiritual life of the Soldier as even more important than his physical equipment. It is morale—and I mean spiritual morale—which wins the victory in the ultimate, and that type of morale can only come out of the religious nature of the Soldier.”

Fast forward to today, First Army Commanding General, Lt. Gen. James and Command Sgt. Maj. McDwyer, are using spiritual fitness events to bolster the mental and emotional readiness within the command during these unprecedented times. The business of Total Force readiness requires First Army to continually be prepared to equip and resource our partners with high-quality training that enables them to execute large-scale mobilization operations. To accomplish this mission, First Army must be an organization built on the eight dimensions readiness, including spiritual. Regardless of your spiritual orientation or your specific religious beliefs, everyone within the First Army has a set of inherit principles we live by on a daily basis. The First Army Command Chaplain’s Office is here to assist Soldiers, Department of Army Civilians and family members to recognize and honor these beliefs and to incorporate them into their everyday decision-making processes. The bottom line is that spiritual fitness strengthens our emotional, mental and physical dimensions, making us more prepared for all the challenges – and blessings – of Army life.