FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Aug. 27, 2021) -- Fort Drum was the latest installation to participate in the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps spiritual readiness initiative, which presents a science-based understanding of spirituality and the importance of interpersonal connections.
“We’re all human, and our actions always affect other people, and so there is a spiritual connectedness responsibility we have to each other,” said Maj. Gen. Thomas Solhjem, U.S. Army chief of chaplains. “That’s where the diversity that we have in the Army – the religious diversity, the racial diversity – is a wonderful opportunity for spiritual growth because the more we understand about other people and the more we share life together with other people, then the more we share our spiritual bonds together and grow.”
Solhjem hosted a series of pilot events with Fort Drum chaplains, senior leaders, behavioral health and other support services professionals during his visit Aug. 24-26.
“The pilot is an educational wake-up call to a reality that many have not known before,” Solhjem said. “We’re educating people on the science of spirituality, where we are as a people and why it has always been so important but not always so readily understood or cultivated in our society.”
Spiritual readiness has taken more significance with the launch of the Army’s Holistic Health and Fitness (H2F) program, which promotes a body-mind-spirit approach to building peak performance in Soldiers.
Field Manual 7-22, the official H2F publication, defines spiritual readiness as the development of personal qualities needed to respond to life’s stressors, adversity and in times of hardship.
While spirituality, in the traditional sense, leans toward religion, it also encompasses non-theistic views and concepts. Under H2F, the spiritual domain is inclusive, and it encourages Soldiers to connect and reflect on the worldview or value system that informs their core beliefs, ethics and morals.
“This is not the Chaplain Corps bringing spirituality, because spirituality already exists,” Solhjem said. “We are in a supporting role. We are an enabler.”
Solhjem said that the pilot provides the tools so leaders can help Soldiers find true meaning and purpose, healthy connections with others and direction in life.
“It’s not about us, it’s about them,” he said. “What do they need, what kind of care do they need? What are they dealing with and, for us, do we understand the spiritual dimension of what we are looking at when we are caring for somebody.”
Sohljem said Soldiers also need to know where they can turn to in times of trouble, whether it is a chaplain, a behavioral health specialist, a military and family life counselor or someone in their chain of command.
“Nobody is immune from trauma, none of us are,” he said. “What research shows us is that, in trauma, you are either growing or not. Even the best of us, spiritually, we are going to reach a peak if the stress is that severe where we are going to need the agency of other people. We often perceive it is a sign of weakness to ask for help. It is not. Sometimes our Soldiers and our families need somebody to lock arms with and say, ‘I’m going to help you.’”
Solhjem said that the pilot has reached 11 installations so far, and that they continue to refine and improve the program. He said that Fort Drum was the first post where they conducted a session specifically for spouses.
“While we are doing these pilots, we are also developing training that will go into all our institutions,” he said. “We’re assessing, we’re constantly making improvements or changes to get to a final product. We will never stop the training, never stop the educating … but I think at some point you will no longer need the emphasis of the pilot program because you will have achieved saturation.”
Maj. Gen. Milford H. Beagle Jr., 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum commander, said that he learned the value of spiritual readiness during his last assignment at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
He asked attendees to stay open to new ideas during the pilot about how they can improve Soldier support.
“You just have to open your minds and you’re going to learn something,” he said. “That is all I ask of you. Chaplain Solhjem is going to tell it the way it is – no sugar-coating – because he is open and transparent, and that is something we can all learn from as well.”
Beagle said that spiritual well-being is a topic that does not always get the same level of attention as physical and mental health. He said that attending the spiritual readiness pilot helps fill that gap in knowledge.
“And that’s what we’re trying to doing, from the chief of staff level all the way down, is to fill that hole,” he said. “Really what it’s going to take is for everybody to actually do something and, simply, that is taking care of people. Take care of others around you as you want yourself to be taken care of. It’s no harder than that.”