Chaplain’s Initiative Aims to Strengthen Spiritual Readiness

By Antonieta Rico, Army Resilience DirectorateSeptember 3, 2021

Strengthening The Spiritual Dimension
Dr. Lisa Miller, Professor of Psychology and Education at Teachers College at Columbia University, speaks to U.S. Army Alaska Soldiers during the "Strong Warrior, Strong Spirit" spiritual readiness pilot training on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, May 19, 2021. U.S. Army Alaska Chaplain's hosted the pilot training May 17-20 on both JBER and Fort Wainwright. (Photo Credit: (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Crystal A. Jenkins)) VIEW ORIGINAL

A new initiative by the Chief of Chaplains is helping Army command teams and leaders build Soldiers’ spiritual readiness.

The Spiritual Readiness Pilot (SRP) was developed against the backdrop of the global COVID-19 pandemic and was driven by Army senior leaders’ focus on People First, said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) James Fisher, Deputy Director of the Chief of Chaplains Initiatives Group. The pilot seeks to do its part to address the big challenges the Army faces in terms of drug misuse, depression, suicidal ideation, and other harmful behaviors, he said.

Having a strong spiritual core is defined in FM 7-22 Holistic Health and Fitness as having “a sense of connection that gives meaning and purpose to a person’s life.” It helps Soldiers develop “the personal qualities” they need in “times of stress, hardship, and tragedy,” and includes knowing “one’s purpose, core values, beliefs, identity and life vision…which define the essence of a person,” according to the field manual.

“What we are trying to do with the pilot in part is to encourage the (Unit Ministry Team) to create ways in which they can connect with every Soldier in their units and have conversations about spirituality in a nonreligious context,” said Fisher.

The first pilot was fielded at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in November 2020. The SRP brings together chaplains and Behavioral Health professionals, with unit ministry teams, command teams, BH practitioners, other medical providers, and Army Community Services staff, to introduce the benefits of spirituality and the skills for building spiritual readiness in Soldiers and in the Army. It is based on decades of research on spirituality and psychology by Dr. Lisa Miller, a clinical psychologist, researcher, and professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, and director of the Spirituality Mind Body Institute.

The pilot includes teaching attendee’s best practices and skills for building spiritual strength derived from chaplains and the Life Worth Living initiative from the Yale Divinity School. The pilot is intended to help attendees “appreciate the importance of integrated and collaborative holistic care for Soldiers” and have UMTs develop Organizational Spiritual Readiness Training Plans for command teams.

“There is a real sense of opportunity, stewardship, and responsibility to help our young Soldiers become the best versions of themselves,” Fisher said.

FM 7-22 provides several examples to build spirituality through myriad nonreligious and religious methods, including encouraging Soldiers to be involved in service to others through volunteer work; hospitality towards fellow Soldiers, neighbors, community members, and even strangers; attending meetings, either religious or nonreligious; journaling for self-reflection; and meditation, amongst others.

During the pilot, Miller suggests two central ways for leaders to build Soldiers’ spirituality: one, asking the deeper questions—what matters most in life, what is life’s meaning, what do Soldiers believe is their life purpose—and two, having those deep conversations communally with Soldiers in a squad or unit, particularly in times of challenge, defeat, or trauma.

For additional resources on building spirituality see FM 7-22, your unit chaplain, or your nearest R2 Performance Center.