In support of the Army’s focus on people as its number one priority, the chief of chaplains and his regimental sergeant major are on a mission to implement spiritual initiatives that build on the need to approach Soldier development holistically.
That mission has taken Maj. Gen. Thomas Solhjem, the Army’s 25th chief of chaplains, and Sgt. Maj. Ralph Martinez on a journey to meet with senior Army leaders and chaplains throughout the enterprise, including during a visit to Redstone Arsenal.
“The mission of Redstone Arsenal is strategic and makes the installation very important to the Army mission,” Solhjem said. “It’s important to show our support to the mission teams at Redstone and to gain insights from your leadership.
“As at all installations we visit, we take a holistic look at what is impacting the people, both Soldiers and civilians, who live and work there. Redstone Arsenal is a healthy place with a workforce that has had continuity and predictability over many years. It is an established community, and is known as a great place to live and work.”
Solhjem met with Army Materiel Command senior leaders – Commander Gen. Ed Daly and Deputy Commander Lt. Gen. Donnie Walker – as well as with Aviation and Missile Command’s Deputy Commander Don Nitti, Security Assistance Command’s Deputy Commander Myra Gray, and Space and Missile Defense Command’s Commander Lt. Gen. Daniel Karbler – to discuss quality of life issues and programs impacting Army communities, including suicide, substance abuse, sexual harassment/assault and extremism prevention programs. In addition, Martinez met with Redstone’s chaplains and religious affairs specialists.
“Their visit was bigger than Redstone,” AMC Chaplain (Col.) Michael Klein said. “As AMC’s subordinate command, the Installation Management Command oversees one-third of the Army Chaplain Corps’ end strength.
“The chief of chaplains wants to forge relationships with commanders who have a significant impact on Soldiers. His meetings here were critical to that intent and will have a ripple effect as his message and new initiatives are carried to chaplains and religious affairs specialists serving alongside Soldiers on the front lines.”
The mission of the Army Chaplains Corps – to build Army spiritual readiness to deploy, fight and win the nation’s wars, by providing reliable and relevant world-class religious support – is nested in the elements of the comprehensive Soldier fitness model.
“Senior Army leaders of major commands need to recognize the spiritual fitness pillar of Soldier development. This is all about getting after the spiritual fitness domain,” Solhjem said.
“There is a science of spirituality that shows we are born spiritual – even though we may not be religious – and spiritual wellness is as important as physical, mental and emotional wellness in building resilience, combating negative outcomes, and living heathier and more complete lives.”
Solhjem heard from senior leaders that the Redstone chaplain team is effective in connecting with employees, and establishing relationships of trust with both senior leaders and the workforce.
Developing meaningful relationships is an element of Field Manual 7-22, the foundation of unit readiness that uses the Holistic Health and Fitness System to build the physical lethality and mental toughness that Soldiers need to win quickly and return home healthy.
“The spiritual fitness component is very well defined and established,” Solhjem said. “Personal faith is the highest form of protection against negative outcomes. There are models to assess a person’s spiritual core and then develop it.”
The Army is introducing Soldiers to the spiritual aspect of healthy living through presentations by Dr. Lisa Miller of Columbia University. She spoke at the Army Professional Forum in December and to Soldiers at the Training and Doctrine Command in January. Pilot programs designed to develop spiritual readiness are being launched at Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Hood, Texas; and Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
“We are bringing to the awareness of Army leaders the effect the science of spirituality has on our Soldiers,” Solhjem said. “Spiritual readiness also brings in behavioral health. It’s ground breaking and will help in changing the Army’s culture.”
While the goal is building personal spirituality, the impact of achieving that goal affects the readiness and resiliency of every Army unit, he said.
“Our ministry is to encourage and bolster Soldier morale, and let each Soldier know they are a valued member of the team,” Solhjem said. “We are ministering and caring for people with a strategic mission. Historically, the Army spends a lot of time talking about the physical and mental fitness of Soldiers. But now we are integrating spiritual fitness into the equation.”
Although spirituality now has a higher profile in overall Soldier well-being, Solhjem said it has always been part of the Army’s resiliency program.
“The Army hasn’t changed. But society has moved out from underneath many of the core values of the Army’s foundation,” he said. “For many of today’s 18 to 25 year olds, their spiritual life is not well formed. Hence, when they have trauma or difficulty in making decisions, they make poor choices.
“In Soldier training, we are incorporating spiritual development in a more intentional and repetitive way so that it is recognized as a way of life. We are taking a new approach of working with young Soldiers with identifying goals and their purpose, and helping them through the transformation from citizen to Soldier.”
In a nation where COVID-19, economic issues, isolation and extremism are testing the resilience of Soldiers and their families, chaplains have the ability to make connections and instill values that can be impactful for Soldiers and the Army, Solhjem and Martinez agreed. While the core competencies of the Army Chaplain Corps – nurture the living, care for the wounded, honor the fallen – still direct the purpose of chaplains and religious affairs specialists, how they are embodied can expand well beyond formal ceremonies and traditional avenues, they said.
“The chaplaincy is going through a lot of transformation. We are looking at how we develop chaplains from a life cycle perspective and how we bring capabilities to a command,” Solhjem said. “This is a time of great change for us in terms of how impactful we can be in the development of strong and resilient Soldiers.”