THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SPIRITUAL READINESS IN THE MILITARY

By Dan Duffield

Military readiness has long been thought of in purely physical terms. But in recent years, programs like Holistic Health and Fitness (H2F) and Preservation of the Force and Family (POTFF) have started a cultural shift and increased the emphasis on other elements of service members’ overall wellbeing. In a recent presentation, we explored what spiritual readiness is and why it’s one of the keys to the long-term success of such initiatives.

This talk at Army Industry Day also gave us the chance to examine how capturing, managing, and presenting data can help chaplains and other staff advance the goals of the H2F Spiritual domain and similar initiatives on a broad scale, while positively impacting individuals who need extra support.

 

What is Spiritual Readiness?

The US Army’s FM 7-22 field manual defines spiritual readiness as “the ability to endure and overcome times of stress, hardship, and tragedy by making meaning of life experiences.” It goes on to state that such meaning is created by an individual’s spiritual characteristics, which are influenced by their core beliefs, values, motivation, and identity.​ The manual explains that spiritual readiness shouldn’t be considered as a separate quality, but rather fits into the bigger picture of a service member’s overall mission capability:

“H2F doctrine recognizes that soldier readiness depends on the proper combinations of physical fitness (such as strength, speed, and endurance) and foundational health (such as the cardiovascular, respiratory, immune, and hormonal systems) that are optimized through careful attention to nutritional readiness, mental readiness, spiritual readiness, and sleep readiness.”[1] In other words, none of these elements exist in isolation, and each has an effect on the other.

But until recently, spiritual readiness has been minimalized, not least because it was difficult to measure compared to the other four H2F domains and was largely misunderstood by most personnel outside the Chaplain Corps.

 

The Impact of Spiritual Readiness

Dr. Lisa Miller, professor of psychology and education at Columbia University, sought to quantify the practical implications of spiritual readiness on service members. She concluded that people who proactively develop this quality have higher resilience, are 60 percent less likely to suffer from depression, reduce the incidence of suicidal thoughts by 50 to 80 percent, and are 80 percent less likely to abuse or become dependent upon drugs and alcohol. She also asserted that spiritual readiness is a potent tool in helping those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “Science mandates the need to support the spiritual core throughout the life of the soldier for fitness, resilience, and recovery,” Miller added during a Chaplain’s Integration Pilot program session at Fort Hood.[2]

The physical domain of H2F could be compared to the engines on an aircraft, nutrition to the fuel, mental to the flight computer, and sleep to the cooling system. We can liken the spiritual component of overall readiness to the window of this plane. If any one of these parts isn’t working properly, the chance of the plane staying on course drastically decreases. A clear window represents a strong sense of meaning, value, and purpose and the ability for a service member to see their mission clearly. Life events, combat trauma, and other factors can cloud or blur the window, making it hard to maintain clarity and direction, and nobody outside the plane can see that this is happening. If spiritual readiness declines further, the plane is flying into darkness, the window could become cracked, and it will be difficult to stay on course and land safely at the right destination.

To help gain better visibility into what’s happening in each service member’s “cockpit” so that interventions can be made and spiritual readiness increased before acute incidents unfold, the Office of the Chief of Chaplains (OCCH) launched the Spiritual Readiness Initiative (SRI) in 2020. This is an effort to emphasize spiritual readiness and ensure that it has parity with the other four H2F domains as an essential element, instead of just a nice-to-have add-on.

A key tool of the SRI is the Spiritual Readiness Assessment (SRA), which evaluates three core areas: pursuing meaning, purpose, and value (PMPV), service and sacrifice for the greater good (SSGG), and personal connection to a higher power (PCHP). Returning to the plane analogy, if there’s a problem with the engines, fuel, flight computer, or cooling system, sensors alert the ground crew (the chaplains) that something’s wrong, but there was previously no way for them to tell when the window got cloudy, cracked, or the plane was flying into darkness. The SRA was designed to provide such an alert for spiritual readiness.

 

Quantifying Spiritual Readiness with the SRA

Managing SRA data enables the Army to make an area that was previously considered squishy or undefinable more concrete and measurable through the utilization of objective spiritual readiness data. Yet initially, SRAs could only be completed via a website, which collected the data but didn’t perform any kind of reporting or analysis upon it, making it impossible for the information to become actionable. When data is siloed in this way, it reinforces the old “4 + 1″ approach to H2F that emphasizes the physical, nutritional, mental, andsleep components but relegates spiritual readiness to an afterthought.

Army units are utilizing the Smartabase human performance optimization platform to increase the usefulness of their SRA data. The Smartabase Tactical App provides easy, mobile access for service members to create their SRA profile. Doing so during a dedicated assessment day can help increase compliance. Once they complete the SRA, it’s important that the service member’s information doesn’t go into a black hole, but instead becomes part of a feedback loop that prompts action and drives greater interaction with chaplains. That is why the app delivers simple, meaningful insights such as an overall score and comparison with the force standard, offers intervention strategies, and encourages soldier-driven chaplain engagement.

 

 

This is traditionally one of the biggest challenges with trying to monitor spiritual readiness, as service members are reluctant to show what they perceive as weakness and so keep trying to push through a problem until they break down emotionally, physically, or spiritually. If they can be encouraged to show appropriate levels of vulnerability and proactively seek out chaplains and other resources, then the Army will be better able to tackle pressing issues with PTSD, mental health, and a suicide rate that is at the highest level since 1938. Rather than just listing the contact information for the chaplain, buttons can be embedded in the Smartabase Tactical App that allows a user to call or email them directly. This removes a barrier to engaging with the chaplain.

 

Communicating and Contextualizing Spiritual Readiness Data

Capturing spiritual readiness information in the centralized Smartabase platform empowers chaplains to identify service members who need support and build relationships as part of a focused, targeted approach.

One of the biggest challenges facing the Chaplain Corps is that staff-to-personnel ratios are extremely high, and chaplains have very few tools at their disposal to help them quantify spiritual data and make it operational. With Smartabase, they don’t need to spend time they often don’t have sifting through data because it’s presented in an intuitive, graphical way. A chaplain can get a bird’s eye view of overall SRA scores and then drill down to see which percentile service members fall in for each of the three areas in the assessment (PMPV, SSGG, and PCHP).

We also repurposed a Smartabase template that’s proven to be very effective in reducing the incidence of injury to create a simple, illustrative spiritual readiness risk profile that helps further contextualize the data for the Chaplain Corps. Each soldier is rated as low, moderate, or high risk based on the flagging of SRA scores that fall below a certain threshold, and then color-coded green, yellow, or red, respectively.

 

 

Chaplains can zero in on those soldiers who flag red to provide immediate care before an incident occurs or a mental health issue gets progressively worse. They can easily see who is open to meeting with them and who isn’t so that they’re directing services to those who are receptive to them.

Going back to our plane window analogy, using Smartabase to measure, manage, and report on service members’ spiritual readiness is like giving chaplains a combination of GPS and air traffic controllers’ tracking tools. They can monitor every plane (aka service member) in the sky and focus on those that need assistance, rather than having to call in to each one individually to see if there’s a problem or trying to respond once an incident is already unfolding.

Dashboards in Smartabase visualize SRA data to help military leaders understand the spiritual profile of their force, which can be broken down into metrics like overall and SRA scores by age and rank. Displaying data graphically helps commanders assess the impact of spiritual readiness initiatives and evaluate this dimension in the context of the other H2F domains. They can then work more effectively with chaplains and other staff to support the spiritual needs of their troops and, if they can see that there’s a force-wide issue, to potentially allocate more resources and plan interventions. Providing a spiritual profile via Smartabase helps ensure that H2F is truly a five-factored initiative and show how the spiritual dimension can be measured and positively impacted.

 

Connecting the Dots with Other H2F Domains and Overall Readiness

Data visualization can also enable the human performance team to start identifying trends among the members of the unit they’re responsible for. Consolidating SRA scores alongside other testing information in Smartabase can prompt them to connect the dots between different domains and overlay spiritual readiness with data concerning physical, mental, nutritional, and sleep elements.

This can prompt asking questions, such as “Does stress increase as spiritual readiness decreases?” “Do spirituality and physical fitness correlate?” and “Do soldiers with greater spiritual readiness sleep better?” In an initial analysis of one unit’s data, we found no relationship between spirituality and physical fitness but did see a moderate correlation between higher spiritual readiness, lower stress levels, and better-quality sleep.

If answers to such questions can’t be obtained through objective data, staff could easily build quick surveys or add to additional wellness questionnaires in Smartabase to gain a deeper perspective of how spiritual readiness fits into service members’ holistic preparation. This can then be combined with SRA scores and overlaid with information from other domains to reveal potential issues and areas of improvement in a way that wouldn’t be possible if information remained in separate silos.

Bringing all service member data together in the single, unified Smartabase platform allows for a multidisciplinary, five-domain approach that gives spiritual readiness equal priority in the H2F framework and recognizes its interplay with the other domains. Doing so can help leaders better understand the implications of the SRA assessment, empower chaplains in providing relationship-driven support, and give service members the tools they need to increase their spiritual readiness, which will have knock-on effects on every other aspect of their lives.

On a larger scale, quantifying, contextualizing, and emphasizing spiritual readiness will amplify the effectiveness of H2F and similar programs, elevate overall mission readiness, and increase force capability. As Major General Thomas Solhjem, the Army’s 25th chief of chaplains, said in an event at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama: “Spiritual wellness is as important as physical, mental and emotional wellness in building resilience, combating negative outcomes, and living healthier and more complete lives.”[3]

 

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[1] “FM 7-22 Holistic Health and Fitness,” Headquarters, Department of the Army, October 2020, available online at https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/ARN30714-FM_7-22-000-WEB-1.pdf.

[2] Stephanie Salmon, “Fort Hood Conducts Chaplains Integration Pilot Program,” US Army, January 28, 2021, available online at https://www.army.mil/article/242800/fort_hood_conducts_chaplains_integration_pilot_program.

[3] Kari Hawkins, “Army Chief of Chaplains Brings Message of Spiritual Readiness to Redstone Leadership,” US Army, February 12, 2021, available online at https://www.army.mil/article/243356/army_chief_of_chaplains_brings_message_of_spiritual_readiness_to_redstone_leadership.

 

 

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