By Capt. Efrem Gibson, PAO eCAB, 1st Inf. Div.
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq - Chaplains from across Iraq and Afghanistan gathered on Camp Victory, Iraq, Nov. 15, to attend a five-day conference designed to promote a new approach to improving Soldiers' spiritual wellness.
The conference was led by the founders of the Spiritual Fitness Initiative, retired Lt. Col. Dr. Glenn Sammis and the Rev. Dr. Chrys Parker. Both chaplains specialize in the treatment of sexual assault, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and psychodrama.
SFI was created about 10 months ago to improve Soldiers' well-being through spirituality. SFI teaches the development of a Soldier's spiritual health first, with the belief that other aspects of their health can improve after becoming spiritually resilient. The founders of SFI stress that the program is not meant to be an alternative, but rather a supplement to other methods for improving Soldiers' resiliency.
"We want to intervene at the front of Soldiers' lives, not at the back of their ambulance," said Parker.
For years, chaplains in the military have assisted service members who go through a traumatic experience. SFI views chaplains as the primary facilitators of the program and focuses its training towards the chaplain corps.
"Most traumatic events have an element of soul wounding," said Parker. "Quite frankly, the chaplains have the expertise on how to deal with the spiritual damage that is inherent in trauma."
Maj. Thomas Bruce, the brigade chaplain for the Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, attended the conference and said he recognized the need for his chaplains to get training on how to aid in the healing process of Soldiers.
"Healing from trauma is more than just physical," said Bruce. "There is a spiritual component of healing. Our vision is to see chaplains participating in a holistic approach to treating trauma."
During the conference, SFI methods were taught without the use of electronic interfaces, such as videos and slideshows. Training was mostly conducted through hands-on exercises and group discussions.
"The root of the training and education is experienced-based in nature," said Sammis. "We want people to learn by doing. They should see, hear, and feel what they are learning."
The training centered around four principles: command, control, communication, and collaboration. The intent was to expand the skill sets chaplains already possess to build a Soldier's resiliency by giving them a way to help Soldiers take ownership of their spiritual life. The principles also teach people to be honest with God, cope with stress, and be a positive influence to themselves and others.
"The training was helpful and had a positive impact on me," said Pvt. Jeremy Armstrong, a chaplain's assistant assigned to the Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade. "I learned a lot about people and myself. I'm glad I got the chance to attend the training," said Armstrong.
SFI has been implemented in a few units in both garrison and deployed environments. Parker and Sammis hope to ultimately have the concept taught Army-wide.
"We are very much interested in and enthused about SFI," said Lt. Col. William T. Barbee, Deputy Director for the Center for Spiritual Leadership at Fort Jackson, S.C., who worked with Parker and Sammis at the conference.
A study is set to begin next year to measure the effects of SFI and its impact on Soldiers.