Recently, the Marine Corps announced it is planning to develop a program of “spiritual fitness training” in order to “build the kind of mental resilience necessary for war,” according to chaplain Rear Admiral Brent Scott.
This is a welcome development, and it is good to see the military formally recognize a very basic truth about the human person: we are more than just a collection of muscle, bones, and tissue.
After a long time in the Middle East, Scott said he “found that much of the resilience we saw was not necessarily attributed to something that somebody could do in the gym. A lot had to do with the heart and soul of the individual.” Training is needed to develop this spiritual component of our humanity as it relates to military service. It will be a success, Scott notes, “if Marines begin talking about spiritual fitness and maintaining spiritual health as openly as they discuss physical fitness and physical training.”
“A moral compass doesn’t just come from a faith foundation; it’s not enough to make a decision based on what is legally right or wrong,” Scott said. “Chaplains will help Marines discover that compass for themselves—that center of gravity that comes from their own upbringing, personal experiences, and religious teaching.”
The message on the subject from the Commandant of the Marine Corps states as follows:
- Fitness is a vital part of being a United States Marine. Although we all understand the importance of being physically fit, it is also important to remember the other three aspects of overall fitness: spiritual, mental, and social. All of these aspects are essential to the well-being of each individual Marine and Sailor, and our Corps as a whole.
- As Americas force in readiness, we must be prepared to answer our Nation’s call on a moment’s notice. A large part of that ability is our capacity for resilience. Regardless of the battle we just fought, we must be ready for our next success. Research indicates that spiritual fitness plays a key role in resiliency, in our ability to grow, develop, recover, heal, and adapt. Regardless of individual philosophy or beliefs, spiritual well-being makes us better warriors and people of character capable of making good choices on and off duty.
- Beginning in October, the Marine Corps will be emphasizing all components of fitness, particularly the physical and spiritual aspects. During this time, I ask each of you to reflect on what you and the Marines and Sailors you lead are doing to achieve and maintain an optimal level of strength and resilience. Your leaders and chaplains at all levels stand ready to engage with you in this task. By attending to spiritual fitness with the same rigor given to physical, social and mental fitness, Marines and Sailors can become and remain the honorable warriors and model citizens our Nation expects.
Exactly right. This observation of the importance of spiritual fitness for our service members follows a long tradition of recognizing the importance of faith in our military. Early in our country’s history, George Washington recognized the need for chaplains in the military (and also that they be of a variety of faiths). Today, former Army Ranger Jeff Struecker describes how his spiritual strength helped him through the intense and traumatic moments of the Battle of Mogadishu, Somalia: “I had a very strong Christian faith before joining the Army. It gave me this overwhelming sense of peace when most people were around me panicking. The next day, many people were asking me how I kept it together. God was leading me. I became an Army chaplain. It was directly a result of the day after this battle in Mogadishu.”
In addition, spirituality is a crucial component of medicine and wellness, and can’t be separated from the healing process which our veterans and service members undergo after returning from war.
As we continue to face instances of religion being scrubbed from the military, whether through the removal of Bibles from public displays in military facilities, or the censorship of religious references by commanders, the Marine Corps’ action reminds us of the potentially detrimental effects of the elimination of the spiritual aspect of military service.
It is undeniable that the spiritual component of our human nature plays an important role in the business of warfare. It must be addressed, and we neglect it at our own peril. For these reasons and more, the Marine Corps’ announcement recognizing its importance is welcome indeed.
 See David A. Lichter (D. Min.), “Studies Show Spiritual Care Linked to Better Health Outcomes,” Literature Review, Catholic Health Ass’n of the United States (March-April 2013); and, for example, Christina M. Puchalski (M.D.), “The Role of Spirituality in Health Care,” Proc (Baylor Univ Med Cent), 2001 Oct; 14(4): 352-7; Christina M. Puchalski (M.D.), “Improving the Spiritual Dimension of Whole Person Care: Reaching National and International Consensus,” J Palliat Med, 2014 June 1; 17(6): 642-656 (doi: 10.1089/jpm.2014.9427). Puchalski (2001), n.2, observes: The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations has a policy that states: “For many patients, pastoral care and other spiritual services are an integral part of health care and daily life. The hospital is able to provide for pastoral care and other spiritual services for patients who request them” (26).