Comprehensive Airman Fitness: Spiritually centered

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Aaron J. Jenne
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Editor’s note: This feature is the fourth of a five-part series intended to detail the four wellness domains of Comprehensive Airman Fitness (physical, mental, social and spiritual) and how each applies to well-balanced, resilient Airmen.

When someone is described as spiritual, what does that mean to you? Do you think of a prominent historical religious icon, a famous television evangelist or perhaps a mystic studying arcane teachings?

There isn’t one definitive recipe for spirituality – one person’s beliefs can differ greatly from another’s – and that’s ok, said Chaplain (Maj.) Richard Poole, 436th Airlift Wing chapel.

“Everybody is spiritual,” Poole said. “Our spirits move and motivate us all. It’s what helps us use our gifts and talents to their fullest potential. Just like we all have different abilities, we all have different spiritual needs and beliefs. No matter what they are, it’s important to take the time to feed our spirits in our own unique ways so we can continue to meet the challenges we face each day.”

Recognized as one of the four domains of Comprehensive Airman Fitness, the Air Force describes spirituality as “the ability to sustain an individual’s sense of wellbeing and purpose through a set of spiritual beliefs, principles or values.”

Closely mirroring the description, “the goal of spiritual resilience is to identify the beliefs, principals and core values that sustain our sense of wellbeing, purpose and hope,” said Tech. Sgt. Zachary Replogle, 373rd Training Squadron military training leader and master resilience trainer. “This is a really important goal, because it helps us bring focus to our lives. When we aren’t clear on what’s important to us, it’s hard to be focused, but if we take some time for honest reflection, it can go a long way toward a resilient life.”

One of the biggest misconceptions about CAF resilience is that being spiritual means adhering to a religion, Replogle said.

“It isn’t about who’s right or wrong, or which religion is right or wrong,” Replogle said. “It’s about finding out what you believe, and nurturing that. This is something that is totally different from person to person, and that’s perfectly ok.”

The danger arises when the spirit isn’t nurtured, Poole added.

“We’ve all seen people who have spiraled out of control,” Poole said. “Just look in the news and you’ll hear stories of people who have thrown away promising careers and amazing gifts with their self-destructive behaviors and attitudes. You see, it’s the spirit that keeps us focused and allows us to tap into our full potential. When we don’t feed it, that drive can go sideways and take us down a path we never saw coming.”

Poole said he and his fellow chaplains work to provide spiritual support to military members based on the spiritual and religious preferences of each individual. Their goal is to encourage resilient thoughts and behaviors, because even the most spiritual people run into obstacles along their path, and even the most focused individual can be tripped by the right obstacle at the wrong time.

“Troubles are like little pebbles you carry around in your backpack,” Poole said. “Alone, the pebbles don’t weigh that much, but sometimes they can pile up quickly. You can’t carry a backpack full of pebbles for very long, and you can’t stay focused and fulfilled when you have a lot of troubles weighing you down. We’re here at the chapel to help you shake them out of your backpack so you can run your race unhindered.”

There are several tools people can use to ease the weights holding them back, Replogle said. Sometimes, just opening up and talking things through can help. When that isn’t enough, sometimes it’s important to try to find a meaning.

“Why is this happening to me?” Replogle asked rhetorically. “You may not know then and there why something is happening to you, but if you can find a positive outcome, it helps you put things in perspective. You’ll be able to better understand it, accept it and move on.”

As obstacles arise, it’s also helpful to employ a spiritual reminder, or a saying such as everything happens for a reason, that can re-center oneself instead of becoming overwhelmed, Replogle said.

MRTs routinely teach classes designed to improve resilience. Availability of these classes can be viewed on leadership pathways.

For more information about spiritual resilience, speak with your unit MRT, visit the chapel or go to the Comprehensive Airman Fitness-leadership toolkit on the Air Force Portal.

Other helping agencies include military family counselors and military one source.