Holistic Health and Fitness: Building Spiritual and Mental Resilience

FORT EUSTIS, VA, February 23, 2021 - The Holistic Health and Fitness initiative, created by U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Center for Initial Military Training, focuses on a new approach to training Soldiers. H2F follows five domains of readiness: mental, spiritual, physical, nutritional, and sleep.

The mental, sleep, and spiritual readiness domains are highly co-dependent, as they are all non-physical domains that affect one’s ability to think in a way that optimizes performance.

Mental Readiness Domain

According to Field Manual 7-22, the official H2F document, mental readiness is also dependent on a Soldier’s character, behavior, resilience, cognitive skill, and social acuity. Character and behavior are developed during the accessions process and continue throughout the Soldier’s career. Resilience, or the ability to face and cope with adversity, is a key component of Soldier and unit readiness. A strong mental resilience allows leaders and their units to carry difficult missions to the end.

Social acuity, or the awareness of one’s interactions with others, allows Soldiers to effectively interact with others by taking into account other people’s social cues and emotions. Three measures of social acuity, according to FM 7-22, are task cohesiveness, Army identification, and social cohesiveness, which is the motivation to build and maintain strong social relationships within one’s unit.

It's essential that leaders set the standard for mental resilience and lead by example. Lt. Col. Shannon Merkle, USACIMT H2F representative, states that a great way for leaders to help their unit build mental resilience and social acuity is to openly talk through these topics and emphasize their importance.

“For the mental resilience component, a leader may share examples of their life when they struggled and had to deal with adversity, adapt, and grow from setbacks. This vulnerability can display strength from leaders,” states Merkle. “Leaders can build social acuity by allocating time to spend with their Soldiers and through empathetic, assertive, and honest communication.”

Sleep Readiness Domain

Building mental resiliency requires a healthy, well-rested mind, which can be achieved through adequate sleep of seven to eight hours every 24 hours, according to Merkle. The goal of the sleep readiness domain is to ensure the Soldier’s brain and body adequately recover from any mental and physical stress they’ve gone through so they can remain as alert and prepared as possible.

“Sleep is crucial for tissue repair and hormone synthesis to maintain peak performance within both the physical and non-physical domains of life,” Merkle states. “The effects of inadequate sleep on brain function and performance are well-documented and include decreased concentration, impaired judgment, slowed response time, decreased coping with stress, and increased risk for physical injury.”

Spiritual Readiness Domain

FM 7-22 defines spiritual readiness as “the ability to endure and overcome times of stress, hardship, and tragedy by making meaning of life experiences.” This meaning is drawn from the Soldier’s spiritual dimension, which is influenced by their core beliefs, values, motivation and identity. The spiritual readiness domain is inclusive and applies to both religious and non-religious people regardless of background, philosophy, or religion.

Lt. Col. Paul Fritts, command chaplain at USACIMT, explained the spiritual readiness domain through a quote from Gen. George C. Marshall: “The Soldier's heart, the Soldier's spirit, the Soldier's soul, are everything. Unless the Soldier's soul sustains him, he cannot be relied on and will fail himself and his commander and his country in the end.”

The hardships Soldiers face are extremely perilous, and Fritts states that for a Soldier to have a truly enduring resiliency, they need to build a strong spiritual core. Fritts encourages Soldiers to work with their unit ministry team to find extra guidance and create a personalized spiritual development plan. FM 7-22 mentions a few suggestions on how Soldiers can work on building their spiritual readiness, such as attending meetings with people of similar values, participating in charity work, journaling, meditating, and praying.

Just as with the other four H2F domains, it’s important that leaders encourage personal spiritual readiness through leading from the front. Fritts states that the way a leader decides to encourage this is highly individualized and personal, but can still be outwardly demonstrated, such as going to weekly chapel services.

Leaders are encouraged to read through and familiarize themselves with Field Manual 7-22, which can be accessed at https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/ARN30964-FM_7-22-001-WEB-4.pdf.

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