Spiritual resilience fuels the heart, soul

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By Staff Sgt. Benjamin W. Stratton, 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs / Published August 26, 2014

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. (AFNS) --

As a pillar of Comprehensive Airman Fitness, maintaining and strengthening individual spirituality is a primary component for one's overall well-being.

Similar to a sine wave, everyone has ups and downs, but it's their spirituality that gets them to the next day. No matter the faith background, where a person is from or who their family is, everyone has some sort of spirituality to lean on during both the hard times and the fun ones.

"Spiritual resilience is about fueling and refueling your heart and soul -- that inward part of you that gives you purpose and meaning and helps makes sense of your life and experiences," said Chaplain (Capt.) Jeffrey Solheim, a 92nd Air Refueling Wing chaplain.

The chaplain said spiritual resiliency is about having a sense of purpose and values that are meant to sustain one's sense of well-being.

"Refueling the soul has concrete benefits that contribute to a service member's well-being and the total Airman concept," Solheim said. "Studies have shown that spiritual resilience increases optimism, decreases anxiety and depression, and leads to fewer suicides and greater marital stability."

Service members encounter many situations most will never fathom. These experiences build one's character as they develop their leadership styles. Such styles, Solheim said, should always incorporate spiritual diversity.

"As leaders in today's Air Force, we need to find our own spirituality as it can promote unit cohesion that isn't necessarily tied to religious affiliation," he said. "We're expected to seemingly know everything and be able to handle a workload that increases with every budget cut. Spiritual resilience adds strength and purpose that acts as a counterbalance to increased stressors. We are far more balanced and productive when we sense meaning and purpose in our lives and work."

In 2009, the Defense Department conducted a psychological study showing how spirituality has helped service members cope with difficult situations and traumatic events. The study found most use spirituality to help cope with multiple deployments, combat stress or injury. The research also found that it helps protect from experiencing what they called, "moral injuries," which can occur from either participating in or witnessing certain acts during war that may conflict with one's moral compass.

The goal of the spiritual domain is to develop and/or determine a sense of purpose in life and the mission. Examples of this include: highlight an individual's connection to the mission, teach goal setting, encourage mindfulness, showcase mission delivery highlights, emphasize religious accommodations and develop spiritual reminders.

Dawn Altmaier, Fairchild Air Force Base’s community support coordinator, said it's important for today's leaders to realize everyone looks at spirituality differently while promoting tolerance of other's beliefs and practices.

"We all have our own personal core values," she said. "These tenets guide who we look to for spiritual resilience, whether that be to nature, our family, parents, mentors or religion, everyone has a very different way they cope with change and it's important for leaders to understand these variances."

The spiritual domain makes people take a step back and look at a situation from different vantage points, Altmaier said.

"Without this respect, unit cohesion and readiness may be negatively impacted, dragging down our distinctive mission sets," she said. "We need to be supportive of our warriors by connecting, caring and celebrating our diversity in spirituality as one of our many strengths as service members and Americans."

Editor's note: The Air Force Space Command Public Affairs, Air Force Reserve Command Public Affairs and the Defense Centers of Excellence Psychological Health office contributed to this article.

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