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Commentary | April 12, 2010

Changing your life through spiritual fitness

By Chaplain (LTC) Mark Penfold Fort Eustis Deputy Garrison Chaplain

I have a poster on my wall with a prayer from the first president and commander-in-chief, Gen. George Washington. His words represent timeless wisdom and perspective. In Washington's Valley Forge prayer, he prayed, asking God to strengthen and guide the hearts of all Americans toward peaceful obedience to government and brotherly love one for one another and all our fellow Americans. Then he prayed that God would "dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy and to demean [conduct] ourselves with ... love, humility and a pacific [calm] temper of mind."

Now, more than 230 years later, today's senior military leaders continue to lead as Washington did. In the Army, "Comprehensive Soldier Fitness," addresses five aspects of our lives - physical, social, emotional, familial and spiritual. While there may be new programs and a renewed emphasis, the Religious Support Teams of chaplains and chaplain assistants of Fort Eustis and Langley Air Force Base stand ready to help our warfighters and their families develop spiritual strength and resiliency.

The chapels on our installations serve as visible reminders of values and beliefs that have stood the test of time, even through the trials of war. These faith communities are comprised of active duty and reserve Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors, Marines, their families and military veterans. One of the great strengths of our military chapels is the diversity among those who attend and practice their faith. This strength is vital as attendees seek answers to life's ultimate questions through the practice of worship, religious education, counseling and values training.

In every chapel, warfighters also gain strength from a community where they can meet and listen to the stories of those who served in earlier wars. One faithful worshipper of the Fort Eustis chapel is a World War II veteran who landed with the Marines on Okinawa and later served in the Army. There are also veterans of the Korean War, Vietnam, Operation Desert Storm, and today's conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hearing how their faith sustained them through those bloody conflicts and how they managed to keep their faith alive during challenging times and throughout their careers gives hope to today's warriors and their loved ones.

Chapel programs are not confined within the walls of the chapel either. Marriage enrichment seminars, single Soldier and Airmen outings, the Spiritual Fitness Concerts, Strong Bonds event and weekend retreats are other examples of programs that help build spiritual fitness and resiliency.

Obstacles to spiritual fitness exist, just as they do in physical fitness, diet or education. These are challenges we all face. As with all obstacles, the decision to grow and take the first step is usually the most difficult. The first push-up, the first class or the first step toward developing the disciplines and routines of spiritual fitness may be challenging but they are surmountable. Be encouraged! Your chaplains, religious support teams and chapels are open and ready to help you take those first steps. Stop in anytime, we're open and we're here for you!