PARWAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Military chapels are places where soldiers know they can go to learn coping skills for the challenges of life. At Enduring Faith Chapel on Bagram Air Field, Dec. 7, 2013, things were no different, except that they were very different.
Service members from as far away as Regional Command-Southwest traveled to the place of worship recently, not to hear a sermon, but a seminar.
The event’s title was Operation Always Ready: Ready and Resilient and its purpose is to give military leaders resources for maintaining operational and emotional resilience across all facets of life that they can pass on to their troops.
“What I can take away from this is educating soldiers. I think a lot of junior enlisted soldiers are uneducated about the resources they have and I think we need to re-emphasize the resources that they do have,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Kenon Lamb, aid station noncommissioned officer in charge, 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Task Force Patriot.
The concept of the event falls in line with a recent campaign coming from the Army surgeon general called the Performance Triad, three fundamental parts of life that together produce a full picture of physical well being.
“With the Performance Triad, we wanted to give these soldiers something fresh, new, a taste of what’s going to come in the future, and it’s coming soon,” said Capt. Matthew Neat, prevention officer in charge for 98th Combat Operational Stress Control at Bagram’s Warrior Recovery Center.
Neat was the day’s first speaker and it was his job to educate the group on the first pillar of the Triad: the importance of good sleep hygiene.
“With us being in the Army, we don’t tend to get a lot of sleep and people don’t realize it does affect performance,” said Lamb, a native of Opelousas, La. “I see a lot of soldiers getting too few hours of sleep, drinking energy drinks and playing video games before going to sleep and their performance tends to not be up to par.”
The second of the Performance Triad’s fundamentals is the idea of good nutrition. The idea of eating healthily wasn’t a new concept to those in attendance, but for many, the way they were asked to think about it was.
The food pyramid is the diagram many people think of in regards to balancing your diet but the Army has recently gone to a newer idea called the food plate. Looking at a dinner plate like a pie chart, the food plate sets a general standard for how much of each food group should be on your plate at each meal.
“I think the most important thing is to make sure your plate is half fruits and vegetables. A lot of soldiers don’t do that. There’s a lot of deep fried food and the soldiers are missing the fruits and vegetables,” said Neat.
The seminar also emphasized the benefits of eating five to six smaller meals each day as opposed to three larger ones.
The final pillar of the surgeon general’s Performance Triad is fitness. Fitness no longer means just going to the gym though. The triad does recommend 150 minutes of cardio exercise and at least two sessions of resistance training each week but there is more to it than that.
Operation Army Ready: Ready and Resilient offers several tips for soldiers to implement daily that will help maintain physical wellness.
The Army believes its members should spend at least 10 minutes of every hour doing more active things like physically going to someone’s shop or office instead of simply sending an email.
“Find little opportunities throughout your day to walk more, to stand up more. That’s going to make a huge impact,” said Neat.
In terms of walking, the seminar also challenged its audience to try and walk 10,000 steps a day to promote wellness.
The Army believes the three legs of the Performance Triad: sleep hygiene, nutrition, and fitness, will provide a total package for promoting physical health.
“It’s not rocket science, it’s common sense stuff, but we forget about it. soldiers forget to do it,” said Neat. “If we can influence soldiers to live their life a little healthier, to improve in these three areas just a little bit, you’re going to see improvements across the board.”
Keeping with the focus on living, suicide awareness and prevention became the focus for the next portion of the seminar.
With the many thousands of service members and civilians assigned to Bagram Air Field, the speakers felt it important to inform their audience that the base has made it through all of 2013 without suffering a suicide. They even went further to say that across the Army, suicides are down 24 percent, and added, the military must remain vigilant about this subject.
“The aim of this is to equip soldiers with resiliency techniques that will carry them through the holidays,” said Neat. “We haven’t had a suicide at Bagram all year and our main objective was to keep that going.”
What followed the focus on suicide prevention was arguably the most unusual block of instruction for a military training event. Leaders in attendance were given breathing techniques and actually shown basic meditation methods for calming oneself and isolating different parts of the body.
“I’ve incorporated meditation into my household. It’s basically a principle you use to clear your mind and greet things on an even playing field. It’s clarity of mind, body and soul. It gives you time to clear you mind and focus on the things you need to focus on,” said Ruston, La., native, Capt. Latisha Fox, nurse, 4th BCT, 10th Mtn. Div.
To conclude the training, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Hawkins, division chaplain for the 101st Airborne Division, gave the group a few final thoughts for when their resiliency is tested and everything else fails.
He cited that when Prisoners of War were asked how they were able to remain vigilant during their ordeal, 99 percent of them said it was their faith that brought them through.
Then Hawkins ended the seminar by encouraging everyone to remember, “We are not bodies that just happen to have a soul. We are souls who just so happen to have a body.”
At the end of the day, many of the soldiers agreed that their day at the chapel had been worth every minute.
“It was absolutely the best training I’ve had since I’ve been in country,” said Fox.