Army Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Case For Change

*** Note: The information below was published in 2010 and relates to content during that time. It was replaced in 2013 as a result of the many improvements to the various spiritual fitness programs. The below content does not necessarily reflect current DoD, Army, or MAAF policy. ***

I. Introduction

The Army’s new Global Assessment Test is part of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, a $50 million program focused on five dimensions – physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and family. Those who score low on the assessment are referred to counseling by the test results. The Ft Hood Spiritual Fitness Center is a cutting-edge facility that explains, “Physical (Body), Mental (Mind), and Spiritual (Soul),” with its focus being on “spiritual needs.” This term “Spirituality” calls immediately to mind supernatural “spirits” and religious piety. On the surface, there is concern that the military is officially endorsing and even requiring a supernatural or traditional religious viewpoint.

MAAF would hope that by “spirituality,” the military might mean something like character, resilience, or steadfastness. This hope is encouraged by much of the documentation and purposes of the same “spirituality” programs. It makes perfect sense that the military would want to encourage and develop a soldier’s ability to hold strongly to values in the face of the stresses of combat, and to build values that sustain soldiers. Knowing the right thing is not the same thing as doing the right thing. Service members benefit from a strong foundation of personal values upon which to build the values of the profession of arms. The stresses of combat take a greater toll if service members don’t have some internal peace and personal understanding to make sense of the world. A connection to a supportive community of like-minded individuals enhances the benefits above. These secular benefits do make sense, but they are different than prayer, energy, or other things generally associated with “spirituality.”

MAAF provides a conduit to help nontheistic service members to build character and values. Our partner organizations in atheism and secular humanism have real, positive values. Just as this new dimension of “spirituality” encourages Christians to go to church, it should encourage nontheists to participate in their communities. This cannot work if nontheist communities and ideas are excluded from the outset. Nontheists cannot be included if chaplains and other leaders are uneducated or hostile to nontheism. Through chaplain outreach, MAAF book list, and other areas, MAAF provides the thought leadership to ensure all of the military team has support. As you can see below, several issues have arisen with the “spirituality” training. MAAF has reached out in many cases, and hopes the military will reach out to us to ensure the nontheist perspective is represented prior to the publication of new doctrine and training. If the military does not respond to MAAF and other representatives of the nontheist community, these issues will continue to end up in EO and legal battles.

The sections below provide specific instances where spirituality is being funded and promoted by the military. With this strong focus, it is imperative that the military include nontheists to reform the program before more nontheist service members are excluded. Moreover, unconstitutional promotion of religion or Christianity specifically must be avoided. The current key focus is the Army’s broken Comprehensive Soldier Fitness programFailure to include nontheists and avoid appearance of bias is a government mandate of religion that fractures the military team.

II. Additional Details

The Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program is intended to help service members to build “resilience” to help them break through and bounce back from life’s stresses. There are five dimensions, including spirituality. As Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen George Casey, implemented the program and put MG Rhonda Cornum, a career Flight Surgeon from Cornell and author of “She went to war” in charge. The program includes a training program, implementation of a new Master Resiliency Trainer designation, and the Global Assessment Test (GAT). The Master Resiliency Training seems to be founded on theory from the VIA Institute for Character, according to the leaders designated for the class. The Global Assessment Test trains on four dimensions (all but physical). The assessment is mandatory and suggests remedial training as a result (according to videos at the CSF website).

CSF defines “spiritual fitness as strengthening a set of beliefs, principles or values that sustain a person beyond family, institutional and societal sources of support. Also, spiritual fitness provides a person a sense of purpose, meaning, and the strength to persevere and prevail when faced with significant challenges and responsibilities. It promotes general well-being, enhances self-confidence, and increases personal effectiveness.” While this definition has some secular value, the questions themselves are out of bounds. Questions relate to whether a soldier is a “spiritual person” or whether a person sees “a purpose” for life. MAAF contacted the GAT subject-matter expert on spirituality to receive questions, but they were not immediately provided. MAAF has acquired full screenshots and text linked below. These are religious questions posed by the government and have a right or wrong answer, and the results suggest counseling and re-education if answered incorrectly. Significant mental gymnastics would be required for a person with a naturalistic world view, which is to say atheists, secular humanists, freethinkers, etc could answer these in the affirmative. This means that the assessment fails to give proper results unless the person has the “acceptable” religion.

MAAF Reached out to the CSF staff, meeting for two hours with the content director LTC Henderson, and corresponding with CSF Director Brig Gen Rhonda Cornum. Despite being presented with clear violations and positive suggestions for change, CSF staff and leadership flatly refused to make any changes or even to recognize the shortfalls of the CSF program. There is still an opportunity for reform in other areas of the military, but unfortunately, the Army seems to be entrenched in its unconstitutional and exclusive religious program.

In February 2011 – The Army published a new order clarifying that all spiritual portions of training are optional and can not be mandated. The Army has missed real opportunities and need for reform by pushing the program under the rug. This is a multi-million-dollar, command-sponsored program, “the one and only psychological resiliency program for the Army,” and that can not be overlooked by simply calling a religious indoctrination program optional.

MAAF supports the following actions to move toward reform:

  • Immediate removal of the spiritual fitness test and remedial training pending comprehensive reorganization of the program and leadership. Considering the inability of CSF staff to even understand the problem, there is little hope of internal reform.
  • Rewording of the Spirit/ual/ity dimension (for the Army and other branches) to something more consistent with the definition and intent of coping with and recovering from stress in combat and military life. This is not to say that spirituality (in the religious sense) may not be included or referenced, but the training must be more inclusive. Suggestions based on a MAAF survey of nontheist leaders include the following: philosophy | resilience | character | integrity | steadfastness | determination | dedication | resolve | commitment | courage | perseverance | vitality. There are positive and negative aspects to those terms, but they are initial suggestions for improvement.
  • Review and rewrite of the 5 GAT questions, especially connection to a higher power and the question of being ‘very spiritual’
  • Resolution of the spirituality training issues listed below (Christian flag-folding ceremony, promotion of prayer, marketing of Christian books, etc)

MAAF encourages members and supporters to reviewing the following media and documents to understand the issue and reach out to media and Congress to resolve this problem. For those that are DA Civilians, active duty, or spouses, that are affected by this test, consider formal EO complaints to ensure your voice is heard.

  • ABC News feature (Aug 2011) on spiritual fitness. MAAF Member Dustin Chalker interviewed.
  • Army personnel are unknowing guinea pigs – Psychologists Roy Eidelson, Marc Pilisuk, and Stephen Soldz question the efficacy of Positive Psychology, the science underlying the CSF program. [Added Apr 26, 2011]
  • Goldfish (the snack food) does resiliency – Using Positive Psychology, just as CSF did, this kids program is positive and secular without the religious problems inserted in the development of CSF. [Added Apr 26, 2011]
  • The Center for Atheist Research is conducting a survey to investigate and resolve the lack of understanding displayed in the military’s spirituality/spiritual fitness programs. MAAF encourages its members to particpate.
  • The American Humanist AssociationFreedom From Religion Foundation, and American Atheists have laid out issues in letters calling for an end to the training
  • Actual GAT Intro section and Spirituality Questions – Includes a disclaimer saying the spirituality questions are not religious in nature, but saying it doesn’t make it so. As noted above, some mental gymnastics are required in associating this to a naturalistic/non-supernatural world view. The term “spirituality” should be reworded, and MAAF should be included in a full rewrite of the Spirituality section of the assessment.
  • Order to take the GAT shows that the test is mandatory and then making the spirituality portion optional
  • GAT/CSF Spirituality Remediation Training includes Spiritual Support [S], Rituals [R], Making Meaning [MM], Meditation [Med], and Hunt the Good Stuff [H] – (these are initial observations and may be clarified or expanded upon in the future):
    • As with the assessment itself, the terms “spirituality” and “human spirit” are likely not terms that can speak to nontheists.
    • There are many instances where secular/naturalistic solutions are explicitly stated.
    • [S] Includes a section on “prayer” and a suggestion that “prayer” is for everyone and need not be religious. Again, the Army has taken too many liberties in redefining a word.
    • [S] The training asserts that chaplains never proselytize, but there should still be reporting methods to respond to chaplains who proselytize (Command, EO, IG).
    • [S] There are several references to various religions, a section including nontheists, including atheists, Secular Humanists, and others, should be added.
    • [S] There are two testimonials listed, the first provides a “church” resolution and the second a “higher power.” That two of two testimonials provide a religious solution shows bias.
    • [R] The Christian Flag Folding Ritual implying that raising the flag is ‘a symbol of our belief in the resurrection of the bodyThere is no official meaning to the folds, except for those trying to co-opt the US for their personal religion. MAAF led other groups starting in November 2003 to have that myth removed from USAFA, but it has apparently popped up again. * Note the Christian Flag Ceremony (see below) seems to have been removed from the training, which indicates reaction to our efforts, if not a willingness to commit to change
    • [R] The Rituals section devotes two paragraphs on how washing with water, like in a shower, can be a useful cleansing ritual. This emphasis, the second largest section after flag folding, speaks directly to Christian baptism
    • [MM] The name of this section is encouraging, as it implies a natural approach to meaning and purpose, ie, that meaning must be made because it has not been made for us by a higher power.
    • [MM] The common thread is of ‘making’ meaning by searching for a supernatural, fatalistic purpose. “Everything happens for a reason” “My purpose is part of a bigger purpose” Seeing a “Time of Testing” are all more religious approaches. Although the section does try to account for the ‘mission’ or ‘US’ as a bigger, overarching purpose.
    • [MM] One section is dedicated to belief in a supernatural higher power, and suggests that those who do believe have better mental health. There is an explicit disclaimer and invitation to skip the section for those who don’t believe.
    • [MM] There are 3 testimonials. Two extremely religious and one less so, saying belief “doesn’t have to be a god…it goes back to ..having purpose, being driven,” a strong plug for Christian-centric best seller “Purpose Driven Life.”
    • [Med] This was a very general approach to meditation. It may make sense to move the ‘prayer’ section here and rename “Meditation and Prayer”.
    • [H] Hunt the Good Stuff was a great section that might be about taking pleasure in daily life… but, it’s about “gratitude”. Reference is to “Thanks” by Robert Emmons, which includes a chapter, “Thanks Be to God: Gratitude and the Human Spirit.”
  • MSNBC coverage of MAAF and GAT problems
  • Spiritual Fitness in Iraq – “Founders” of the spiritual fitness initiative spend time for a chaplain’s conference in Iraq to better instruct soldiers on how to be “honest with God.”
  • Original Assessment problem reported by MAAF member Justin Griffith
  • Army Requires Spiritual Fitness; Discriminates Against Atheists by American Atheists
  • Soldiers evaluate themselves via Global Assessment Tool
  • Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Official Site – The test is not accessible, but spirituality questions will be posted when they are available.
  • Ready Army – program incorporating CSF
  • Victory University – the Army’s leadership training institute. The Chaplain’s school is also located at Ft Jackson.
  • University of Pennsylvania Resiliency Course – Additional resiliency training near the Army’s Senior Leader training.
  • VIA Institute dimensions – Clinical foundation for Master Resiliency Training that defines its “spirituality” dimension as “[faith, purpose]: Having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe.”