September 6, 2012

Comprehensive Soldier Fitness and suicide prevention

Incorporating the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) program is the lead objective of the NTC and Fort Irwin Suicide Prevention Action Plan. The overall focus is on maintaining individual and unit readiness. Individual assessments, along with tailored virtual training and embedded resilience experts are used to provide the critical skills our Soldiers, Family Members and Army Civilians need. (If you are unfamiliar with CSF, check out the website: There you will find detailed information on the program, which is based on 30-plus years of scientific study and results.)

If applied in a consistent, individual, unit and Family manner, CSF may prove to be one of the most effective resources in the prevention of suicidal and other high risk behaviors. As a whole (or holistic) system of fitness, CSF is made up of the five dimensions of strength: Physical, Emotional, Social, Family, and Spiritual. I will make a case for the Spiritual component of CSF as most critical. First, the definition for each component:

Physical: Performing and excelling in physical activities that require aerobic fitness, endurance, strength, healthy body composition and flexibility derived through exercise, nutrition and training.

Emotional: Approaching life’s challenges in a positive, optimistic way by demonstrating self-control, stamina and good character with your choices and actions.

Social: Developing and maintaining trusted, valued relationships and friendships that are personally fulfilling and foster good communication including a comfortable exchange of ideas, views, and experiences.

Family: Being part of a family unit that is safe, supportive and loving, and provides the resources needed for all members to live in a healthy and secure environment.

Spiritual: One’s purpose, core values, beliefs, identity, and life vision. These elements, which define the essence of a person, enable one to build inner strength, make meaning of experiences, behave ethically, persevere through challenges, and be resilient when faced with adversity. An individual’s Spirituality draws upon personal, philosophical, psychological, and/or religious teachings, and forms the basis of their character.

All of these dimensions must be taken into account in order to achieve and sustain total fitness. What is the association I ask you to consider with respect to Suicide Prevention? I understand the connection by CSF’s claims of being “ … committed to a true prevention model, aimed at the entire force, which will enhance resilience and coping skills, enabling [Soldiers] to grow and thrive in today’s Army.” As the CSF definition makes plain, the Spiritual serves as the core of all the other domains.

Another definition that supports the importance of Spirituality is found in the study, “Total Force Fitness for the 21st Century: A New Paradigm,” from the August 2010 Supplement to Military Medicine, Volume 175, No. 8. There we read: “Spirituality: That which allows a person to experience transcendent meaning in life. This is often expressed as a relationship with God, but it can also be about nature, art, music, family, or community – whatever beliefs and values give a person a sense of meaning and purpose in life.”

Here at the Fort Irwin Army Substance Abuse Program, in our Summer 2011 Newsletter, Dr. Crawford relates how Spirituality is all too often misunderstood. I believe this is true because of the tendency we have in making Spirituality synonymous with our religion, in a rather “one size fits all” way of thinking. Perhaps it helps if we understand religion as institutions of distinct beliefs and spiritual as CSF relates it.

When you consider how CSF portrays the Spiritual as defining the essence of Soldiers, Family members and DA Civilians, and of its enabling inner strength and effecting resilient behavior, its power is in direct relation to that set of beliefs, principles or values that are in place to be the Soldier’s, Family member’s and DA Civilian’s norm. It’s about being equipped to live out our Army Values.

And if Aristotle had it right when he said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” I suggest it is the Spiritual which generates and sustains the discipline required in the formalization of the Physical, Emotional, Social and Family dimensions of strength that produces CSF. It is the Spiritual which enables Resilience. It is the Spiritual which brings personal meaning to such terms as Loyalty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage.

It is the Spiritual which emanates in the established standards of behavior that characterizes our time honored heritage of Soldiering. Such standards are captured well by Richard Weaver in his title, “Ideas Have Consequences,” where he writes, “ … the Soldier’s services are to causes which have been formulated as ideals that he or she holds above both property and life, as the ceremonies of military consecration make plain. One sees this truth well exemplified in the extreme formalization of the Soldier’s conduct, a formalization which is carried into the chaos of battle; a well-drilled Army moving into action is an imposition of maximum order upon maximum disorder.”

A few years ago in his address to our leaders in the Army Health Promotion, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention 2010 Report, General Peter W. Chiarelli stated, “ … risk in the force cannot be mitigated by suicide prevention alone. Army leaders must take a holistic, multidisciplinary approach to address this risk. We have initiated Comprehensive Soldier Fitness as an essential element of Army wellness … Our success notwithstanding, we still have much more to do. We face an Army-wide problem that can only be solved by the coordinated efforts of our commanders, leaders, program managers and service providers.”

In closing, I invite you to imagine with me, how if we together apply CSF in a consistent, individual, unit and Family manner, our instances of suicidal and other high risk behaviors will daily become fewer and fewer. A holistic, multidisciplinary approach to our Total Army Family Well Being, understanding the whole is greater than the sum of its parts – this is what CSF is about. This is an approach in which you can see the Box (imagine forest) as well as the Installation (imagine trees), all the while enjoying the majestic sunrises and sunsets that are yours at the National Training Center and Fort Irwin.

Army Campaign “Shoulder to shoulder, We Stand Up For Life.”

September 2012 is recognized by the Army as Suicide Prevention Month. This year’s theme is “Shoulder to Shoulder, We Stand Up for Life.” During Suicide Prevention Month the Army emphasizes Total Force awareness of Health Promotion, Risk Reduction, Suicide Prevention (HPRRSP) and Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness (CSF2) resources that are available to promote the resilience of Soldiers, Family members and Army Civilians. Increased emphasis is placed on promoting the recognition of suicide risk factors and training focused on suicide prevention and intervention. The Army remains steadfast in maintaining a healthy and ready force with empowered leaders dedicated to saving lives while preserving our nation’s security. Information about this year’s theme can be obtained from the Army Suicide Prevention Program G1 website at
Related phone numbers:
Emergency – 911
Military Crisis Line – 1-800-273-TALK (8255) – Press 1
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

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