JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. --
Before Lt. Col. Hanna Yang, 446th Airlift Wing staff judge advocate, deployed to Iraq, she packed few personal belongings in her 72-hour military surplus bag.
Her Bible was one item she didn’t leave behind.
For 180 days, Yang relied on her Christian faith to get her through the trying moments of mortar attacks, leaving behind a husband and three children, and providing her leadership with sound legal advice.
Before her 6 a.m. workout she exercised her spiritual fitness by reading the Bible, praying, and reflecting on the day to come. In the evenings, she wrote in a “no filter” journal where she unpacked her emotions.
In another “thankfulness” journal she jotted down at least one thing she was grateful for that day.
“This quiet time filled me, gave me perspective, and renewed my confidence to tackle that day’s challenges,” Yang said. “It helped me to unload, fight negative thoughts, and see God’s grace in dark moments.”
The Air Force defines spiritual fitness as “the ability to adhere to beliefs, principles, or values needed to persevere and prevail in accomplishing missions,” according to Air Force Instruction (AFI) 90-5001.
Spiritual fitness is one of the four pillars of Comprehensive Airman Fitness, which focuses on building a thriving Air Force comprised of comprehensively balanced individuals who strive to be mentally, physically, socially and spiritually fit.
Yang still desired to plug into the social aspect of her faith. She joined the base chapel’s praise and fellowship team, where she sang and played the keyboard.
“My spiritual fitness is staying connected to my life source, which is God and my faith community,” she said. “Being part of this community, worshipping God, and serving challenged me to think bigger and beyond myself and my problems during the deployment.”
Military-related stressors such as frequent deployments, fear of death, and separation from family may result in depression, anxiety and in some cases suicide, according to a 2013 RAND Corporation study, commissioned by the Air Force.
The key findings of the study determined spiritual fitness “can affect an individual’s resilience and readiness to perform military duties” and “influence resilience and well-being by buffering stress.”
Yang credits her spiritual fitness for keeping her grounded during difficult moments.
“Deployments are intense, stressful environments that can test your limits,” Yang said. “You are dealing with heavy things. Staying connected with God and my faith community helped me with the mental and emotional stress. It kept me alive.”
After her six-month deployment, Yang came back with a renewed commitment to her faith.
“Some Airmen work on their physical fitness during a deployment and return in the best shape of their life,” she said. “For me, I had the opportunity to exercise my spiritual fitness, and when I returned home I felt spiritually strong.”
The spiritual pillar can be developed by all Airmen, regardless of whether they prescribe to organized religion or not, said Chaplain (Maj.) Matthew Wilson, 446th Airlift Wing chaplain.
“The military is not pushing a particular faith or belief, but asking individual Airmen to focus on the deep questions of belief, principles and values that drive us,” Wilson said. “In working on the spiritual pillar all Airmen whether Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Pagan, Atheist, or Agnostic are looking for our “why” so we are resilient to the how and what.”
At its most basic level, spirituality refers to a person’s deepest beliefs, ways of relating to others, and a construct of making sense of the world, Col. Randy A. Marshall, Air Force Reserve Command chaplain, Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, wrote in a recent memorandum.
Staff Sgt. Thomas Schiller, an 86th Aerial Port Squadron air transportation specialist, practices his physical and spiritual fitness by hitting the trails. Schiller recently hiked through the moss-covered trails and wildflower-dotted alpine basins of the Olympia peninsula. He ended his eight-hour, 16-mile hike with a dip in the milky-blue glacier waters of Royal Lake.
“I consider nature my church,” Schiller said. “Being able to just breathe the fresh mountain air, this helps me to really clear my head.”
For Reserve Citizen Airmen who have questions about spiritual fitness, 446th Airlift Wing chaplains and religious affairs personnel are trained and available to provide guidance and care to service members and their families.
The 446th Airlift Wing Chaplain office is located in building 1207, 253-982-6955.