By Sgt. 1st Class Gail Braymen
First Army Division West
"Do we have any prayer requests or praises?"
Maj. Edward Williamson listened as two of the soldiers and civilians sitting at the conference table shared their concerns with the group. Then, after a short prayer, and with plenty of pizza and drinks available on the side, Williamson resumed the discussion of the Old Testament book of Exodus during First Army Division West's weekly spiritual fitness session.
Division West has offered the Spiritual Fitness get-together to its staff every Wednesday at lunchtime since August 2007, when the unit was located at Fort Carson, Colo. Williamson, who joined Division West as a mobilized Army Reserve soldier earlier that year, has led the sessions since they began.
"It's been a very faithfully supported program," he said. "I can't take credit for it. The people of this division saw a need and asked (the Division West chief of chaplains) at the time to set this up for them. They wanted it."
"Spiritual fitness" is a term used by Army chaplains to describe what chaplains are all about, Williamson said. "There's physical fitness, which we do every morning at 6:30. There's scholastic fitness that we do when we go to schools. In the case of a chaplain, there's spiritual fitness."
Participants in the group choose their own study materials, which are not necessarily Christian-centric, or even religious. In fact, Williamson said, the first book the group discussed was "The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership."
"I think the chaplains do a great job of preparing thought-provoking material," said Capt. Jeffrey Sherman, an Army Reserve Soldier who has attended Spiritual Fitness regularly since he mobilized last fall. "The other participants frequently add important, thoughtful information to the discussion."
The Division West mission of preparing Army Reserve and Army National Guard units for deployment keeps staff members' calendars full, and that's why Spiritual Fitness begins at 11:59 a.m. and ends precisely at 12:29, Williamson said.
"For some people, 30 minutes is all they can really justify to push away from their work, take a break and come see me and get some inspiration," Williamson said. "It's a need that people have, but, at the same time, it would be arrogant of me or any chaplain to assume that I could do this for an hour, because it won't work. It's a piece of the puzzle that fits best at 30 minutes."
But even taking a half-hour break can be difficult. Although he had tried to make it to previous sessions, this was the first time Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Gonzalez managed to attend. It was worth the effort, he said, and not just for the pizza.
"Usually at lunchtime, I'm still going, going, going," Gonzalez said. "Even when I bring my food to my office, I'm still catching up on e-mail, and I'm not relaxed. Here, after about 10 minutes I was able to relax and just slow down.
"It was a very enlightening and extremely informative discussion. It's a great opportunity to get the word of God and strengthen my faith in God."