G.I. Blues

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Sign of the times: The U.S. Army is making sweeping changes to its physical-training program for new recruits.

Sign of the times: The U.S. Army is making sweeping changes to its physical-training program for new recruits. For instance, sit-ups are out. Push-ups as we knew them from gym classes gone by — also out.

The reasons for some changes have to do with making drills more closely mimic the activities that soldiers are actually called on to do. Bayonet fighting is obsolete, for instance; therefore, it makes sense to phase out bayonet fighting drills. Long-distance running is now de-emphasized, in favor of sprinting and marching with a heavy pack. Other changes are aimed at making exercises smarter and more systematic, so that what a recruit does in the afternoon relates to and reinforces what he or she did that morning.

But the biggest reason for rethinking Army basic training, simply put, is that the young people entering the Army today are heavier and less physically fit than their counterparts from years ago. Recruits’ strength and endurance are not what they once were. Even their bone density seems to be worse, leading to more stress fractures.

Furthermore, poor physical fitness is becoming a worry even with active-duty soldiers, during or after overseas deployments.

Push-ups and sit-ups are being replaced by exercises that emphasize flexibility and agility, including some routines borrowed from yoga. Though it may sound like a mismatch, there is interesting potential in the application of yoga in military training, including possible mental health benefits in addition to physical benefits.

Why discuss this story under the banner of Clergy Health?

I feel it has implications for the health of pastors and congregations, and for how the church is to interpret American culture with respect to health. This is further evidence of a pervasive health problem in the U.S., born of our poor diet and insufficient physical activity. If it is impacting the military in such a big way, then of course it is impacting the church.

Many of our North Carolina pastors—come to think of it, perhaps every single one of you—are ministering to military personnel or their families. They deal with stresses and dangers hard for civilians to imagine. But even soldiers have to guard against the temptations of junk food and electronic entertainment. Perhaps there is some small comfort in this, for pastors and the rest of us who are subject to modern temptations of the flesh. But it might also offer some insight into the needs of the military folks whom you serve.

This is just my two cents’ worth. I would welcome your comments.

Shalom y’all,

John James
Research Analyst
Clergy Health Initiative

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