I’m a bit furious about a mandatory survey that I just took. The survey, Soldier Fitness Tracker (SFT), measures individual soldier’s competency in four areas: Emotional, Social, Family, and Spiritual. As a foxhole atheist, I was a little annoyed at first, but I’ve learned that I’ve really got to pick my battles on some issues. This quickly turned into one of those issues. According to the SFT, I’m unfit to serve in the U.S. Army because I’m a non-believer.
It gets worse, but before I share the rest of my results, I’ll briefly touch on how these scores were calculated.
The four categories were tested across several pages of questions. The spiritual questions were awkwardly phrased, and soldiers are directed to answer on a scale of 1-5 (‘not like me at all’ through ‘very much like me most or all of the time’ [paraphrasing]). One such question is “My life will have a lasting meaning.” I thought about it… well, Abraham Lincoln’s life had a lasting meaning, but then again I’ve never heard of his father. I’m not Abe, but I suppose there is a possibility that I could do something in my life that has lasting meaning, so… I’ll go with 2 out of 5.
The next question was “I feel connected to a being that is greater than me.” Jokes about my wife’s pregnancy aside, this is certainly 1 out of 5. ***EDIT 24 DEC 2010: This question was actually: “I believe that in some way my life is closely connected to all humanity and all the world.” I was paraphrasing from memory, because I was unable to retake the test and get the exact wording. The questions have since leaked.*** Another easy one: “I’m a very spiritual person”. You can see how my scores added up. Note: the slight dip on the ‘social’ scale isn’t due to the Spiritual questions, it’s because I answered a few questions about career progression honestly (I’m not 100% sure I’m going to re-enlist, etc.).
Here’s what the survey says about me:
– A red bar means that you face some significant challenges in this area. This means that you should focus most of your attention on this area, though you should also note that placing too much emphasis here could result in other dimensions dropping. The key is to properly balance where you need the most development with the areas you are already doing well in.
You may click here at any time to connect with a counselor who is ready to assist you with a problem that requires immediate attention. Also, you may dial 1-800-XXX-XXXX to speak with someone immediately.Spiritual Fitness
Spiritual fitness is an area of possible difficulty for you. You may lack a sense of meaning and purpose in your life. At times, it is hard for you to make sense of what is happening to you and others around you. You may not feel connected to something larger than yourself. You may question your beliefs, principles, and values. Nevertheless, who you are and what you do matter. There are things to do to provide more meaning and purpose in your life. Improving your spiritual fitness should be an important goal. Change is possible, and the relevant self-development training modules will be helpful. If you need further help, please do not hesitate to seek out help from the people you care about and trust – strong people always do. Be patient in your development as it will take time to improve in this area. Still, persistence is key and you will improve here if you make this area a priority.
The screen before this had a blurb “Do we have permission to use your data anonymously in an aggregated manner? These results may be used by the U.S. Government and/or the public.” I clicked ‘yes’ hoping that I could help to show that there are soldiers who are ‘good without god’. This likely backfired. Now I’m fairly certain that I’m a statistic that is being touted as ‘proof that we need more funding for the chaplaincy’. Not to mention, the HIGHLY offensive manner that my results describe. Spirituality has nothing to do with being a Soldier. That is a private matter for soldiers, and in no way should any command be evaluating how ‘fit’ a soldier is based upon his beliefs (or lack thereof). This is disturbing to say the least.
I called the phone number listed at the end there, and it was a counseling service “One Stop”. They cater to psychological emergencies (minor and major), and they didn’t really understand my issue. It wasn’t an appropriate place to take my problem. So I fished around for the help desk number for the people who design, evaluate, and implement the Soldier Fitness Tracker. The lady who answered my phone call seemed very reasonable, but I did get the ‘drop in the bucket’ feeling. She promised to pass it on to her higher ups, which is all she can do. But that’s not good enough for me. This survey needs to be radically changed, or dropped altogether, and it needs to happen now.
In no way do I speak on behalf of the Army, but I refuse to take this kind of insult any longer. My statements are editorial in nature, and reflect my personal experience and opinion. However, in the spirit of Richard Dawkins’ Out Campaign, I’m not hiding behind anonymity. Not only am I an active duty U.S. Army Soldier, I’m also an atheist. I’m equally proud of both descriptions, and I’m honored to be one of the thousands of foxhole atheists who have fought or are currently fighting for our country and our constitution.
-SGT Justin Griffith
Fort Bragg, NC