Not merely spiritual exercise: Chaplains working out together

  • Published
  • By Dana Rimington
  • Hilltop Times Correspondent
It's easy for chaplains to focus on spiritual matters since it's their career, but chaplains at Hill Air Force Base are taking things to another level by incorporating physical workouts into their focus each week -- and in the process, they're discovering far-reaching benefits.

Chaplain Steve Cuneio said the group was originally started so they could develop a sense of team. "We found that as we sweat and work out together that it does draw us closer as a team, and we benefit in building a relationship when we set aside time to exercise," Cuneio said.

It's not an easy workout either, and they do it twice a week together. As they alternated between push-ups, burpees, mountain climbers and V sit-ups, just to name a few, the small group of chaplains and staff grunted and cheered one another on.

The motto Cuneio drills into the group is that exercise is free medicine from above. "It is challenging, but we know that the physical resilience we are gaining affects the other three areas of resilience -- mental, spiritual and social, which is making us better Airmen," Cuneio said. "We are going to think better because of the extra endorphins in our minds, which will also make us less stressed and anxious, giving us a better sense of purpose in our life."

Chaplain Jeremy Caskey began participating in the workouts nearly a year ago and realized how important the exercises have been for the group.

"We have a very autonomous job where we are all working on our own thing, but here we are not dealing with crisis, and we each know what the other is dealing with in our ministry, which helps us connect further," Caskey said.

Chaplain Erik Harp, Wing Chaplain for the 75th Airbase Wing, pointed out that chaplains and other professionals are notorious for coming into the Air Force at an older age, and may not be as physically fit as their counterparts, often between the ages of 17 and 25.

"We aren't the guys carrying weapons, but all of us wear the uniform and it's important that we maintain our fitness and strength," Harp said. "We lose credibility if we are wearing the uniform, but we don't look like we could pull our fellow Airmen out of something dangerous if we needed to."

Caskey agreed with Harp, saying, "I think people like us neglect our physical needs, whereas Airmen often neglect their spiritual side."

If it weren't for their twice-weekly exercise sessions, many of the chaplains wouldn't get that physical aspect into their lives. "They are all very thankful and have commented that if we didn't meet to do this, they wouldn't exercise on their own," Cuneio said.

Caskey said he stopped exercising during one of his semesters during seminary, thinking he didn't have the time.

"I was learning Greek and reading thousands of pages regularly so I was so tired all the time," Caskey said. "However, when I started exercising again, I found it created pockets of energy and time, and I became sharper as I ministered and prayed. I realized I have to keep doing this, and just like Cuneio says, it's free medicine from above."

Cuneio hopes others in their shoes will implement physical training into their lives.

"We aren't made to sit in a chair and stare at a computer screen all day. It's not good for us. We need to take advantage of the opportunity we have been given for physical activity," Cuneio said. "We've all been given one body and we are called to be stewards of our bodies. I look at exercise as a connection to our belief system because it increases our sense of purpose and mission to help us be as fruitful as possible, causing us to be better in every area of our lives."