“Spiritual resiliency contributes to Soldier resiliency because it is one of the components of Soldier readiness,” said Chap lain (Lt. Col.) Celestene Robb, deputy garrison chaplain, of the importance the free exercise of religion in the Army.
But, not all installations can accommodate every faith within the chaplaincy, so Army Regulations account for an absence of specific faith leaders on an installation.
One way this accommodation and inclusion is accomplished is through distinctive religious group leaders. “DRGLs are qualified individuals certified by recognized religious organizations to assist commanders and military chaplains in accommodating religious requirements of Soldiers and Family members belonging to religious groups with distinct religious needs that cannot be met by available military chaplains,” states section 5-5 of Army regulation 165-1.
Shea-Ra Nichi is the representative for and leader of Fort Bragg’s Buddhist community.
Nichi is the Buddhist DRGL on Fort Bragg.
“This Buddhism doesn’t have priests we are all lay members,” said Nichi of Soka Gakkai International-USA.
SGI-USA is the organization which guides the Fort Bragg Buddhist community and comprises more than 12 million people in 192 countries according to the SGI-USA website.
SGI-USA considers itself a “grass-roots” organization. Based on the belief that all people are equal, and all possess what the SGI website describes as Buddhahood the group circumvents priests and clergy, gathering for monthly discussion meetings where members and guests can “chant, study together and encourage one another.”
As the DRGL, Nichi represents Buddhism at installation events and hosts the Fort Bragg Buddhist community’s gatherings, working alongside the Fort Bragg Religious Support Office and chaplains.
“I will actually give encouragement or a listening ear to Soldiers and Families that are more connected to the Buddhist philosophy of life,” said Nichi.
An actor, dancer and physical trainer by trade, Nichi travels from her home to Wilmington and Fayetteville for work and hosts members and guests for introductory meetings at Pope Chapel every third Saturday.
Nichi, raised Catholic in Philadelphia, came to Buddhism through a journey of religious exploration triggered by the loss of her older brother.
After her brother, who worked for the Army Corps of Engineers in New Jersey, was killed in a car accident, Nichi, almost 15-years-old at the time, began to search for answers.
“It was that that really hammered home for me that I wanted to start just exploring other religions,” said Nichi. “I went through a lot of philosophies and religions.”
When she was 16, Nichi worked at the Funny Bone Comedy Club. The man who hired her was a Buddhist but made inappropriate advances towards her.
“The personality he was did not correlate with what I heard about Buddhism,” said Nichi.
So, she sought answers in a used bookstore trying to reconcile this man who didn’t seem to embody her expectations of Buddhism.
The book she picked up was titled “The Letters of Nichiren (Daishonin).”
According to SGI-USA, Nichiren Daishonin, a Japanese Buddhist priest who lived during the 13th century, established the chanting practice, “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” as a means to bring forth from within one’s Buddha nature.
Her exploration helped her to find understanding both about this man and about her path.
“Sometimes a good friend is someone that might not be too nice, but they cause you to chant,” said Nichi. “This guy was a good friend in faith because he was the reason I sought this Buddhism. Because his behavior was not correct … it made me make that step.”
SGI-USA and Buddhism arrived at Fort Bragg approximately eight years ago with Nichi as a liaison for the faith and Bernie Treadway, retired, U.S. Air Force, as the first Buddhist DRGL.
After a trip to the United Kingdom to pursue her acting, Nichi was asked by Treadway to take over the role of DRGL for him as he was progressing in age.
“He was like a grandfather so what could I say,” said Nichi.
She said yes and has been DGRL for the Fort Bragg Buddhist community since 2015.
It has been a humbling and enriching experience for Nichi.
“When you reach out and help others, you also end up helping yourself. It really lends to you being not so self-centered, and, so, you extend your heart, and open up to others when they need you and your life grows,” said Nichi.
Individuals interested in the monthly Buddhist gatherings or just have questions about the faith and philosophy are encouraged by Nichi to reach out to her personally.
“Our Buddhism is not one in which we are super heavy when it comes to advertising religion. That’s not our thing. What we do is seek the people heart to heart, face to face sharing our lives.”
Contact Shea-Ra Nichi by phone, 474-1134, or email, shearanichi@gmail.com.