It’s been slightly more than a year since the Army kicked off its new Holistic Health and Fitness program. The initiative seeks to go beyond decades of focus almost solely on the physical fitness test by expanding soldier readiness to nutritional, sleep, mental and even spiritual areas.
The H2F operating concept lays out a 21-page guide for soldiers and leaders to improve each of those facets for the benefit of the soldier, unit and entire force.
H2F isn’t a feel-good program. In rolling it out, officials cited data showing that, in early 2020, nearly 60,000 soldiers, or 13 Brigade Combat Teams, were non-deployable due to one or more deficiencies. And even among those deployed, readiness concerns remain.
For instance, something as basic as sleep deprivation, seen for most of the Army’s history as just part of the job, has more recently been acknowledged as a drag on readiness.
“Sleep deprivation, defined as five or less hours of sleep per night over five days, or one day without sleep, correlates to a 20% decrease in cognitive ability,” according to the H2F document.
Army Times spoke recently with Col. Kevin A. Bigelman, director of the service’s H2F program, about big picture work his organization is doing to improve overall soldier health and his takeaways as soldiers look to set their own health resolutions for the New Year.
Editor’s Note: The below Q&A interview has been edited for content, clarity and length.
Q: Colonel, you’ve been in the Army since the early 1990s. Could you talk about how the organization’s views on fitness have changed over time?
A: We drove for how to train to the test, the Army Physical Fitness Test of pushups, sit-ups and a 2-mile run. We never considered strength, power, anaerobic, agility or balance in our assessment of physical fitness. The Army Combat Fitness Test addresses some of those areas. But the ACFT is only a physical assessment. And we didn’t pay much attention to other, non-physical areas. We said things like, ‘sleep is a crutch,’ ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead,’ or ‘sleep is for the weak.’ That’s just nonsense and could potentially cause death. But in some areas we made improvements, our nutritional readiness, for example. The Army gradually started changing the thinking to how to fuel soldiers, the Go for Green nutrition standards are one example. It gives soldiers a quick assessment of the nutritional value of food in the dining facility, so they can make more informed choices.
Q: Most physical training is held at the small unit level and for years consisted almost entirely of bodyweight workouts and runs. Some installations have seen changes to their equipment and physical training support staff. Could you lay out some of those changes and tell readers what’s ahead?
A: Musculoskeletal injuries are a major readiness problem and plague soldiers beyond their service. We’ve started adding physical therapists, occupational therapists, athletic trainers and other professionals on staff at installations to better assess and evaluate individual soldiers, training programs to prevent injuries and help them recover if they do sustain an injury. Soldiering is a contact sport and we’re going to get injured but when we get injured we need smart ways to heal and return to duty.
We have 28 H2F-resources brigades across For Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Polk, Louisiana; Fort Drum, New York; and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. These teams are operating as we speak. We have up to 37 people per brigade. Starting in fiscal year 2023 we’ll be adding staff to 10 brigades a year until 2030. We have 16 metrics to assess how effective these programs are at the brigade level and report their status to Army leadership every six months. There are plans to build more than 100 soldier performance readiness centers that will house the human performance teams and associated equipment. Eventually, there will be one SPRC for each resourced brigade. This is a paradigm shift, you can’t just use these teams from 0630 to 0800. You’ve got to use them throughout the day, take them to the field, take them to the range.
Q: What are some things soldiers can improve along these lines as they set their own New Year’s resolutions?
A: I’d say now is a good time to start and I would encourage all soldiers to contact their H2F representative. Make small changes at first. If your diet’s not correct, try to make small, incremental changes in your diet to improve. Going to the shopette and having a hot dog and a couple of energy drinks is not good nutrition. If exercise is not part of your daily routine, begin with some exercise each day. Think about accountability, find a training partner or buddy and schedule those sessions, keep each other on task. But it goes beyond training and a good diet. Certain substances can sidetrack success. If alcohol is an issue for you, quitting cold turkey is harder than small, incremental changes. Same with nicotine or caffeine use, find resources to cut back on these as you work toward eliminating them.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.
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