ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Feb. 18, 2014) -- Soldiers of the 7221st Medical Support Unit, Newark, Del., were the first Army Reserve Soldiers to undergo the battery of metabolic and fitness tests associated with the Army Wellness Center Program during an event held here at Kirk Army Medical Center here, Feb. 8.

Lt. Col. Bradley Nindl, the 7221st MSU commander, said the unit is the first Army Reserve unit to participate here in the active-duty program that began in Germany, and now expanding in the continental United States.

Nindl, a resident of Abingdon, Md., said the idea is to leverage the Army's existing wellness infrastructure to improve the health and fitness for the Army Reserve Soldiers.

Staff Sgt. Juan R. Sertima, senior enlisted adviser for 7221st MSU, said it was a great idea. "I did this in Germany."

Sertima, a resident of South Orange, N.J., said at first he referred his Soldiers here for help quitting tobacco use, but then he started going for himself.

Maj. Zach T. Solomon, a project officer for Army Wellness Centers at Army Public Health Command here, said he volunteered to help with the metabolic assessments for the day.

"This today is a demonstration of capabilities," he said.

Solomon said the Army Wellness Centers are currently an active-duty program.

"As the Army Public Health Command sets up new wellness centers, one piece that was missing was the Army Reserve," said Solomon. "It is a real challenge to affect the lifestyles of our Reserve Soldiers because of being all spread out, so this is a great opportunity for them."

Spc. Michael M. Gavin, resident of Fleetwood, Pa., and a combat medic with the 7221st MSU, said he volunteered for the testing because he wanted an accurate reading of his fitness level.

After Gavin, who is a native of West Chester, Pa., was given his results, he said he will use the information to better his physiology and overall well-being.

Solomon said the Soldiers don a mask connected to a machine that measures the oxygen inhaled and exhaled at rest and during the exertion on a treadmill to determine the rate at which the body burns calories.

The test would cost $1,200 to $1,500 within the civilian medical market, he said.

"Of all the programs offered at wellness centers, it is our most popular one because most people come here to help [them] lose weight," Solomon explained.

Laura Mitvalsky, the portfolio director for health promotion and wellness at the Army Public Health Command, said when Nindl approached her about assessing Army Reserve Soldiers for the first time, she agreed immediately.

"We are looking for three [Army Reserve] units that we can track," she said. "You don't know how it is going to work until you try something and find out where the kinks are."

Mitvalsky said the Army is looking for ways to help Soldiers in the Reserve Components, but it is difficult because they do not live and work in a centralized area like active-duty personnel.

One of the reasons she agreed was that because of the Army Reserve Soldiers living and working in both the civilian and military world, the Reserve Soldiers can take what they learn at the wellness centers back to the rest of the population, she said. "I really see the Army Reserve leading the way, leading the nation."

Todd A. Hoover of the Army Public Health Command, said he was instrumental in establishing the first wellness centers in Europe. Later, in 2011, retired Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, then the commanding general of XVIII Airborne Corps, Fort Bragg, N.C., called him and invited him to his installation to build a wellness center there.

Hoover said Helmick told him that he was willing to delay a number of other construction projects at Fort Bragg, just to get the wellness center up and running as soon as possible.

There are now 19 Army Wellness Centers, or AWCs, in the United States, and there will be 23 by the end of the year, said Hoover.

According to the phc.amedd.army.mil/, the U.S. Army Public Health Command website, the AWCs provide standardized primary prevention programs designed to promote and sustain healthy lifestyles and improve the overall well-being of Soldiers, family members, retirees, and Department of the Army Civilians.

The primary goal of the AWC program is to enhance the self-efficacy of individuals to maintain lifelong healthy behaviors. There is currently an initiative underway to develop 38 AWCs worldwide, according to the site.

Staff Sgt. Joseph C. Hill, the non-commissioned officer in-charge of the Aberdeen Proving Ground Army Wellness Center, stated that including the behavior health and occupational health clinics, 25 percent of the center's clients are military and five percent of them are in the Army Reserve.

The program with the 7221st MSU is an outreach to increase the number of Army Reserve Soldiers taking advantage of the program, he said.

"The mission of the Army Wellness Center is exceptional," said Hill. "In the military we focus on fitness, body composition and the basics that you need, but before the AWCs, I don't think we had a legitimate program to assist Soldiers to accomplishing that portion of our mission."

Hill said the AWCs use the metabolic and fitness tests to develop plans for the Soldiers to meet their fitness goals.

Through the program, Soldiers take the accurate counts of metabolic rate, body fat and caloric intake and go online at ArmyFit.mil to record, track and evaluate their progress, he said.

"Our basic mission as a Soldier is fitness," he said. "It is something the Army stresses as soon as you enter basic training, through your [advanced individual training] and then at your first duty station. Now that Public Health Command has put together this program to assist a Soldier and meeting those demands, I can't see why a commander would not want to be a part of that."

The Army's advanced individual training is where Soldiers learn their specific job skills.

The center's director, Christina Sorrells, said it is up to client to take advantage of what it has to offer, but in its first full year of operation, it already has significant success stories. "It is all about how you use us."

One client came to us six months ago weighing 300 pounds, she said. Now, after using the wellness center, he lost 30 pounds, lowered his blood pressure and feels better about himself.

Another client is a Soldier, who needed to gain 24 pounds, she said.

"Sometimes, it is harder to gain weight," she said. "Now he is competing in weight-lifting competitions and bringing us new clients all the time . We are very proud of him."

"I hope the Soldiers find out things about themselves here," said Mitvalsky. "And those things they need to do to be who they want to be."