FALLS CHURCH, Va. (Army News Service, April 10, 2014) -- Army leaders are providing "under the oak tree" counseling, to improve their Soldier's health and resilience, said Col. Michael J. Talley, assistant deputy chief of staff, G-3/5/7, Army Medical Command.

"Oak tree" counseling is what some Soldiers refer to when they're talking about passing the word in small groups. Such informal counseling has traditionally been used for safety briefs before a holiday, or motivational talks about an upcoming exercise.

Talley said he thinks such counseling can help NCOs inform their subordinates about the Army's Performance Triad program. That program is aimed at reducing injuries and improving cognitive, physical and emotional well-being through an increased focus on sleep, physical activity and nutrition.

Talley provided an update on the Army's Performance Triad program during the Brain Health Consortium, at the Office of the Army Surgeon General here, today.

As part of the Performance Triad program, the Army kicked off three 26-week-long pilot studies late last year at Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Bliss, Texas; and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. The pilot programs were meant to determine the best way forward in incorporating sleep, activity and nutrition into Soldiers' lifestyles and whether or not it makes any difference.

Talley said at first the Soldiers were hesitant to wear a personal fitness wristband device, which tracks those three things 24 hours a day. The devices measure calories consumed, steps walked and quality of sleep based on movements detected.

But being young and tech savvy, Talley said Soldiers quickly adopted the devices and were able to download the data to their smartphones. They were even able to share that data with their NCOs and commanders so they could see how well Performance Triad training was going.

Data gathered during the pilot programs revealed that on the weekends, Soldiers were not eating right, and were not getting enough sleep. Talley said that was not a surprise. Also not a surprise, he said, was that Soldiers didn't get enough sleep during high-operations-tempo training exercises or deployments.

With the data provided by the Performance Triad pilot studies, Talley said, Soldiers and their commanders were able to more clearly see the relationship between sleep, activity and nutrition and their performance during exercises or overseas operations.

In garrison, he said, Soldiers took advantage of wellness centers and dining facilities where healthy food was labelled. They also tended to get more sleep.

The results are still preliminary and the last of the pilots should be completed in a few weeks, but the data will continue to be analyzed and Soldiers who volunteer will be tracked for five to seven years in a longitudinal study with a control group, he said.

Also, later this year the secretary of the Army and chief of staff are expected to decide whether to go Army-wide with Performance Triad, and, Talley said, they already are talking up the benefits of it in the context of the Army's Ready and Resilient Campaign.

Leaders in the pilot seem pleased thus far, he said, because Performance Triad gives them greater flexibility to develop their training schedules. For instance, commanders can decide to run physical fitness at 8 a.m., instead of at 6 a.m., if the previous day's routine was grueling, to allow more time for mental and muscle recovering.

Performance Triad isn't just for Soldiers, Talley added. It's also for their family members as well as Army civilians.

But thus far, Talley said, Soldiers are eating this up as they are searching for solutions that "give them that Soldier-athlete prowess."

Among those listening to Talley's remarks was Maj. Gen. Dean Sienko, commander, Army Public Health Command, Aberdeen, Md.

He said the foundational research that goes into Performance Triad isn't exactly new -- although Triad incorporates new research findings into its program. Rather, he said, Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, Army surgeon general, systematically compiled and organized the operational details of what a healthy body needs and executed the plan in the form of Performance Triad.

The idea is brilliant and shifts the paradigm of APHC, Sienko said, moving it away from being "a health care system to a system for health."

"If we can get people to do those things, we can prevent a lot of people from becoming ill," Sienko explained. "It's a different state of mind for a medical command to take. That is, we're not going to wait for you to fall ill, we're going to prevent you from getting ill, we're going to keep you well. And in so doing, you're going to be a more resilient force."

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