By Sgt. 1st Class Mark BellNovember 13, 2014
(Editor's Note: Part 2/3 in a series of stories looking into the lives of Soldiers participating in the Army Reserve's Performance Triad)
FORT KNOX, Ky. -- For the past two weeks, one Army Reserve Soldier has sent a 7 a.m. text message to his fiancée about his experiences during annual training.
Sgt. Courtland Harris, from Savannah, Georgia, sends a detailed text message to his soon-to-be bride, Meredith, about what he has learned while participating in an Army Reserve pilot program designed to help Soldiers live healthier lifestyles.
Assigned to the 450th Military Police Company, Harris and nearly 400 Soldiers assigned to the 290th MP Brigade are spending 14-hour days learning about nutrition, sleep and fitness during a Performance Triad held here Nov. 1-13.
The program, which is new to the Army Reserve, is a comprehensive plan to improve resilience through public health initiatives and leadership engagement and focuses on Sleep, Activity and Nutrition, which are key actions that influence health in the "Lifespace" of time that isn't spent with a health care provider.
Since the eighth grade, Harris has wanted to join the Army. At first chance, he joined his high school Junior ROTC program. His plan was to go to college on an ROTC scholarship and join the active component.
Like most early high school dreams, things changed in life and those perfect after-school plans didn't come to fruition.
After one year in college, Harris joined the Army Reserve in 2006 and since had volunteered for deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
"My entire plan was to be in the military," he said. "I volunteered for both deployments. That's one thing I have followed through with."
After his last deployment, Harris said his weight got out of control.
"I've always been heavy set," he said about his weight gain. "I'm the smallest the guy in my family. Everyone is big."
Recently, his fiancée was diagnosed with pre-diabetes and he knew changes were critical. They changed their diet and started exercising.
"We've been trying to eat healthy, but never have been educated on eating healthy," he said. We hear about all the latest fat diets and pills on TV, but they don't work for me."
Harris woke up each day and was on the fitness field by 5 a.m. He then went through Physical Readiness Training with master fitness trainers. After two hours and in between a shower and breakfast, Harris sent Meredith text messages about the information he learned since the previous morning.
"I am learning so much here in these two weeks, and I want to share bits and pieces with her -- or at least as much as I can in a text message," he said. "I know she's not awake yet, but it's the first thing she sees in the morning."
Harris, who has struggled with weight nearly his entire life, said attending this program is a gift to him, his family and his life.
"I never knew I was doing so many things wrong," he said. "I'm not afraid to admit I struggle with my health. I thought I was doing some things right, but now I know I have to make a change if I want to stay in the Army."
With fast food and sodas on a regular menu for his diet, Harris said a lot of what he learned was about making better choices.
"Cheeseburger or Salad?" he asked. "The answer is simple now, but to be honest, before I would have chosen a cheeseburger over a salad."
Overweight and unable to pass an Army Physical Fitness Test, Harris said he lost nearly 10 pounds in the first week at Fort Knox.
"That's exciting to know I did that by just following some simple rules and guidelines," he said. "I came here wanting to lose a certain amount of weight. I decided to add 10 more pounds to my goal. I know I can do it for myself and my fiancée."
After failing an APFT last month, Harris said he knew his name was going to come up on the list to attend the Performance Triad.
"I wanted to come here before I was told I was going to go," he said. "I didn't try to get out of it. I need help and I can admit that. No shame in asking for help from the people who are the experts."
Harris said he had no expectations going into the training, but after a few days he knew this was going to be a learning experience.
"I can't express enough how much this program has taught me," he said. "The Army Reserve has brought in physical therapists, nutritionist and fitness experts to teach us to live healthier lives. They are taking the time to not only teach us but help us understand what we are doing wrong in our lives. They have changed my thought process of how I will move forward and try to live my life."
Before, Harris would run for long periods of time prior to an APFT. He now understands that running more than 30 minutes can do more harm than good.
Additionally, with the help of a physical therapist, Harris allowed him to video tape him running. "Holy cow, just that information about how I am running wrong is a game changer."
Soldiers spent several hours learning about body mechanics and how proper posture can increase fitness performance. During one class, Soldiers examined their running shoes and most realized they had the incorrect footwear for running or other strenuous activities.
"I know my home life," he said. "I know I don't work out like I should be. I don't sleep like I should. But now that I am having training to do those things, so when I go home I can try to apply it more to work around my schedule."
Harris works at a jail and spends long hours behind his workstation with little opportunity for exercise.
"I work 12 hours a day, and now I can apply all of this into my work schedule to create a healthier overall lifestyle for myself," he said.