FORT BRAGG, N.C. - When Col. John Rafferty took command of the 18th Field Artillery Brigade in June, 2015, one of his biggest priorities was ensuring that quality physical training was being conducted throughout the brigade.
"If we do PT right, it's an hour and 15 minutes of preparation for combat, leader development and team building," said Rafferty. "That's why it's so important, and in some cases the most valuable thing we do each day, so we have to get it right. And to get it right, we have to do it together as leaders."
In July, Rafferty, and Command Sgt. Maj. Carlos Mendez, the brigade sergeant major, recently led a group of battalion commanders, battalion command sergeants major, battery and company commanders and first sergeants in a grueling PT session designed to evaluate the fitness of the brigade leadership.
"I structured a PT event that assessed individual speed, strength, endurance, the ability to work together as a team, and a gut-check at the end," said Rafferty. "Soldiers need to be strong, they need to be fast, they need endurance, they need to work as a team, and they need to have heart."
"One thing we stressed was making sure we have clearly established standards for PT and we are evaluating soldiers against those standards," continued Rafferty. "Standards can't be to give 100% at PT, giving 100% is an expectation. Standards for every activity we do are the performance measures we expect Soldiers to achieve."
Now that Rafferty, Mendez, and other soldiers have returned from a nine-month deployment overseas, the brigade commander intends on making command group PT a routine event.
"We had great participation and effort from the command teams," said Rafferty. "Our leaders are fit enough to lead their formations, but there are higher levels of fitness that we can reach. This was a great time for self-awareness for our leaders."
The PT event incorporated time standards and repetition standards for each of the events, and command teams were required to evaluate and provide honest feedback to each other on their performance.
"We need to do challenging, functional fitness against standards related to functions in combat, and we evaluate leaders and the troops during the training," concluded Rafferty. "We established the Steel Tactical Athlete Committee and our next step is to train all leaders in the brigade on PRT, training to maximize performance while minimizing injury, and training injured Soldiers to return to duty."
1st Sgt. Hassan Carter, of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 18th FA Brigade, was one of the participants during the Command Team PT and shared some of his own thoughts on the value of PT for Soldiers.
Carter described how Soldiers are warrior-athletes, and must be able to function as warrior-athletes, on and off the battlefield. He said that the warrior-athlete condition isn't just a matter of fitness, it's also a mindset that Soldiers must have in order to be successful. Soldiers have to approach their fitness as if they were athletes, and adapting that to the Army way of life.
Capt. William Lopez, commander of HHB, 18th FA Brigade, was Carter's partner during the Command Team PT, and assumed command of the battery that same day.
"Command Team PT is a great event for the leaders within the brigade to understand the theory behind the Brigade Commander's emphasis on PT," said Lopez. "PT can be used to focus on many different aspects of development, whether it be combat readiness or otherwise. Executing training together with the Brigade Commander gave me greater insight into what he is looking for us to achieve."
"It's not just about saying I want to achieve a 260 PT average for the Battery, but rather, I want to increase flexibility and agility to prevent injuries, and focus on real combat fitness as opposed to individual goals," added Lopez. "Though individual PT improvement is important, I realized that I need to get a better assessment of the PT in the Battery from a combat perspective."
For the new HHB Brigade commander, passing the APFT isn't the end game for doing PT.
"I think at a baseline, every Soldier should strive to achieve a perfect score on the APFT as an individual goal," said Lopez. "I say this because it is what the Army tests us on. What concerns me is that many Soldiers have not been in a direct combat environment where they understand how much all of the conditioning work they do pays off. We as an organization neglect this if we only focus on the APFT."
Lopez believes in the importance of fitness and the role it plays in the readiness of the Soldier as an individual and as part of a unit.
"The Profession of Arms puts so much focus on physical fitness as a domain of our overall readiness," said Lopez. "One glance around Fort Bragg, and you'll notice the plethora of gyms, wellness centers, and outdoor physical equipment which allows us as Soldiers to improve. It's free, it only costs time and hard work."