GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- Poor nutrition. High alcohol use. Obesity. Poor mental health. U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria has a health problem. And it's time to shape up.

That's according to garrison leadership here, who is taking aggressive measures to combat the unhealthy lifestyles within the U.S. Army in general and among community members here in particular. That includes German and American, youth to retiree, service member and civilian.

"My intent is to have a holistic approach to combating the negative health and wellness trends identified in the growing body of evidence in the form of host nation and Army reports, surveys and metrics," said Col. Lance Varney, garrison commander at USAG Bavaria.

The Bavaria Health Initiative is a bold step aimed at inspiring change within the community.

THE PROBLEM

The health of the force within the DOD has initiated a response from the Pentagon. The DOD, for example, recently introduced a new policy that will require service members to be deployable within 12 months or be forced out of the armed services.

The policy comes on the heels of a recent Heritage Foundation study that found that "71 percent of young Americans between 17 and 24 are ineligible to serve in the United States military." Nearly one-third of those young Americans are too overweight for military service.

Closer to home, the U.S. Army Public Health Center's annual "Health of the Force" report -- a comprehensive study of installation-level population health metrics for Active Component Soldiers -- indicates that Soldiers here are below the Army's Performance Triad averages in sleep scores and nutrition scores, though ahead in the average activity score.

Installations at USAG Bavaria -- to include Grafenwoehr, Vilseck, Hohenfels and Garmisch -- have witnessed in the past fiscal quarter a combined decrease in alcohol-involved incidents, assaults, domestic violence cases and suicide incidents, according to data released by the garrison's roundtable Installation Prevention Team.

"But that data is too narrowly-scoped to see the whole picture," Varney said. "What we see is a systemic issue, and that's how we intend to tackle it."

"This is a problem-set not unique to Soldiers, but rather one that pervades our society," Varney said. "But how we differ is we're choosing to change the attitude toward health."

And what will success look like? Varney's goal is to reduce and mitigate risk, and increase community well-being indicators now through 2025 by 15 percent.

WHAT'S BEEN DONE SO FAR

Varney regularly conducts roundtable discussions with health and recreation officials, along with leadership from agencies with influence on the health of the community. Agencies with a seat at the table include the Bavaria medical command, counselors, teachers and administrators, AAFES and commissary leadership, Red Cross and others with a stake in improving public health.

Part of the discussion at the roundtable is coming up with realistic ways to encourage healthy lifestyles. Garrison and AAFES leadership, for example, paved the way last year for drawing in healthier eating options at the food courts. Bun-D, a health food restaurant, is now offered at Tower Barracks in Grafenwoehr and Artillery Kaserne in Garmisch.

In response to the present health challenge, Varney launched the Bavaria Health Initiative, or BHI. BHI breathes life into already existing community and unit resources to improve the health, wellness and overall readiness of the community. In short, it mobilizes and strengthens health promotion and education activities in the USAG Bavaria community.

And part of the new attitude Varney is trying to invigorate among the garrison's roughly 42,000 community members -- to include service members, employees, retirees and their families -- is an attitude of "Owning My Own Readiness."

In January 2018, Varney at the roundtable defined his scope and vision, and identified support required from community agencies. What followed was a series of legal and policy reviews. And now the Bavaria Health Command is set for take-off.

The BHI officially launches Fri, March 23 with a 5K run at the Tower Barracks Fitness Center beginning at 3 p.m.

WAY AHEAD

With the March 23 kick-off, conditions are set for a sustainable program that incentivizes good health among all the garrison's community members. Beginning in May, the garrison will unveil BHI initiatives that will both encourage and game-ify healthy habits.

Community members can expect to be rewarded points for achieving wellness milestones.

"The Bavaria Health Initiative inspires bold baby-steps," said Audre Binder, the director a Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation -- the organization with oversight on fitness centers, libraries and outdoor recreation centers.

"This is not a competition," said Binder, who has also been a key player in the construction of BHI. "This is a self-guided program to connect people with their goals and assist them to their next personal health echelons."

The garrison will give tools to tenant units, rotational forces and community organizations to host events meeting criteria for rewarding milestone points.

Additionally, a recurring 8-week competition will be introduced designed to capitalize on increased involvement in healthy habits. Winners will be announced and rewarded.

For more information, stay connected here and look for the BHI logo wherever you go. You could win prizes. But more importantly, you'll be owning your own readiness.