FORT SILL, Okla., Feb. 28, 2019 -- A new year always brings many changes but in 2019 one priority for the Army remains -- readiness is still at the top of the list for Army leaders.

To help meet this priority, the physical therapy clinic staff at Reynolds Army Health Clinic (RAHC) has been working over the past year and a half to save more than 20,000 hours of training time and nearly $1.5 million in value hours for the two advanced individual training brigades here.

In September 2017, Maj. Alexandra Hickman, chief of rehabilitation services here, began a pilot program to treat musculoskeletal (MSK) injuries that were contributing to thousands of hours in lost training time in the AIT brigades.

"Before the Forward Musculoskeletal Program began, trainees with MSK injuries would have to go to their unit sick call, be transported with a battle buddy and cadre to RAHC, be referred to the physical therapy clinic, receive treatment, and then be transported back to their unit," said Hickman of a process that, on average, was taking more than four hours out of the training day for each Soldier seen.

"We are always looking for ways to improve our processes," said Col. Enrique Ortiz, RAHC commander. "When Maj. Hickman came to me with an idea to improve Soldier readiness, decrease lost training time, and decrease recovery time for the trainees on Fort Sill, she had my full support."

The 30th Air Defense Artillery Brigade was the first AIT brigade to benefit from Hickman's program.

"We began by setting up a small clinic area within the brigade footprint two days a week, which allowed me to triage and treat Soldiers with MSK injuries during morning PT," Hickman said.

Four months later in January 2018 the program was expanded to include 1st Battalion, 78th Field Artillery, the AIT battalion for the 428th Field Artillery Brigade.

"As we have brought in more physical therapists, we have been able to increase the number of mornings we spend at each unit location," continued Hickman, "With the New Year, we have supported both brigades five days a week."

Analysis done by Hickman and the resource management team at RAHC arrived at the savings mentioned above.

"We determined that it cost $70 per hour for every hour a Soldier was in the clinic, and we believe that figure was a low estimate," said Hickman. "The amount of time we give back to the units, not just for Soldiers but the cadre as well, cannot be overstated."

Lt. Col. David McRae, 1-78th FA commander, echoed Hickman's statement. "Our students can only miss a few hours of classroom time before they have to be recycled," he said. "This program allows them to get healthy during physical training, and get a focused treatment plan so they don't have to miss several hours of training."

McRae also stated that medical issues are the largest reason for Soldiers missing classroom time.

"Soldiers who are struggling physically tend to struggle academically. There is definitely a correlation when Soldiers are putting all their effort into getting healthy and not on the difficult course work," he said.

Capt. Joseph Kienholz, A Battery, 1-78th FA commander, stated the importance of Soldiers not missing classroom time.

"It is convenient to have Maj. Hickman and her team right here in a central location where we have the facilities to support their physical therapy program," said Kienholz. "The Soldiers don't miss class because they do this first thing in the morning while the other Soldiers are at physical training."

A/1-78th FA 1st Sgt. Wesley Weaver highlighted the saved training time the program has allowed. "If Soldiers miss class, they have make it up in study hall in the evening, it is more taxing on them when they have to work late to make up lessons that they missed. If they miss more than four hours of classroom instruction they are at risk of being recycled if they cannot meet academic standards."

A Battery has 340 Soldiers and with four batteries in 1-78th FA, the Forward MSK program supports over 1,300 Soldier in one battalion alone.

"This program is something we would like to see become a best practice across the Army for AIT battalions," said McRae.

Hickman added efforts are in the works to expand the program to all units at Fort Sill, not just the training brigades.

"If we can duplicate the success we have seen here across the installation, and the Army, the impact to readiness would be immeasurable," he said.