FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Master Fitness Training instructors work tirelessly to coach Soldiers from across the Army in developing new ways to prepare them for combat, while in the process, helping increase readiness and lowering profiles up to 40%, says the fitness school NCOIC.
Wanting to better understand the effectiveness of the fitness program, Master Sgt. Joseph Komes, U.S. Army Physical Fitness School noncommissioned officer in charge, used a roster based on thousands of Soldiers, all previously certified at the school, and sent a questionnaire to understand the school's effectiveness.
Shortly after, the responses started pouring in.
"What I started seeing was that trainers were increasing their unit readiness," he said. "The way I measured unit readiness was only by PT scores and profile rates, because, I'm just one guy in an office trying to figure out if what we're doing is working."
Komes also determined individual units, armed with certified fitness trainers, decreased their profile rates by close to 40%. However, Komes added, "I don't know if those individuals were on a two-week profile and they just ended up falling off during the training program or what."
That said, the responses were useful and answered his question. In addition, it gave fitness instructors at the school a better understanding of how worthwhile their program is, and with the Army Combat Fitness Test in its second phase of implementation, the timing couldn't be better, he said.
Scheduled to be the test of record in October 2020, the ACFT is the Army's largest physical fitness overhaul in nearly four decades. Like physical readiness training, something the instructors are experts in, the ACFT is part of a larger "reset" to build a more combat-ready force.
To meet the demands of the six-event ACFT, instructors from the school have already certified thousands of Soldiers from around the Army to develop physical programs to bring back to their units. In addition, the selected Soldiers are trained on a variety of skills vital to the ACFT, including how to set up the testing field, as well as supervising and grading the test.
According to Komes, in the past, physical training programs "lost touch" with combat readiness. Regarding PT, Soldiers were forced to "run four days out of the week and ruck on the fifth," which led to injuries and an overall decrease in a Soldier's lethality.
He added, "That's just the way PT was always done, and it's our job is to help Soldiers sit down and strategically assess their mission, and prevent injuries from happening. [They should think] Okay, I have a training event nine weeks from now -- where we're going to enter a building and clear room -- how do we physically, and safely prepare for this?"
That's where the master fitness trainer comes in, he said.
"These days, we have better knowledge to increase overall unit performance during a deployment," he said. "[Master Fitness Training instructors] are doing their best to implement that [knowledge] and shape the future for the Army."
When fitness instructors certify trainers, they're thinking of each individual Soldier and the unique needs required to be successful -- even at that basic level, he said.
"We're looking at them as individuals and not just as just a big mass," Komes said. "I think with the ACFT around the corner, it seems like that's the mindset that's important, because every person has their own requirements."
Komes added, it's vital for trainers to know their Soldiers and know what they need to be successful on the ACFT.
"Our trainers understand that we have to physically prepare individuals to complete the Army's mission," he added. "It's very humbling for us to give Soldiers, from all three components of the Army, the tools to succeed because the folks who leave here go back to those individual Soldiers."
"Everyone is different," he said. "Some Soldiers could be attached to National Guard units, and implementing a PT program once a month is challenging, or they could be military police and work odd shifts."
Being able to "crack the code and see the challenges from different perspectives" is a daily task the trainers and instructors grapple with, he said, adding, that "having a fitness trainer all the way down to the platoon level" would be ideal. However, the trainers who leave the fitness school only reach the company level, for active duty.
"We already know each individual is different, but each individual platoon is different, too," he said. "Each platoon is training for a different goal."
That's also where certified master fitness trainers come in, he added. "Certified trainers are able to go to their units with a wealth of knowledge, and look at essential task list and identify the most daunting task and develop a physical fitness program based on those tasks to increase the overall performance."
When Komes first arrived at the fitness school in 2012, the ACFT wasn't a thought on anyone's mind. Today, it seems to be everyone's first thought, he said.
This change leaves the instructors with a large responsibility on their backs -- to ensure the force is ready. But, it's a responsibility they carry with pride, he said.
"When we conduct MFT training, we ensure each certified trainer has a plan for their unit," he said, adding thousands of certified trainers are among the force already.
"They're out there, they're already in units, and hopefully commanders understand what they bring to the fight," Komes said.
For Soldiers uneasy with the ACFT, Komes recommends they reach out to their local master fitness trainer, or identify who it is through their chain of command.
The Master Fitness Training Course is broken into two phases -- a self-paced, 60-hour online phase and a two-week, 76-hour in-residence phase. The curriculum covers everything from exercise science, PT program design, leadership, physical fitness assessment and unit physical readiness programs, aligned with current Army doctrine and regulations.
After graduating from the course, Soldiers are equipped to advise units on physical readiness issues and monitor unit and individual physical readiness programs.
(For more information on becoming a Master Fitness Trainer, contact your chain of command.)