The Army Commitment to Improving Overall Nutrition (ACTION) is a Sgt. Maj. of the Army initiative to improve Soldiers’ nutrition, readiness, and lethality for the Army. The Army established ACTION in 2019 as an enterprise-wide campaign to support the Holistic Health and Fitness system. ACTION aims to achieve and sustain improved nutritional fitness of Soldiers. ACTION supports individual physical and mental performance and wellness, impacting unit lethality, combat effectiveness, and readiness. The ACTION campaign focuses on four areas of food service that require consistent review and improvement to support increased customer utilization, customer satisfaction, improved nutritional fitness of Soldiers, culinary training, facilities, menu development, and modernization.
ACTION is the sustainable path to having a healthier Army focused on holistic health and fitness through nutrition. By implementing Army Go for Green® (G4G) menus, warrior restaurant modernization, nutrition education, and Army Wellness Centers (AWCs), the Army will have a healthier and more lethal force ready to win America’s wars, exponentially increasing Soldier retention and recruitment rates.
Army Go for Green Menus
The United States Army Food Program Implementation Guide was created by the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence (JCCoE) to guide the operating procedures of the Army Food Program. The Sgt. Maj. of the Army initiated this Army program to establish a feeding (fueling) standard for warrior restaurants. It infuses the DOD, Department of the Army, and Special Operations forces nutrition standards, nutritional education, menu development, product selection, preparation, and serving standards. The Army G4G menus support the requirements of the JCCoE to improve holistic health, fitness, and the Army’s second priority, readiness. This focus supports increasing the Soldiers’ performance through nutrition awareness. Several tenets shape the framework of the Army’s G4G menus. The modified application of nutritional standards promotes healthier eating. The prescribed modifications standardize menus, recipes, preparation methods, and portion sizes for all warrior restaurants. Nutritional education emphasizes the links between diet, performance, and long-term health. The precise identification of healthier and less healthy options to aid in determining appropriate choices increases Soldiers’ readiness. Marketing of the program maintains awareness of nutrition, proper food and beverage choices, and both short-term and long-term performance health.
Vegan and pescatarian options also support additional nutrition requirements served in warrior restaurants as part of the Army G4G menus. Vegan diners do not eat animal products as they typically have plant-based diets, and pescatarian diners incorporate seafood as the only source of meat in their diets. This effort to include dedicated menus that include vegan and pescatarian meals supports efforts for Soldiers to have the same menu options as local quick-service restaurants. This initiative supports design requirements to make installations’ warrior restaurants the number one choice for Soldiers to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Warrior Restaurant Modernization
The warrior restaurants’ dated decoration packages and equipment have not been updated to keep pace with industry-leading restaurants. Over the past five years, the lack of modernized warrior restaurants has significantly caused utilization rates to drop. Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston proposed that all warrior restaurants remove deep-fat fryers and replace them with air fryers. Air fryers serve as a healthier alternative for deep-fried foods; air fryers prepare quality fried foods without using oil. Menu fatigue also remains a driving force for Army warrior restaurants to modernize. To keep Soldiers utilizing the warrior restaurants, the facilities must offer some of the same amenities as its industry competition.
Modernizing warrior restaurants and providing the best feeding options makes the warrior restaurant the number one choice for Soldiers to eat with their squads. This allows teams to build camaraderie and trust after rigorous physical readiness training or a long training day. Squads can go to their warrior restaurant and talk to each other about issues they may struggle with over an excellent and nutritious meal. This can lead to getting the warfighter the behavioral health help they may need to increase their readiness and meet the Chief of Staff of the Army’s top priority in taking care of people. The warrior restaurant must remain a welcoming place Soldiers want to come to, as it serves as a vehicle for team building. The best dialogue typically occurs over a shared meal, and the warrior restaurant remains the venue Soldiers feel comfortable in to communicate problems with leaders.
Installing internet capabilities within the warrior restaurants also serves as an initiative outlined in the modernization plan. This simple convenience provides Soldiers a place with free internet access, allowing Soldiers to complete continued education courses while enjoying a nutritious meal. Studies display that internet use between 18- to 24-year-olds remains significantly higher from years past. These analyses suggest that installing Wi-Fi in warrior restaurants will enable them to meet the 65 percent utilization rate. On average, by eating in warrior restaurants instead of local restaurants, Soldiers will save $200 a month.
The warrior restaurant modernization includes cooking action stations that prepare healthy made-to-order menu items such as vegetable stir fry, fruit smoothie bars, and ready-to-eat meal prep options for Soldiers who do not have time to dine in. These modernization efforts made warrior restaurants comparable to some of the most popular restaurants Soldiers frequently patronize. Adding these capabilities gives Soldiers diverse eating options at lower prices than quick service restaurants. Embedding AWC nutritionists inside warrior restaurants to educate Soldiers on healthy meal combinations and schedule appointments for Soldiers is also a part of modernizing warrior restaurants. Adding the capability of AWC staff, which includes certified dieticians, will give Soldiers access to professionals at the point of need within the warrior restaurant.
Army Wellness Center
The services at an AWC support a medically ready force by targeting the risk factors most likely to result in chronic disease, injury, and performance issues. The standardized and streamlined AWC model optimizes service delivery to maximize client health outcomes. Leaders must use the upstream thinking model to prevent injuries before they happen. For example, 71 percent of military injuries occur from overuse of muscle ketal injuries. Incorporating the AWC into the warrior restaurant modernization plan will assist the Army with getting upstream on musculoskeletal (MSK) injuries. Embedding AWCs into warrior restaurants allows Soldiers to receive support during three daily touchpoints (breakfast, lunch, and dinner). This will enable the AWC-certified trainers and dieticians to educate Soldiers at the warrior restaurant and schedule their appointments at their local AWC.
AWCs provide evidence-based services across six standardized cores. The programs support personalized health assessments through the health assessment review, state-of-the-art fitness assessments, healthy nutrition education, stress management, general wellness education, and tobacco-free living estimates, and include metabolic, cardiorespiratory fitness, body composition testing, and personal health coaching. These assessments can help reduce MSK risk by educating Soldiers on healthy weight loss strategies and fitness improvements. Information provided includes personalized caloric targets to promote the achievement of healthy target body weights and exercise prescriptions based on individualized goals.
Having AWCs embedded in the warrior restaurant enables Soldiers to have access to professionals that can assist in building meal plans in real-time as Soldiers enter the warrior restaurant. The AWC educational capability will allow Soldiers to get individualized meal plans and health screenings to optimize performance. The health screenings an AWC provides can help Soldiers improve on fitness assessments, body composition assessments, and overall holistic health and fitness. Health education remains a critical component of the AWCs portfolio, a force enabler to increase Soldier readiness and lethality across the Army.
The Army Credentialing Assistance (CA) program increases the Soldiers’ knowledge, skills, and attributes, making them more competitive for future assignments and promotions and helping Soldiers attain industry-recognized credentials. The CA trains Soldiers on industry-seeking certifications and improves Army readiness through the retention of quality Soldiers, enhances Soldier career progression, and provides Soldiers with skills and capabilities reflective of civilian qualifications. Culinary specialists can become members of the American Culinary Federation of more than 17,500 members — the nation’s foremost organization of chefs providing hands-on skill validation through certification and recognized professional achievement through awards and competitions. The credentialing mission supports providing Soldiers with the knowledge and credentials to excel in their military careers while helping them to maintain their competitive edge in today’s evolving culinary industry.
The Advanced Culinary Skills Training Course involves a very intense hands-on course designed to improve the overall skills of an experienced cook. This remains an excellent resource to learn or review your basic cooking skills. The course focuses on knife skills, menu development, advanced baking techniques, buffet platter production and presentation, course meals (three, five, and seven studies), effective purchasing techniques, advanced dessert preparation, table service, nutrition, and more. The culminating event entails a multicourse meal for select dignitaries and their guests. The class remains responsible for designing, training, and serving the dinner. During this course, we now offer American Culinary Federation certification.
Credentialing provides senior food service leaders with the technical knowledge, management skills, critical thinking, and decision-making to effectively understand and meet the Army’s food service objectives. Facilitation of all subjects uses the blended learner-centric approach that includes hands-on research, group discussion, and individual practical exercises. Areas of emphasis include garrison food service management operations, accounting, Army field feeding system/theater of operations, Army Food Management Information System, ServSafe, and food service contract management. In addition, credentialing creates an academic baseline in business topics such as management, communications, and economics that builds upon the culinary management specialist baseline by developing technical knowledge and application skills in market research, consumer behavior, advertising, and marketing strategy. Courses combine elements of advertising, communication, research, and finance. After completing the marketing course, 92G Food Service Specialists will have the skills needed for various positions and roles such as advertising, data analysis, market research, retail management, sales, and more.
30-Day Fitness and Nutrition Challenge
ACTION also fosters the spirit of winning. Through the ACTION initiative, the 30-day fitness and nutrition challenge was born. The 30-day challenge includes an enterprise partner, the Defense Commissary Agency. The challenge solicits Soldiers from all posts, camps, and stations within and outside the continental United States. Soldiers receive dietician-approved recipes from both the commissary and the warrior restaurant. The Soldiers only eat dietician-approved G4G meals for thirty days. During the 30 days, the Soldiers’ body compositions require measurements to analyze the increase or decrease in body composition. In addition, the Soldiers also conduct physical assessments that include the Army Combat Fitness Test, metabolic testing, and oxygen assessments. At the end of the 30-day assessment, the Soldier with the best baseline scores wins the 30-day fitness and nutrition challenge.
During the 30-day performance challenge, Soldiers are given cooking classes. The classes begin with Soldiers getting a tour of the commissary to learn how to shop for G4G menu items. After the commissary tour, the Soldiers receive a cooking class demonstrating how to prepare green meals. Army culinary specialists and AWC dieticians provide cooking demonstrations. The classes use cooking apparatuses that Soldiers have in their barracks rooms.
This challenge displays high success rates in influencing Soldiers to remain motivated to eat healthily. The support of the chain of command remains vital to the success and participation of Soldiers participating in the 30 days of challenges. It is a fun, sustainable approach to get our Soldiers healthy eating dietitian-approved G4G menu items in the warrior restaurant and the local commissary. The ACTION initiative places Soldiers first to improve their holistic health and fitness, but it also comes with a high cost in a financial constraint era. Some congressional leaders counterclaim that ACTION is not a top DOD priority.
Food service modernization brings a price tag upwards of $55 million. The Army only requires warrior restaurants to maintain a utilization rate of 65 percent to remain open. If the warrior restaurant falls under a 65 percent utilization rate, the warrior restaurant, by regulatory guidance, experiences closure and reconsolidation with another warrior restaurant. This results in no misuse of taxpayer dollars. In addition, warrior restaurants need help competing with the mega food courts on every post, camp, and station. This is attributed to industry restaurants operation hours being longer than warrior restaurants and the revenue restaurants generate from marketing their products. Warrior restaurants need continuity when units participate in training events, which causes warrior restaurants to close during training. The bottom line, warrior restaurants cannot compete for our Soldiers’ business against industry restaurants such as McDonald’s, Popeyes, Panera Bread, or Freshens, to name a few.
Warrior restaurants cannot compete with industry-based quick-service restaurants because the Army is not a business and does not generate revenue. Top-selling quick-service restaurants generate millions of dollars in profits annually. These profits remain used for marketing to the target audience aged 18 to 24. The marketing efforts from quick-service restaurant target ease of access for the customer and better menu options that reach a more diverse customer base than warrior restaurants. Quick-service restaurants provide flexible feeding options such as delivery, making it convenient for Soldiers to access. Lastly, industry-based restaurants meet customer needs 24 hours a day, whereas Army warrior restaurants do not.
ACTION is a Sgt. Maj. of the Army initiative that began in 2019. The initiative focuses on improving the health and fitness of Soldiers. By implementing Army G4G menus, warrior restaurant modernization, nutrition education, and AWCs, the Army will have a more healthy and lethal force ready to win America’s wars. ACTION remains a critically important initiative supporting increasing lethality across the Army. The plan to accomplish ACTION intends to implement Army G4G menus, warrior restaurant modernization, education, and embedding AWCs professionals inside warrior restaurants. Including the AWCs in the modernization plan gives Soldiers direct access to AWC professionals daily. This will lead to having a healthier and more lethal force ready to win America’s wars. In addition, embedded AWCs in the warrior restaurants will focus on Soldiers’ nutrition to stay upstream in preventing MSK injuries.
To build highly fit, cohesive, and disciplined teams, first-line leaders must ensure their Soldiers remain educated on the proper Army G4G menus. For the Army to compete and win the nation’s wars on any battlefield, Soldiers must fuel their bodies with the best foods available. ACTION provides the framework and funding to modernize the Army’s food service program to provide Soldiers with a warrior restaurant comparable to industry quick service restaurants. ACTION creates an environment for teams to eat meals together in state-of-the-art facilities with free Wi-Fi access, making the warrior restaurants the number one choice for Soldiers to eat.
Sgt. Maj. Kelvin E. Windham has recently been a student at the Noncommissioned Officer Leadership Center of Excellence Sergeants Major Academy Class 73. He previously served as a senior logistics NCO for the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army, Headquarters Department of the Army, G-4, Pentagon, and as the first sergeant for the 2nd Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade, 581st Quartermaster Company, Camp Humphreys, South Korea. He is an alum of the Institute for Defense and Business, Industry Based Broadening Logistics course, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has a Bachelor of Arts in leadership and workforce development from the Command and General Staff College.
This article was published in the Summer 2023 issue of Army Sustainment.