Welcome to wellness: Fort Drum AFWC staff hosts open house

By Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public AffairsAugust 15, 2023

Welcome to wellness: Fort Drum AFWC staff hosts open house
The Fort Drum Armed Forces Wellness Center staff welcomed community members to the facility Aug. 15 during the open house, celebrating their 10-year anniversary on post. From left are Liz Dial, Chris Ramie, Rylee Campeau, Amy Ingersoll, and Ian Murphy (Not pictured is Tomas Holt, health educator). (Photo by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs) (Photo Credit: Michael Strasser) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Aug. 15, 2023) -- The Armed Forces Wellness Center (AFWC) staff at Fort Drum celebrated 10 years of health and wellness services Aug. 15 with an open house for the community.

Chris Ramie, supervisory health educator, said that in addition to formally recognizing the anniversary, the open house was a chance to connect with people who might be unfamiliar with the AFWC – especially since the recent name change.

Formerly known as the Army Wellness Center, the switch to AFWC occurred when the centers realigned under the Defense Health Agency in October. For installations like Fort Drum – which is home to active-duty service members from other branches – the name change better reflects the broader demographic that the facility supports.

“The rebranding was a big reason but, also, it’s been 10 years since we had the public in here for an open house,” Ramie said. “This is a great opportunity for people to take a look at what we do and talk with our educators.”

Since 2013, the Fort Drum AFWC has supported the community with evidence-based health education and coaching, using advanced fitness testing technology at its facility on 5th Armored Division Drive.

The AFWC supports Soldiers, family members, civilian employees, and retirees, and Ramie said roughly 80 percent of their clientele is active-duty service members. He said the challenge has always been improving on that 20 percent.

“So, really, we are trying to generate more interest from spouses and family members,” he said. “I tell them, think of us like your own H2F program.”

The H2F (Holistic Health and Fitness) program provides Soldiers with human performance optimization training from an expert staff to improve their health and fitness for combat.

“I describe us as a one-stop shop for wellness,” Ramie said. “When you look at a person’s wellness overall, you hit on topics like physical fitness, nutrition, sleep, and stress. And these are the things that we can work with individuals on.”

The core AFWC programs include physical fitness, healthy nutrition, and general wellness education.

“For me, one of the most important ones we do is stress management,” Ramie said. “When you think of Soldiers and spouses, their lives can be super stressful. So, we have a stress management class and offer individual stress management training with a follow-on appointment. It’s about teaching them how to deal with stress more effectively and providing them with opportunities to practice those stress relief techniques.”

Ramie has been with the AFWC since the beginning. He recalled the inaugural open house in August 2013 when the facility was still not fully operational, and he was still doing administrative work in another building.

“Of course, with a big open house we wanted all our equipment in place and for everything to look great,” he said. “But I remember we were scrambling right up to the opening, just trying to procure equipment and have everything ready.”

They did receive a BodPod just in time for the grand opening. The state-of-the-art body composition measurement device is still the AFWC’s calling card.

“That’s been kind of the showpiece for all the centers,” Ramie said. “It was really important for the commander to have it here for the opening because it is such a unique piece of equipment and people want to know about it.”

It still gets people’s attention, and having access to BodPod analytics can lead clients to the full spectrum of AFWC services.

“I’ll go out to brief people and say, ‘Hi, I’m Chris from the Armed Forces Wellness Center,’” Ramie said. “And, undoubtedly, if I don’t mention it right away, some will say, ‘Are you the guys with the BodPod?’

Amy Ingersoll, health educator, also has been on the Fort Drum AFWC team from its start.

“It has been nice to see the growth that we’ve had in the last 10 years and the continual changes we have made to better the opportunities we have for our clients,” she said.

Ingersoll has instructed every class that the AFWC offers, but her favorite is Healthy Sleep Habits.

“Sleep is definitely one of those things that people will come in, on their own, to get help with,” she said. “No one is telling them to take the class, so it’s very much like they know they could use help and they normally are pretty engaged in the class. I really enjoy the questions that I get out of people.”

Liz Dial said her favorite class to teach is stress management.

“I think it’s one of the most underrated aspects of health,” she said. “A lot of people understand exercise and nutrition, but they are not particularly great at managing their stress levels. And I think that mental health aspect is something really important in ensuring you can have a holistic experience.”

Dial said people will often follow up for a consultation after completing the class.

“We offer individual stress management training, and we work with our clients one-on-one to determine which stress management techniques physiologically work best for them,” she said. “We have the pulse monitor that measures their response to the techniques, using m-wave software.”

A bulletin board in the reception area is covered in success stories, highlighting clients who were more than happy to share their progress.

“I really enjoy getting to see people celebrate their own success and take pride in the fact that they did the work to make it happen,” Ingersoll said.

Sometimes the hardest part in achieving a success story is taking that first step and asking for help.

“We are not here to judge or to apply any pressure – we are here to be a resource for the community,” Dial said. “We are here to help guide you along in that wellness process, and if it is a little intimidating, then we are here to be your cheerleader. That’s part of the reason I love our health coaching services.”

Ian Murphy had about 18 months experience as a health educator at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, before relocating to Fort Drum.

“I wanted to be a health educator and work directly with people on their goals because that’s where my passion is,” he said. “We can help people learn that it’s not a super steep mountain that you have to climb to reach your goal. It’s not impossible. It just takes a few healthy habits to get the ball rolling. Then those habits you create can last you a lifetime.”

Since he started in June, Murphy has seen positive changes in his clients – whether it’s losing weight due to combat high blood pressure or gaining muscle mass to improve overall fitness.

“Soldiers have to be ready for any situation, and you want to make sure they are as prepared as they can be,” he said. “It’s not only for the Soldier but for their unit. It would be a disservice to send them out without the tools they need to succeed.”

The newest member of the team is Rylee Campeau, health technician. After earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology and another in sport and exercise health care, she was looking for work in that field before pursuing graduate school.

“I am really interested in exercise science, nutrition, as well as fitness assessments like V02 max, so I think what they are doing here is just wonderful,” she said. “I think it’s a wonderful service that so many people can benefit from, so I am really happy to be here.”

Campeau said she is learning a lot being among subject-matter experts who love their profession and genuinely care about helping people.

“Everyone is so nice here, and it has been really rewarding to be working with people who all work in the same field but with different degrees and backgrounds,” she said.

The first visitor at the open house was Richard Thompson, who Ramie described as their “most loyal client.”

“Just this past spring, he scheduled his 50th BodPod assessment with us,” he said. “So, we presented him with a certificate to recognize that.”

Thompson, a military retiree who still sports a high-and-tight haircut, said he still has that first BodPod report and he continues to keep tracks of all his analytics.

“Yeah, I like to know where I am and make any adjustments,” he said.

Thompson said that he first learned about the center from a trainer at Atkins Functional Fitness Facility.

“I thought, OK, I’ll give it a try,” he said. “I started with the BodPod and, from there, I graduated to the other programs they offered. I’ve taken classes, I liked it, and I kept coming back.”

It’s not just the programs that motivates Thompson to return, but also the people.

“From the very first time I came in here, I had good results from them,” he said. “Everybody I’ve met here are helpful and answer all my questions. It’s a good team here.”

To learn more about the Fort Drum AFWC, call (315) 772-4608 or visit www.facebook.com/FortDrumAFWC.