By Sgt. Ben Hutto, 3-3 Public AffairsFebruary 24, 2010
Command Sgt. Maj. Spencer Gray saw a problem in his battalion, the 203rd Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.
"I watched the same Soldiers going on the over-weight program over and over again," he said. "I decided something needed to be done and we made it a battalion-wide effort."
From that moment, the 203rd BSB's "Fit Nation" program was born a few months ago.
Pfc. Jordan Hubbard, 203rd BSB, remembers the first day like it was yesterday, he said.
"We started off with the usual stretches to warm up and then the fun really started," Hubbard said."We ran up and down hills for about 30 minutes non-stop. Then we ran sprints against one another for about 10 minutes. [Physical training] still wasn't over, however. We then did interval training with no one falling back," he said.
"It sounds like a good workout, but the pain endured long after it was over," he said. "My legs were sore for the entire day; not to mention how they felt the next day."
Spc. Chris Sanchez, 203rd BSB, said he knew the experience was going to be demanding from the start, and much more difficult than regular physical training.
"When we came to Fit Nation, there were going to be no easy days," he said "That's where Fit Nation separates itself from company-level PT. Company level PT is a system. You form up and stretch for about 10 minutes. Then you probably run for about 20 minutes and cool down for about 15 minutes and that's it."
Gray's Fit Nation program mixes things up a lot more than regular PT, Sanche Z said.
""In Fit Nation, you stretch before Command Sgt. Maj. Gray comes out so when he comes you're ready to go," Sanchez said. "That's when he pushes you to give everything you have; to help you perform at your highest level."
"CSM Gray doesn't just run; he likes variety. We do ruck marches, interval training, circuit training, power walking, and even Taebo," Sanchez said.
The variety goes beyond simply mixing up workouts.
"[He] has no set PT Schedule for Fit Nation because he doesn't want us to know what we're doing the next day," Sanchez said. "Kind of like a surprise, this is a good thing. Not knowing what you're doing the next day makes it more fun for the Soldiers."
Gray understood that many of the Soldiers struggling with their weight weren't happy about it.
He knew many were concerned. He decided he needed to find a way to contribute to their self-esteem before he could help them re-sculpt their bodies.
"I went ahead and took out the words 'over-weight program,'" Gray said. "I wanted to give our Soldiers ownership of something they could be proud of and was geared towards them. I wanted them to be proud of the program, not ashamed of it."
Still, Gray made no bones about the seriousness of the situation some Soldiers faced.
"We sat down at a meeting with CSM Gray once I was put on the Fit Nation Program and he simply told us that within the next 12 months of the deployment if we didn't make any improvements to remove ourselves off the overweight program; we would be separated from the Army," said Spc. Andrea Sneed, 203rd BSB.
"I am a single parent so from that point on I knew I had to make a major change and fast," she said.
Gray gave the Soldiers the opportunity to make that change, but it was by no means easy.
"My first experience on Fit Nation was awful," Sneed said. "We had a 3-mile ruck march. All I could think about after that was what excuse I could come up with every other day so I would not have to do PT. I wasn't good at running at all. I would be one of the few people that would always come in towards the end of a run."
Yet, the effort paid off, and Sneed has seen a dramatic change in the four months since she started.
"I have a better attitude, I am in better shape, and now I enjoy going to PT every day," she said. "It was rough but I reached my goal. I now weigh 144lbs. Instead of being that person way in the back, I am now that person running right next to CSM Gray in the front."
Gray believes that what his Soldiers eat is just as important as the exercises they do.
"We sat down with everyone in the program and gave them a nutrition class," he said. "What you eat is just as important as exercise. You can't put junk into a fine-tuned machine and expect it to run efficiently."
Maintaining the diets of the Soldiers is as much a part of the program as the workouts.
"Command Sgt. Maj. Gray will pull us together after PT and ask us what we ate the day before," said Spc. Melanie Dickerson, 203rd BSB. "If you cheated yourself, this will make you feel bad and help you eat better the next day. Sgt. Maj. Gray tells us what we should eat and what we should stay away from."
"He will check your plate to see what is on it daily," she said. "If he doesn't like what he sees, he will make you go get another plate with healthier foods on it."
Since coming to Iraq, the Soldiers on the Fit Nation program have lost a total of more than 260 pounds and a combined 63 percent body fat. A total of 26 Soldiers have come off the program in only three months. Eight Soldiers that were unable to reenlist because of their weight, were able to have their flags removed and proudly raised their right hands to re-enlist this deployment.
"This is not Sgt. Major Gray's program," said Gray. "This is our program. It is amazing the ownership these Soldiers have taken of this program. To see Soldiers who have never met their weight standard show up and not even have to be taped because they are under their target weight is amazing to see. It is all due to their hard work. They should be proud."
And they are.
"Fit Nation has helped me lose 18 pounds and 6 percent body fat in five or six weeks," said Spc. Daniel D. Sparrow, 203rd BSB "It's a program that has inspired me to find the willpower to eat right and increase my metabolism back to where it was when I was a few years younger. Under Command Sgt. Maj. Gray's guidance and using his 'words of wisdom', I have found the motivation to get back into fighting shape again."
The success the Soldiers have had has inspired confidence, pride and even excitement in who and what they are that they had lost.
"I had begun to develop the trim military appearance and I was proud of it. The weight loss allowed me to become excited about being a Soldier in the United States Army because I was actually looking like a Soldier again," said Spc. China Edwards, 203rd BSB."