By Mr. James Brabenec (IMCOM)January 13, 2011
FORT SILL, Okla. - Building on Napoleon's idea that an army marches on its stomach, U.S. Training and Doctrine Command dining facilities will begin the Fueling the Soldier program Feb. 1 to combat the effects of a fast food culture and decreased fitness levels among new recruits.
Fueling the Soldier is a part of the greater Soldier Athlete Initiative, which seeks to train basic combat and advanced individual training Soldiers much the way professional and college athletes are trained. Similar to world-class athletes, the Army's goal is to develop Soldiers better prepared to face the demands of Army life and combat operations.
Col. Gregory Dewitt, 434th Field Artillery Brigade commander, said the initiative is a great opportunity to enhance a Soldier's performance.
"[The Soldier Athlete Initiative] is another component to train and develop the best Soldiers we can for the physical demands of our Army," he said. "During their basic combat training transformation, the 434th Field Artillery Brigade and Fort Sill will positively influence the health and physical performance of more than 17,000 volunteers who want to serve as U.S. Army Soldiers annually."
Army officials have noticed this trend of decreased fitness levels among recruits over the past decade. Lack of basic fitness, combined with poor nutrition, contributed to increased injury rates in BCT. They also suggest many of the stress fractures that occur in training result from low bone density and lack of exercise prior to entering the service.
The initiative consists of three distinct parts that seek to address this issue in a holistic manner. First, Soldiers learn good nutrition habits vital to improve health and performance; second, physical readiness changes the way Soldiers perform their physical training; and third, Soldiers learn injury prevention and receive immediate treatment when injuries occur.
Fueling the Soldier begins with a standardized 28-day menu with food categorized green, yellow and red, based on nutritional content. These color codes delineate between good, average and not quite as nutritious foods to eat, and they help Soldiers make quick decisions at meal times. Fried foods and carbonated beverages are no longer on the menu.
Jonathan Williams, installation food service adviser, is overseeing this change at Fort Sill. 250 contract workers are being trained on aspects of meal preparation to meet the Feb. 1 deadline. Foods like baked chicken, fish and vegetable pizza with 1-percent milk, soy milk or fruit juices represent higher nutritional standards for Soldiers.
But the shift to better nutrition doesn't necessarily mean higher prices for more nutritious foods. Williams said eliminating precooked items, pastries and other sweets should balance out the budget for the four dining facilities on post.
To help Soldiers come to the dining hall with the right frame of mind, drill sergeants will train Soldiers by acquainting them with basic nutrition and teaching them how to select foods that will help them reach their potential during training.
Capt. Lisa Reid, Reynolds Army Community Hospital chief of nutrition, works with the drill sergeants by serving as a liaison between brigades and the hospital. She said the program should improve the performance of most Soldiers, but there are secondary long-term benefits the Army may realize.
"We hope Soldiers will take this knowledge with them and change their eating habits beyond this initial [entry] training," she said.
Complimentary to Fueling the Soldier, muscular-skeletal action teams, or MATS, will provide the care and expertise to run the physical training portion of the program. Each brigade will have one MAT team that consists of a physical therapist, athletic trainers and strength and conditioning coaches.
"Overall, this initiative is ground breaking in how we train, fuel and provide care for Soldiers," said Maj. Zack Solomon, 434th FA medical officer. "This is a performance-enhancing mission [which will also] prevent injury."
Solomon also serves as the brigade's MAT leader and physical therapist. The purpose of having brigade physical therapists is to shift medical care from a reactive to a proactive approach. Before, physical therapists would wait for injured Soldiers to come to the hospital for treatment. Solomon said Soldiers would often wait before going to the doctor, either believing the injury may heal on its own, or perhaps concerned with getting recycled and staying in BCT longer. Delaying or forgoing treatment often led to more pronounced injuries which were tougher to treat.
"Now, with physical therapists, strength and conditioning coaches and athletic trainers in place at the brigades, Soldiers get more injury prevention training and learn smarter training to help prevent injuries," he added.
Athletic trainers will monitor high-risk training events on-site. Should injuries occur, they will assess and treat what they can on the spot, or refer Soldiers to the physical therapist or other medical professionals.
To prevent potential injuries, strength and conditioning coaches provide an expertise in teaching, leading and developing fitness programs. Their main task will be teaching drill sergeants the physical readiness training that focuses on combat specific movements to better prepare Soldiers for combat operations. They will also help units schedule physically intensive training events to provide recovery time between the events.
Although running will remain part of the new training program, it will not consist of long, endurance runs. Solomon said Soldiers will be initially graded by their fitness level as A, B, C or D runners. The first three groups are all designed to meet the fitness test requirements for men; the final group to meet those same requirements for women. As Soldiers' fitness improves they will progress up to higher, faster groups. He said the Army isn't seeking to develop elite athletes but to get Soldiers to AIT with bodies more resistant to injury and the fitness to tolerate stress at the next level.
With the overarching goal to prepare Soldiers for combat, the physical training will focus more on developing agility, speed and flexibility. Ultimately, Army leaders expect the entire Soldier Athlete Initiative will lead to safer, more resilient Soldiers.