By Col. William LaChance, commander, 32nd Medical BrigadeMarch 4, 2011
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- Since its inception the Army has prided itself on transforming everyday civilians into Army Strong Soldiers. Now it seeks to transform its Soldiers into something more: Soldier Athletes.
Faced with the intense physical demands of ongoing deployments and the declining levels of fitness of new recruits, the Army has launched a series of initiatives to train Soldiers how to not only exercise like an athlete, but eat like one as well.
These initiatives have already changed how Soldiers at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, train. Soon they will change how they eat.
The concept of "Soldier Athlete" started with the development of a new scientifically based physical training regimen known as physical readiness training, or PRT.
The PRT provides exercise; drills and activities aligned to successful performance of warrior tasks and battle drills and designed to develop Soldiers' strength, endurance and mobility while preventing injuries.
The new PRT gives initial entry training commanders the ability to not only safely develop fitness in young Soldiers, but also enhance the performance of those already in the formation.
To further the success of the PRT, the Army has placed strength coaches and physical fitness professionals at each of its basic training locations to assist the cadre in the training efforts. So far, results are showing that the new program is contributing to an increase in physical fitness test scores and a significant reduction in injuries.
Transforming physical fitness teaches Soldiers to train like an athlete; Soldier Fueling teaches them how to eat like one.
The Army needed to address the entire problem. Exercise only goes so far. The Army needed to address poor dietary habits that hindered the proper development of bones and muscles and decrease performance levels.
Soldier Fueling makes significant changes to preparation techniques and choices at post dining facilities.
The traditional nutritional information cards will still be displayed, but will now be accompanied by a color code which corresponds to the food's nutritional value.
The green category consists of high performance high nutrient foods and should be chosen frequently.
Amber category foods should be chosen less frequently because of higher calorie content and are lower in vitamins and minerals.
Red category foods are highest in calories, lowest in vitamins and minerals and Soldiers should limit intake.
Under the mantra of "Go for Green," Soldiers are encouraged to pick healthier choices.
Understanding dietary labels and making good choices as they pass through a serving line can be very difficult. Under Soldier Fueling, the dietitians have done all the work. All the Soldier has to do is understand the basic definitions of the color code and "Go for Green."
Realizing that such dramatic shifts in the menu could result in a pseudo-withdrawal to Soldiers not accustomed to healthier eating habits, the Soldier Fueling menu makes a one-day departure every weekend from its stringent standards to serve burgers, fries, desserts and other less healthy options.
On March 1, the Slagel Dining Facility, which serves all Soldiers undergoing combat medic training, fully implemented Soldier Fueling.
All other dining facilities, to include Camp Bullis, will begin converting in mid-March, by first converting all main lines. Their short-order and take-out lines will remain open and continue to serve their traditional menu until a Soldier Fueling short-order menu is developed and implemented.
It is expected that by June, all dining facilities will have fully implemented Soldier Fueling.
While Soldier Fueling is an Army initiative, the change will affect the ever-growing number of Airman and Sailors arriving daily for training at the Medical Education and Training Campus.
From the onset, both Air Force and Navy commanders have showed great enthusiasm for the proposed changes and see it as an opportunity to shift the dietary habits of their own people. Fort Sam Houston is leading the way toward healthier lifestyles as a tri-service initiative, It's time to "Go For Green."