FORT BENNING, Ga. (Feb. 20, 2013) -- For Soldiers at Fort Benning and throughout the Army, health and overall fitness has long been a priority.

Within the civilian workforce, however, the emphasis placed on one's physical fitness is often not as high.

However, a new program may soon change the emphasis placed on civilian health.

The IMCOM Civilian Wellness Initiative was launched in October, and will run through April.

"Our health has got to be the priority for our workforce," said Col. Jeffrey Fletcher, garrison commander. "I think that if a civilian feels healthy and is taking the appropriate steps to take care of themselves in terms of diet and exercise and it becomes part of their daily routine, then they feel good about themselves. If they feel good about themselves, that translates very nicely into the work environment."

The 177 participants, who represent 17 percent of the full-time civilian workforce, in the program are allowed to take three hours of administrative leave each week to participate in wellness activities.

The participants used part of that leave Feb. 13 for the initiative's "For the Health of IT!" event at Smith Fitness Center, where Fletcher congratulated them on their fitness progress before they participated in fitness activities.

While the administrative leave is a major tenant of the program, this leave allowance was already allowed as part of Army Regulation 600-63.

This regulation, however, only allows for civilian employees to engage in command-sponsored physical fitness activities using the three hours of leave for one six-month period during a civilian career.

As part of the Civilian Wellness Initiative, civilian employees are allowed to use the leave for not just physical fitness activities, but also activities intended to improve their social, spiritual and emotional health.

"Most of the participants are doing physical fitness activities," said Brian Smith, chief of workforce development for the Fort Benning garrison. "They're walking or coming to the gym. They're doing a lot of different physical activities, but one of the unique things about this particular program is it doesn't restrict you to only physical activities. This program believes your social, spiritual and emotional healths are very important. It really looks at the civilian employee from a holistic standpoint."

And while AR 600-63 only allows for a single six-month period of participation, the ultimate goal of the Civilian Wellness Initiative is to provide evidence in favor of altering the regulation to be in line with the initiative's parameters.
Part of the reason for the program's creation is the apparent need for it.

According to preliminary health screenings of the 177 IMCOM full-time civilian employees participating in the program, 91 percent of the participants had a body mass index of 25 or higher, which is considered overweight or obese.

Of those, 54 percent of the participants are considered to be obese, with 20 percent considered to be very severely obese.

In addition, 22 percent of the participants had systolic blood pressure above 140, which is considered a sign of stage-one hypertension and 22 percent of the participants also had a diastolic blood pressure above 80, which is considered pre-hypertensive.

The heart rate findings for the participants were also discouraging, as 34 percent had a resting heart rate above the normal adult resting heart rate range.

However, several participants said they have experienced positive results from their participation in the initiative.

"I was pleasantly surprised when I went and got re-evaluated a couple of weeks ago," Tyrone Benton, the facility manager for DFMWR's bingo program, said. "I've lost over 15 pounds, and my blood pressure dropped from 132 over 82 to 116 over 61, so it's working great for me."

Lois Whitmire, an administrative officer for the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, said she and her co-workers' participation in the program has had a positive impact on their work performance.

"My boss has noticed that we have more energy, we're standing taller and we're walking better," she said. "We're more alert, so he can see a big difference. He's pro-wellness program."

Going forward, Fletcher said he would be looking for opportunities to show his support for the potential regulation change.

"Our leadership is looking for input and support from garrison commanders throughout the Army, and that's one of the big things I'll try to personally do," Fletcher said. "I'll try to be an advocate and spokesperson on behalf of our workforce to let leadership know that we're moving in the right direction, and this is a program that is well worth the investment because of the return that we're getting."

Smith said that long-term participation in the program could be beneficial not only for participants, but for their superiors as well.

"Managers, leaders and commanders are concerned about mission," Smith said. "It's their job. They want to see the mission completed and executed in the most efficient manner. If this program shows a greater enthusiasm and greater health at work and that contributes to that mission in a positive manner, then we have a winner."