VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia –
The Virginia Army National Guard hosted a five-day Total Health and Performance course Dec. 6-10, 2021, in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The course, which is Virginia’s application of the U.S. Army’s Holistic Health and Fitness program, focused on the five domains of fitness: physical, nutritional, mental, spiritual and sleep.
“The goal of the course is not only self-awareness of the five domains and how they work together but also how to take it back to the unit and best impact it there,” said Capt. Brian Harder, an H2F project manager for Virginia. “H2F is still a newer principle, especially for the Guard. So we’re trying to see how to best take this and affect the most citizen Soldiers we can.”
Ten Virginia Army National Guard Soldiers from various units around the state participated in the course, including noncommisioned officers, warrant officers and officers. The participants included both full time and traditional National Guard Soldiers.
The weeklong course, which took place at both the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach and Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, included classroom work, fitness assessments and evaluations and visits from a number of subject matter experts. The facilitators and presenters of the course included subject matter experts in the fields of sleep, neuroscience, behavioral health, nutrition education, physical therapy, kinesiology, strength coaching, personal training and master fitness training.
By conducting the course in Virginia Beach program leaders were able to tap into active duty and other resources in the area. Participating organizations included the Consortium for Health and Military Performance, Army Wellness Center, Longwood University and the Virginia Army National Guard.
H2F is the Army’s primary investment in Soldier readiness and lethality, optimal physical and non-physical performance, reduced injury rates, improved rehabilitation after injury, and increased overall effectiveness of the Total Army. The system empowers and equips Soldiers to take charge of their health, fitness, and well-being in order to optimize individual performance, while preventing injury and disease.
H2F is a shift in Army fitness from reactive to proactive, explained Harder.
“How can we better see where Soldiers are at here in the moment and address it before it becomes an issue,” he said. “Physically, we don’t want to wait until the ACFT to realize they’re going to be a failure. Or a height/weight failure. We want to know what’s going on that led up to that point as well.”
The ACFT is a performance test. It’s not meant to be a baseline test, according to Harder.
“We’re asking for optimal performance but we’re not making sure they have the fundamental awareness of what their body can do or the functionality of the body they’re able to handle the test we’re asking them to do without the chance of injury down the road.”
But physical fitness and the ACFT is just a portion of the course. The main objective is to make people aware that fitness is beyond the physical domain.
“That’s the big shift,” explained Master Sgt. Ramon F. Abreu-Perez, an H2F project manager for Virginia and the state Master Fitness Coordinator. “We were assessing Soldiers’ fitness based on APFT and height and weight. But that’s an incomplete picture. We were missing a lot of aspects. To fully assess the Soldiers you have to look at all the domains.”
Leaders need to know if there is something going on at home that affects their Soldiers’ performance. If so, they can be proactive about it. In addition to recognizing some of those warning signs, they can set up a network at the unit to have resources available for the Soldiers that need it, when they need it.
However, assessing how a Soldier is doing mentally and spiritually, as well as evaluating their sleep habits, is difficult compared to evaluating physical fitness.
“They don’t have numbers,” Abreu-Perez explained. “Because the APFT has a number and height and weight has a number, those are easy to see. But the invisible things you don’t see are probably the most important ones. When you get up in the morning, what motivates you? How’s your family? How are you sleeping?”
By emphasizing the five domains and examining overall fitness, the hope is that the proactive approach will also help decrease the number of Soldiers on profile.
“I think that’s where this program is going to be very successful- decreasing the amount of injuries and getting people back to live normal lives,” Abreu-Perez said.
Decreasing the number of Soldiers on profile not only helps the individual Soldiers but it also helps the Guard.
“It’s a win/win,” Harder said. “Not only does it help Soldiers but it improves readiness and saves money for the Guard from a medical standpoint.”
Harder and Abreu-Perez said the course is a pilot program and part of a long-term vision they have. They will follow up with all the Soldiers after the course and see how they applied what they learned here.
“Then we will see where we need to move from here and where we need to adjust fire,” Abreu-Perez said.
Although the course is a major shift in how the Army approaches overall fitness, Harder and Abreu-Perez emphasize they are not trying to reinvent the wheel with the course.
“We’re just trying to raise awareness,” Harder said. “If all 10 of these Soldiers leave the course here more aware of, not only what their body can do, but better able to provide their Solders with some of the resources the military has to offer, we’ve achieved something.”
The whole process is difficult for the Army, Abreu-Perez explained, “because the more we dig into this program, the more we discover how far behind we are. So now we’re trying to close that gap and find a way to fix those things that have been unattended to for so many years.”