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Army says fitness plan cut injuries and drug use, aids mental health

Early data analyzing Army brigades using the service’s new all-encompassing fitness program shows less injuries, behavioral health problems and substance abuse, and quicker return to duty for injured soldiers in brigades with program staff.

As the Army nears it halfway point of fielding Holistic Health and Fitness, or H2F, program to its soldiers, key next steps include managing data, educating new commanders and fitting it into the Guard and Reserve, the general overseeing the program told Army Times.

Maj. Gen. John Kline, head of the Center for Initial Military Training, said, “Although we’ve accelerated the fielding of H2F teams, if we really want to spread the goodness of H2F it’s got to spread to the greater than half of the active duty that’s not going to get a team and the same with the National Guard and Reserve.”

Three new approaches that could benefit the entire Army include a full day spent on the program at the Army’s School for Command Preparation’s Chief of Staff of the Army’s Core Course, the pivotal training course for battalion and brigade leadership; the use of an additional skill identifier and possible special qualification identifier for H2F trainers; and a wearables pilot launching this summer at Fort Moore, Georgia to compare data for new recruits throughout basic training.

The Army began fielding health and human performance teams along with fitness equipment such as free weights, rowing machines, kettlebells and stationary bicycles to close combat brigades in 2021.

The original goal was to field all 110 active duty, close combat brigades by 2030 at roughly 10 brigades annually.

The program is scheduled to hit 50 brigades by September. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Randy George ordered that the program double its rate, which it is set to begin in fiscal year 2025. If sustained, that will mean all 110 brigades will be fielded by fiscal 2027, Kline said.

But the training center over the brigade fielding has already begun to gather data on how the program is doing.

Coming out of a near-sedentary 2020 due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, the brigades measured, both with and without H2F, have seen increased numbers of musculoskeletal injuries, reports of behavioral health problems and higher rates of substance abuse.

But in all those categories, units with Holistic Health and Fitness teams saw significantly fewer injuries, behavioral health and substance abuse reports. Units with the teams also saw shorter recovery times and quicker return to duty rates for physical injuries and behavioral health reports, according to data provided by Dr. Andrew Thompson, a research physiologist with the training center.

Army units with Holistic Health and Fitness teams also saw significantly higher rates of soldiers who qualified as experts in rifle marksmanship training. Those units also saw a 23% higher increase in Army combat fitness test passing rates as units without the teams.

Thompson measured these categories from fiscal 2021 to 2023 between more than two dozen Holistic Health and Fitness-resourced brigades and similar brigades without the teams. He also extrapolated what the data would mean if applied across the entire Army, including active duty, Guard and Reserve.

Holistic Health and Fitness-resourced brigade data:

  • 14% lower increase* in musculoskeletal injuries = 6,489 fewer injured soldiers.
  • 30% lower increase in musculoskeletal injuries lasting more than 90 days = 3,002 fewer injured soldiers on profile for more than 90 days.
  • 22% lower increase in behavioral health reports = 2,962 fewer soldiers on behavioral health profiles.
  • 20% lower increase in behavioral health reports lasing more than 90 days = 3,002 fewer soldiers on behavioral health profiles greater than 90 days.
  • 502% lower increase in substance abuse profiles = 13,947 fewer soldiers on substance abuse profiles.
  • 23% greater Army combat fitness test passing rate = 4,455 more soldiers passing the ACFT.
  • 27% more soldiers reaching expert on rifle marksmanship qualification = 88,000 more soldiers receiving expert rifle marksmanship qualification.

*Brigades analyzed, both with and without Holistic Health and Fitness teams, saw increases in most areas from 2021–2023, but those units with H2F teams saw significantly lower increases in all categories.

Source: Center for Initial Military Training

The center expects more data to flow into their spreadsheets as the Army launches a wearables pilot requested by Congress in 2023. Phase I of the pilot will be held at one station unit training at Fort Moore, Georgia, beginning later this summer. Phase II will include basic training units at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, in 2025.

The pilot will equip soldiers training with Holistic Health and Fitness with smartwatches, chest straps and sleep rings.

Kline expects the data to be delivered to Congress by the end of fiscal year 2025.

“We’re going to be able to see things like soldier sleep, if their resting heartrate is declining, now long they’re in their VO2 Max. Is our (physical training) program building a more fit soldier?” Kline said.

Evaluators will begin measuring these areas on the first day of training through graduation.

The Center for Initial Military Training held its first daylong session with students of the pre-command course for battalion and brigade leaders at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on April 23.

That event included a 90-minute low-intensity Holistic Health and Fitness training session, and experts in each of the domains: physical, mental, nutrition, sleep and spiritual. Staff also invited students’ spouses, as the Army seeks to share Holistic Health and Fitness aspects with families, Army civilians and veterans as the program grows, Kline said.

“As the Army’s future senior commanders, you can help promote the health of the force by continuing to implement and embrace the Holistic Health and Fitness system,” Kline told students, according to an Army release. “I don’t have nearly the influence that you all can have on its success, and I’d like to thank you in advance for all you will do to support H2F in your formations.”

For one noncommissioned officer, the day’s event was a way to better understand a program he’ll oversee at his unit.

“I think it’s important for senior leaders at battalion and brigade level to understand H2F completely and get the buy-in, because this is going down to the lowest level,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Craig Anderson. “So, being at brigade level, I think I now understand more about how H2F can be used as a resource to better our soldiers in all aspects of fitness, the spiritual domain, the sleep domain and the physical domain and in the mental domain as well.”

In 2023 the Army changed the name of the U.S. Army Physical Fitness School at Fort Jackson to the Holistic Health and Fitness Academy.

Senior leaders also began reviewing an additional skill identifier for soldiers who received a short course on Holistic Health and Fitness to return to their units and manage physical training.

Kline said the additional skill identifier for master fitness trainer already existed and the school has modified training to add some elements from Holistic Health and Fitness.

A longer, potentially eight to 12-week course at the school would dive deeper into Holistic Health and Fitness domains and provide a special qualification identifier.

Senior leaders have not yet decided if the skill qualification identifiers will be developed, which could allow soldiers to serve as Holistic Health and Fitness trainers full-time on temporary duty before returning to their primary jobs much like recruiters or drill sergeants do now, he said.

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