By MSG Daniel L. Dodds, US Army
The 15th Sergeant Major of the Army, Daniel A. Dailey once said, “Physical fitness may not be the most important thing you do that day, but it is the most important thing you do every day” (Richardson, 2015). The Army is an organization designed to fight and win the nation’s wars without regard to the time, place, or circumstances. To make this happen, Soldiers must remain physically and mentally fit in the most extreme environment. Utilizing the five domains of the Holistic Health and Fitness (H2F) program—physical readiness, mental readiness, nutritional readiness, sleep readiness, and spiritual readiness—builds the physical lethality and mental toughness that enables Soldiers to fight and win during enemy contact. It is imperative for Army units to nest movement lethality and the five H2F domains into training plans via the principles of physical readiness which include precision, progression, and integration.
According to the Department of the Army (DA) (2020), precision is the ability to distinguish between correct and incorrect performance techniques. Essential components for precision are the structural capabilities known as load tolerance, flexibility to enhance movement, balance and stable positioning, body composition, and bone density (DA, 2020). Enhancing precision is the result of repetition and practicing movement skills on a routine basis. Likewise, improving movement skills are essential to enhancing structural capabilities. The Army’s movement skills include agility, coordination, dynamic balance, kinesthesia, pace, perception, and reaction time (DA, 2020). For example, during the Best Warrior Competition Sergeant Dodds’ stress shoot “intent was to get them tired, to weaken their arms, to get them stressed … then score them on a range that requires accuracy” (Svan, 2016). Applying structural capabilities and movement skills in training improves strength, endurance, and speed. The principles of precision improve when leaders take a personal stake in their training calendars and alter the frequency, intensity, duration, and types of exercise which leads to progression (DA, 2020).
Progression is a delicate balance of frequency, intensity, duration, and type of exercise that induces growth without causing a degradation of performance, stagnation or developing injuries from overuse (DA, 2020). The principle of progression is a powerful tool for Soldiers to increase their fitness levels. Through the proper application, Soldiers achieve the maximum results efficiently and effectively. For example, when a unit conducts training for the 20-kilometer road march, it is imperative to start with reduced weight and distance, then make gradual increases throughout the training period. When conducting training in this manner, leaders prevent musculoskeletal and overuse injuries, while improving load tolerance and flexibility. Through proper integration, Army leaders ensure training plans stimulate growth by overloading the body for optimal performance while simultaneously avoiding inactivity that prevents progress from being made.
Leaders at every echelon must integrate the H2F domain into their unit training plans. While leaders have historically been good with the physical domain, often the mental, nutritional, sleep, and spiritual domains lack leader emphasis. Further, leaders must incorporate Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills (WTBD) which improve Soldiers’ abilities to shoot, move, communicate, survive, protect, and treat casualties (DA, 2020). According to the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), critical skills for Soldiers in combat are moving from a covered position to another, lifting objects overhead, moving a casualty to safety, and continuous movement with a combat load (Haddock et al., 2016). To meet the demands of TRADOC, getting the proper amount of sleep and having adequate nutrition are crucial for improved performance.
Sleep and Nutritional Readiness
The three basic principles of sleep health are sleep duration, sleep timing, and sleep continuity (DA, 2020). Additionally, having proper sleep improves the physical and mental domains as well (DA, 2020). Soldiers who follow the tenets of healthy sleep habits have a higher tendency to support normal function, make sound decisions, and improve focus and alertness (DA, 2020). According to Golden et al (2022), positive sleep habits enhance “emotional health, behavior, attention, [and] academic performance” (p. 1). Nutrition is fuel for the body’s performance. Having a healthy diet prevents chronic disease, enhances performance, helps reduce weight, improves body composition, and bone density (DA, 2020). When practiced together, sleep and nutrition aid the body with recovery from daily activities and help sustain strength, endurance, and speed. It is essential for units to incorporate sleep and nutritional classes into the training calendar. Leaders should also have balanced diets, communicate the necessity of healthy lifestyle choices, and be an example of what right looks like to the Soldiers in their organization. Implementing these measures will improve physical readiness and provide them with the ability to assess the state of fitness within their organizations.
Physical readiness is a key factor for Soldier and unit readiness to occur. Through physical readiness, Soldiers can compete and win in complex environments, given complex dilemmas, during times of uncertainty (DA, 2020). Soldiers enhance their physical ability through the knowledge, skills, behaviors, and attributes gained during demanding exercise. Physical readiness must be the backbone of Army organizations. For example, during range training and weapons qualifications, units can add ruck marches to and from the site under combat load rather than driving to the range. Additionally, Units can add other battle drills such as reacting to and breaking contact, reacting to indirect fire and evacuating a casualty to their training plans to improve Soldiers’ abilities to carry heavy loads in arduous environments (DA, 2009). Physical activity plays an integral role in prolonged life expectancy, reducing anxiety, and reducing depression, which plays a part in mental and spiritual readiness. (Azam, 2019).
Mental and Spiritual Readiness
Mental and spiritual readiness enhances lethality by supplying methods to overcome hardship, stress, and tragedy by critical thinking and acting in a manner that perfects performance (DA, 2020). The three capabilities of mental readiness are cognitive, emotional, and interpersonal connections. These capabilities supply the foundation to expand knowledge from past experiences, help with stress control and build cohesive teams (DA, 2020). Although spiritual readiness is often associated with religion, it also involves finding individual purpose, core values, beliefs, and norms that shape character, behavior, and social acuity (DA, 2020). Units can improve mental and spiritual readiness by incorporating team building into battle rhythm events, integrating behavioral health personnel and resiliency training, having chaplains available for counseling, and removing stigmas for Soldiers seeking treatment.
Army units must integrate the five H2F domains and movement lethality into their training programs using the physical readiness concepts of precision, progression, and integration. Precision is the ability to determine the right and wrong techniques for exercise and is enhanced through the repetition of movement skills including agility, coordination, dynamic balance, kinesthesia, pace, perception, and reaction time (DA, 2020). Progression is making gradual improvements by adjusting the frequency, intensity, duration, and type of exercise to stimulate growth while avoiding injuries (DA, 2020).
Furthermore, integrating the five H2F domains is essential for lethality and predictors of how units would perform during contact with the enemy. Sleep and nutrition aid with recovery and help to sustain strength, endurance, and speed. Physical readiness provides Soldiers with the skills to overcome complex environments given uncertain information. Mental and spiritual readiness allow Soldiers to overcome tragedy, hardship, and stress by applying mental resilience, cognitive functioning, and interpersonal connection. Altogether, the five domains of H2F are techniques to improve lethality and predict organizations’ performance during contact with an adversary.
Azam, B. (2019). Prescribing physical activity as medicine: The need to look ahead & beyond. Pakistan Armed Forces Medical Journal, 69(2), 222-224. https://safe.menlosecurity.com/doc/docview/viewer/docNADD0F8AA62A4033fb9f554f85fdc62e0d2a6529371c2e7dece5fa4077f53ae514056caa9d40f
Department of the Army. (2009). Tactics in counterinsurgency (FM 3-24.2). https://armypubs.army.mil/ProductMaps/PubForm/Details.aspx?PUB_ID=85323
Department of the Army. (2020). Holistic and health and fitness (FM 7-22). https://armypubs.army.mil/ProductMaps/PubForm/Details.aspx?PUB_ID=1020968
Golden, M., Cosottile, M., Meadows, T., Parikh, M., & O’Dell, S. (2022). Primary care providers practices regarding patient sleep: Impact of integrated behavioral health. Families, Systems, & Health. https://doi.org/10.1037/fsh0000695
Haddock, C., Poston, W., Heinrich, K., Jahnke, S., & Jitnarin, N. (2016). The Benefits of high-intensity functional training fitness programs for military personnel. Military Medicine, 181(11), 1508-1514. https://doi.org/10.7205/MILMED-D-15-00503
Richardson, K. (2015, May 15). SMA motivates, captivates NCOs. Stand To. https://www.army.mil/article/148724/sma_motivates_captivates_ncos
Svan, J. (2016). Soldiers test their mettle in annual warrior competition in Germany. Stars and Stripes. https://www.stripes.com/gallery-soldiers-test-their-mettle-in-annual-best-warrior-competition-1.411197
Master Sergeant Daniel L. Dodds is a Military Police Senior Noncommissioned Officer. He has served in every leadership position, from Patrolman to Antiterrorism/ Force Protection Supervisor. He currently attends the Sergeants Major Course (Resident) Class 73 at the US Army Noncommissioned Officer Leadership Center of Excellence. His civilian education includes an Associate Degree from Excelsior University, and he is pursuing his Bachelor of Arts in Leadership and Workforce Development from the Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC).
This article represents the opinions of the individual author and does not represent those of the US Army, Department of Defense, or any government agency.
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