Squad leaders motivate Soldiers toward better health
The Army’s Performance Triad program -- which aims to increase Soldier performance through an increased emphasis on adequate sleep, physical activity, and proper nutrition -- is showing signs of success in part because responsibility for its implementation has been pushed to the lowest level of command.
“By putting the onus on squad leaders, Performance Triad has reinforced the notion of delegating responsibility to the lowest level,” said Maj. Jay A. Bessey, operations officer of 4th Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Division.
Bessey’s battalion, located at Fort Bliss, Texas, is one of three units undergoing a pilot-test of training for the Performance Triad program. The program could be implemented Army-wide later this year pending review by the Army chief of staff.
The Performance Triad training consists of training by medical and fitness professionals on the importance of sleep, activity and nutrition on human performance. The training also involves implementing a program for improvement in those three areas.
As one of the main pillars of the Army’s Ready and Resilient Program, Performance Triad is aimed at reducing injuries, improving battlefield performance and combating a host of illnesses and maladies such as depression, stress and obesity.
Surgeon General of the Army Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho said recently: “If we can ... show that by focusing on sleep, activity and nutrition, we can bend the cost curve of health care -- that we can increase health outcomes -- I think we could have a pilot that we could share with the nation to really look at how do we improve [the health of] young Americans.”
In the Performance Triad pilots, each six months in duration, squad leaders are responsible for imparting on their Soldiers the knowledge they acquire and also encouraging them to continue making progress.
Bessey said the wisdom of making squad leaders responsible for the training is that they are the ones who interact with the more than 500 Soldiers in the battalion on a daily basis, planning, preparing and executing training and mission tasks. The Soldiers look to them for guidance and inspiration.
“Our squad leaders have stepped up to the challenge,” he said. “Their ingenuity has led to the utilization of several venues around the instillation that may have gone unnoticed otherwise.”
The installation’ s “fusion” wellness center is an example of one of the venues squad leaders have used in getting health and fitness baseline measures to gauge improvements over time. The professionals at the wellness center assessed each Soldier’s fitness using body fat, aerobic and anaerobic test equipment.
Bessey noted that a number of the Soldiers are getting their family members onboard with Performance Triad training and testing as well.
Squad leaders and company commanders are helping Soldiers monitor their sleep, activity and nutrition progress using wearable technology that was issued to everyone in the battalion, he said.
The wearable technology is a Soldier-proof wrist band that measures caloric intake, the number of steps taken per day -- 10,000 is what triad recommends -- and the number of hours of uninterrupted sleep. Data can be uploaded to computers and smartphones and graphed to track progress over time.
Since the beginning of the pilot, Bessey said squad leaders and company commanders have “noticed a marked improvement in the number of Soldiers that voluntarily update their data to the website. Over half of the battalion’s Soldiers now monitor their progress on a weekly basis, with our Charlie and Delta companies, led by Capt. Jeff Johnson and Capt. Steve Holden, leading the battalion with rates over 80 percent.”
Bessey said there is more good news. Over the fourmonth period since the pilot started, “the battalion’s average Army Physical Fitness Test score has increased about 10 points.”
“Personally, I’ve used it to meet my annual New Year’s resolution,” Bessey said. “Over three weeks, I’ve lost 14 pounds of ‘holiday leftovers’ by monitoring my activity level -- reaching 15,000 steps per day -- and limiting my caloric intake.”
Recently, Bessey said the battalion was involved in intensive and prolonged field exercises supporting Expert Infantryman Badge and Excellence in Armor training and live-fire exercises.
During that period, focus on sleep, activity and nutrition was somewhat limited, although the medical platoon leader, 1st Lt. Julio Rodriguez kept the weight control program active.
Additionally, 1st Lt. Elya Hillebrand, the division nutritionist, continued her training as well, he said. Bessey said Hillebrand will expand nutrition courses for all Soldiers as the pilot nears conclusion in February and March.
Bessey said the Performance Triad program is showing measurable success. But he also said continued success will be challenged by high-stress field exercises, possible deployments, and opportunities to make less-than-thebest dietary choices.
“Unfortunately, several factors exist around the battalion area that mitigate the positive impact of the program,” he said. “’Gut trucks’ persist around the company headquarters, providing Soldiers with a quick and non-nutritional, mid-morning snack or lunch.
“Even if the dining facility is a block away, that truck is just feet away, making it a simple choice on most occasions,” he said. “Furthermore, the dining facility near our area is closed and Soldiers who want to eat at a dining facility on the weekend typically need to travel more than two miles to the nearest open facility. It’s easier to order delivery or go to a fast food restaurant that’s nearer. More will need to be done at the installation level Army-wide to steer our Soldiers away from potential pitfalls.”
Irrespective of such roadblocks, Bessey said, “the correlation between the triad objectives and our unit’s mission has benefited our Soldiers.”
Bessey said he sincerely hopes to see Performance Triad change the culture and health of the Army, as well as Soldiers’ family members.
The other pilots are being conducted with the 3rd Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., and with the 189th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Horoho said the “next phase” of the Performance Triad includes family members and retirees. Additionally, the Army medical community is working with the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard to share what it is learning about Performance Triad, and to assist with a program that fits their needs.