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A holistic fitness program: H2F is more than just push-ups

TRADOC Command Dietician, Maj. Brenda Bustillos, PhD, discusses nutritional health to the Embracing H2F program participants at the Fort Eustis, Virgina, Commissary, Feb. 22, 2021. Photo credit: Command Sgt. Maj. Montigo White, U.S. Army photo.

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Holistic health is characterized by a comprehension of the parts of one's well-being as being interconnected and explained only by reference to one's whole body.

With regard to the continuing efforts to move forward with its Holistic Health and Fitness (H2F) program, in Army-speak this means that a soldier's health includes not only physical but mental, emotional, social and spiritual fitness as well.

"My sergeants majors right now, they hurt.  Their bodies hurt," said Col. Phillip Kiniery, commander, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, in an Oct. 27, 2021 article in Task & Purpose.

He added that he wants the Army's near future leaders to not feel as physically bad as he does; that the next generation is healthy.

"We grew up in an environment where we just made them put a 150-pound ruck on and walk all the time," Kiniery explained, "and it takes a generation of (noncommissioned officers) to transition through this.... Then it will be the norm." 

This new norm is at the core of H2F.  Announced in 2017, the program was officially put into action in 2020.

"The system empowers and equips soldiers to take charge of their health, fitness and well-being to hone individual performance while preventing injury and disease," explained Maj. Gen. Lonnie Hibbard, commander, Center for Initial Military Training, at the time.

The objective of the holistic health and fitness program promotes training initiatives tailored to soldiers' individual needs rather than using a one-size-fits-all approach.

"Soldiers should not be seen as carbon copies of one another but rather as individuals," continued Hibbard.  

To this end, trainers and health professionals have integrated into brigades like Kiniery's.

At Joint Base Lewis-McChord, in September of 2020 the 17th Field Artillery Brigade was the first to begin the H2F program. Since then 1st Brigade, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Brigade, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 555th Engineer Brigade, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, 42nd Military Police and 62nd Medical Brigade have adopted the program.

"Changing culture is a heavy lift," said E. Susanne Koch Craig, the H2F Director for the 17th FA BDE.

"As we have integrated into the entire 17th over the past year, we are feeling excitement and energy from the soldiers. They are discovering that we are designed to meet many of their whole health needs."

To increase readiness and to prepare soldiers for the new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), the H2F system is constructed around five readiness domains: physical readiness, mental readiness, nutritional readiness, sleep readiness and spiritual readiness. With the help of trainers and coaches, the system's objective is to leverage these five domains in support of individual soldiers as they work to optimize their performance levels.

"The coaches are there to help soldiers lay those foundations to excel in the ACFT and build the aerobic foundation, and the strength, whereas those soldiers training for the ACFT were just training for pushups and the run," explained Army veteran Jessica Johns, director of the 82nd's H2F program.

In leveraging the components of H2F, coaches and trainers show how it is not enough to conduct physical training if there is not an understanding of sleep needs, proper nutrition for recovery, mental health and spiritual well-being.

As an example, Johns said that some of the 82nd's coaches hold classes specifically for pregnancy and postpartum training. 

"Thus far, they've been really successful," Johns said.

While the H2F program is meant to provide better care of soldiers as they maintain their readiness for combat, the Army also has a large line item in its budget to be mindful of.

As of February 2019, the Army reported that more than 56,000 soldiers were non-deployable.  That number is comparable to more than 13 brigade combat teams. Army officials also pointed out that musculoskeletal injuries cost half a billion dollars of patient care among active-duty soldiers.

"The service has a vested interest in keeping soldiers in the best physical and mental shape as possible because a healthy and happy soldier is more likely to stay in the service," wrote Harley Britzky in an Oct. 27, 2021 article in Task & Purpose.

H2F is far from complete, but it is making headway.

"It is absolutely key and great to see that we're looking holistically at the soldier," said retired Gen. Robert Brown, former I Corps commander and the current CEO of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA).

"Mental resilience and readiness will be key to overall soldier readiness as the Army prepares for a future battlefield and multidomain operations, where soldiers will be in remote locations and complex decisions will be made in stressful situations...."

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