FORT BRAGG, N.C. — Physical fitness is one of the most important attributes of a Soldier. Physical training is conducted every morning and standardized tests are carried out every six months to assess each Soldier’s level of cardio respiratory and muscular endurance. What one may not realize, however, is the importance of a Soldier’s level of emotional and spiritual fitness as well.
Over the course of his career, battalion commander, Lt. Col. Erik Berdy, has come to understand the importance of Soldiers’ overall wellness. In an effort to reduce high-risk behavior and ensure his troops are physically and mentally prepared to complete any mission, Berdy recently took the initiative to ensure his Paratroopers received the training they need to be “fit” in each of these aspects.
“I took a bigger program (Comprehensive Soldier Fitness) and made it applicable at the battalion level,” Berdy said. He accomplished this by selecting measurable components that can be easily influenced by his unit’s leaders.
Throughout the month of November, Paratroopers assigned to Berdy’s 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, “White Falcons”, utilized several Army programs and partnered with experts to learn ways to improve on each of the three critical components of wellness.
All 2-325th AIR Paratroopers were assessed by the Army Wellness Center on Fort Bragg, N.C. To evaluate each trooper’s level of physical wellness, the Soldiers conducted an Army physical fitness test, a 20km ruck march and a four-mile run. They were also tested on their flexibility, grip strength and body fat percentage.
The White Falcons also received classes and hands-on training to improve their physical health. A group of 25 troopers were enrolled in the Soldier Performance Enhancement Program, a course provided by Fort Bragg Morale, Welfare and Recreation. A representative from the Fort Bragg AWC taught the troopers crossfit workouts, proper weight-lifting form and new running techniques to reduce the risk of exercise-induced injuries.
Many of these practices are not only helpful in the gym but during day-to-day activities as well, said Sgt. Adrian Faga, a communications noncommissioned officer assigned to D Co., White Falcons. “We pick things up every day,” said the Indian Springs, Nev., native. Without utilizing proper lifting techniques, Soldiers hurt themselves and are unable to perform their duties, Faga said. By applying what they learned in SPEP to everyday activities, these injuries can be avoided.
The physical wellness portion also included healthy living seminars, which covered proper nutrition, and tobacco and alcohol awareness and cessation.
“I’m a heavy smoker,” said Sgt. Thomas Mosher, a communications noncommissioned officer assigned to C Co., 2-325th AIR. “Everyone knows smoking hurts you but I didn’t know how dramatically,” said Mosher, of Olean, N.Y. Since completing the program, he has been applying the tips he learned from the smoking cessation class to help him cut back on his habit and eventually quit for good.
Berdy said the physical training was the easiest part of the program because Paratroopers are naturally inclined to be physically fit; compelling a Soldier to tap into his feelings and spirituality can be more of a challenge.
Capt. John Scott, the battalion chaplain and native of Yellow Springs, Ohio, said he searched for available resources to help soldiers and their family members build resilience and activate a spirit of service and volunteerism.
The battalion sponsors regular Strong Bonds retreats as a way for married Paratroopers and their families to get away from home, spend quality time together and learn the skills necessary to have a successful relationship. The unit ministry teams also conduct retreats for single Soldiers. Both focus on building healthy relationships and resiliency.
Troopers have also participated in White Falcon Outreach, a program in which 2-325th AIR Paratroopers travel to Duke Children’s Hospital in Durham, N.C., to visit children in the bone marrow ward and others who have undergone major medical procedures.
“[The outreach program] is one way to build resilience in other individuals as well,” Scott said. “Not only are you supporting the kids by visiting but then the Soldiers can take a wider look at the circumstances that people are in. Every time guys go they come back feeling like they’ve been touched as well by meeting those kids.”
The training is not complete, however. In order to measure the effectiveness of the program, assessments will be made every six months to see if improvements have been made in several areas; Army physical fitness test scores, 20km road march completion times, number of exercise-related injuries, violations and negative performance counseling.
The program has longevity, Berdy said, and he plans to keep the program going as long as he is in command with the intention of developing leaders who understand that the components of wellness are essential to the overall wellness of the unit.
“If you’re physically sound, mentally and emotionally sound, and if you have a spiritual base, your self assessment is a positive one,” Berdy said. “The unit is then more optimal.”