MAY 20, 2016, EASTOVER, S.C. – As the South Carolina National Guard adjusts to more of a peacetime role after more than decade of frequent deployments to the Middle East, leaders are concerned with how Soldier readiness will be affected. The biggest concerns are Soldier physical and mental fitness, which are key to maintaining a strong and relevant force.
To that end, the SCNG conceived, planned and at the month of May, implemented the first two-week version of the Lifestyle Enhancement Achievement Program (LEAP), a program directed by the adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston Jr. The goal is to assist Soldiers with lifestyle enhancements to help them meet Army career standards for physical and health fitness for those who are struggling or identified as “at-risk” in those areas.
“The idea is to take a holistic approach to help Soldiers improve many aspects of their lives, not just to get them to pass an Army Physical Fitness Test,” said Sgt. 1st Class Robert Artlip, course manager for LEAP. “We want to help Soldiers improve their overall physical, mental and social preparedness to perform any mission given to them.”
Artlip is a part of a nine-person team at the SCNG’s 218th Regional Training Institute at the McCrady Training Center in charge of running the program, which will be conducted over four, two-week intervals from May through the end of September. The first class began May 6.
Artlip conceived the program more than two years ago and after much patience and diligence, got the approval to implement it late last year.
“We got the approval in November 2015 and our start date to begin putting the classes together was March 1 for launch of the first class this month,” he said. “It’s been a challenge to get everything ready and we will certainly tweak things as we move forward, but so far the first class has been a great success.”
Artlip mentioned one of the keys to getting “buy-in” and establishing credibility with Soldiers attending the class has been to include staff members who themselves have had APFT and healthy lifestyle issues in the past.
“We have a tremendous staff, a great group of people who can identify and empathize with the Soldiers going through the course,” Artlip said. “We wanted a staff with people strong in all areas but who may have had issues with physical training or lifestyle choices in the past and have overcome them. This way, the Soldiers have mentors who completely understand where they are and can encourage them through their own experiences to get better.”
During the two weeks, Soldiers take part in daily physical readiness training, along with instruction on a number of topics including meal planning, nutrition and strength training, financial management, stress management, substance abuse and effects on health, tobacco cessation and resilience. Soldiers also get the chance to go through the confidence course at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, which the first class did May 15. Some Soldiers enjoyed it so much they went through multiple times.
In just over one week’s time, some of the Soldiers attending the class mentioned they had already reaped the benefits and were eager to share their knowledge with others in their units. After trying to recover from an injury, Sgt. Neal Anderson from the 1050th Transportation Battalion has had a hard time getting back up to speed with his two-mile run.
“I’ve been struggling to bounce back and haven’t been able to get back where I need to be, but this course has really been helping,” Anderson said. “The course is only two weeks long, and you can’t fix everything in that time. But they set you up for success when you go home. If you put forth 100% and take it seriously, there is no way you can fail after this.”
Artlip echoed those sentiments.
“We know that in most cases two weeks isn’t enough time to get Soldiers completely back to where they need to be but the idea is to plant that seed, get the ball rolling and show them what they can do if they’re motivated to get better,” he said.
Sgt. Jennifer Bixler of the 1055th Transportation Company said she’d already improved her two-mile run time and made a healthy lifestyle choice along the way.
“One of the best things for me is that I’ve already knocked off three minutes from my run time,” she said. She attributes that to the fact that the program has helped her to quit smoking. Now she has the motivation to go back home and start a fitness program for herself that she will implement several times a week.
“This is something I can definitely take back to my unit to help others,” Bixler said. “This program can be very effective, especially for those who come here with an open mind. It can be a great benefit to a lot of Soldiers in the Guard.”
“Ultimately, we want to keep good Soldiers in the South Carolina National Guard,” Artlip said. “I think this program can go a long way to achieving that goal and I am excited about its future.”