The U.S. Army plans to get new recruits into better shape with a revamped approach to health, fitness and diet at basic training.
The most visible changes will be seen in mess halls where milk and juice dispensers will replace soda fountains and whole grains will be substituted for white bread and pasta.
Army leaders unveiled the new approach Wednesday at Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood. It’s the first substantial change to basic fitness training in the Army in decades.
“We are seeing many soldiers entering our profession who need phased conditioning methods and improved nutritional habits,” said Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling.
“This is not just an Army problem,” he said. “This is a civilian problem that we’re receiving, and fixing.”
The “soldier athlete” initiative is designed to prepare new recruits with training methods similar to those offered to elite athletes preparing for competition — including greater use of athletic trainers, physical therapists and strength and conditioning coaches.
That means more attention on injury prevention, flexibility and mobility, coordination and aerobic endurance, as well as healthy eating. Drill sergeants will include one-hour sessions on performance nutrition in addition to their traditional responsibilities. And outdated exercises such as bayonet drills are being replaced with core strength workouts more commonly found in the aerobics studio than the battlefield.
Staff sergeant Travis Bammer said he begins to notice a difference in troop’s physical performance and mental acuity after roughly five weeks under the improved nutritional regimen.
“They have never been told how to properly eat,” he said. “They think they can eat a candy bar for energy.”
Hertling and other officials emphasized the need to decisively respond to civilian trends in diet and health brought into the military by new troops.
More than 60 percent require immediate dental care before they can enter combat. Female recruits report high levels of iron deficiency. And approximately 25 percent of soldiers entering basic training come with little or no organized physical training, whether team sports or even a high school physical education class. The menu changes should be in place by February.
While the changes for now will be limited to basic and advanced training sites,higher ups are watching the developments closely, Hertling said.
“We’re trying to change a culture,” he said.