Last week we sent 2 coaches to Germany to work with the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade outside of Nürmberg where we taught the Advanced Programming and Unit Fitness Leader courses to approximately 30 soldiers.
Advanced Programming & Unit Fitness Leader Course: Lessons Learned
A strong organizational fitness culture starts at the top.
We’ve long been interested in fitness culture, so when the leadership at 12th CAB reached out to us this fall about teaching a unit course there, we jumped at the opportunity. Upon arrival in Germany we were promptly given an overview of every fitness facility on the base, briefed on how the soldiers train, and given a short history of the brigade’s culture to help get us oriented. We learned that upon taking leadership of the Brigade, the commander immediately noticed that his soldiers were “underfed, unfit, and underslept.” He immediately set to work building healthier soldiers through improved facilities, nutritional incentives (that actually seem to be working), and paying for soldiers to get CrossFit and MTI certifications. Vacant hangar space had been reclaimed and outfitted as a proper functional fitness gym to allow soldiers to train appropriately for their demands. The base saw an immediate decrease in soldiers training at the “Army Nautilus” gym and now has a waiting list for whole units to use the functional gym for unit PT.
Culture is contagious.
With command support, soldiers at 12th CAB began to take their fitness seriously and the attitude spread like wildfire…so much so that soldier’s spouses began to actively participate and even facilitate training.
Put your money where your mouth is.
After 12 years in the military, I can tell you that a commander paying lip service to a fitness culture is hardly a revelation, but a commander putting his money where his mouth is and using his discretionary funds to equip a facility and invest in the right fitness education for his soldiers is unheard of in the general purpose forces. The result? A growing number Captains and NCOs with skill-sets to train and program for their units’ specific fitness demands.
2 types of soldiers…
…those that take an active role in improving every aspect of their professional lives, and those who just do what they’re told and no more. We had a mix of motivated soldiers and those were voluntold to be present. Surprisingly, most of the athletes who were told to be there began to engage the material and even started programming their own training sessions. Still, some will remain unchanged and will have wasted 2 days.
You don’t need more equipment, you need more knowledge
We shifted our course mid-stride to place extra emphasis on austere programming principles and techniques after learning from the soldiers exactly how their units trained and what equipment restrictions they faced when they couldn’t access a functional fitness facility. The soldiers saw that with a little knowledge and a lot of creativity, training hard and training specifically for their jobs was more accessible than they previously thought. This was the biggest takeaway for the brigade.
1) Make it easy to train. Keep the training hard.
12th CAB’s higher leadership didn’t set the ball rolling for a stronger fitness culture so much as they removed the barriers. Commanders, senior NCOs and their civilian equivalents don’t need to rewrite doctrine and fitness programs, they need to give their subordinates 1) space (time and physical) and 2) knowledge on how to train effectively. The athletes will figure it out from there and surprise you with their creativity.
2) Know your audience.
Our biggest critique of our own approach to these courses was not fully understanding our audience. Had we a better understanding of our audience before hand we would have 1) shifted half of the Advanced Programming Athletes into the Unit Fitness Leader course and 2) focused more heavily from the get-go on our austere and limited equipment training and theory. We adapted quickly, but the brigade would have benefitted if we had made those changes early.