Story by Sgt. Brad Mincey
FORT MILL, S.C. – South Carolina National Guard Soldiers have a new program that is changing the way they train, workout and recover from injuries.
Soldiers from the 1222nd Engineer Company got to hear about the program and meet the fitness trainers Sept. 10, 2016 at their armory in Fort Mill, South Carolina.
“We can train you to live longer and fuller lives,” said Ron Doiron, Health and Wellness Program coordinator, who also served 26 years active duty in the Army. “Often, Soldiers come to us in a state where we can’t focus on fitness. The first thing we have to do is work on weight problems. Because if they have too much weight for their frame, and I take them running, I am exposing them to injury. And we can’t train an injured Soldier.”
Past programs have been designed to try and resolve as many problems as possible, but have mainly focused on getting Soldiers to pass their Annual Physical Fitness Test (APFT). This program is very different in that it offers an individualized regimen designed specifically to fix, repair or improve the areas a Soldier wants or needs to resolve.
“We conduct an initial consultation and find out, ‘what do you do?’ and ‘how much time do you have to devote to the program?’” said Doiron.
He and his team then come up with a plan that is specific to each Soldier.
“Part of what we do is to not only teach you how to do your push-ups and sit-ups, we teach you how to do them correctly. The first thing we teach is form,” he added.
The program is offered through the Health and Wellness section of the Service Member and Family Care Program and covers not just the fitness aspect of a Soldier’s life, but can be catered to assist with diet and other health aspects with the intent to improve the Soldier’s whole life.
“We spend time with them and get them out of that sedentary lifestyle,” said Doiron. “We have had many examples of Soldiers who were once on medications be able to get off of them because we believe exercise is medicine. Then, once they start seeing the effects and the results, they stop asking, ‘How long do I have to do this?’ and they start telling me how long they are going to do it.”
Soldiers, like those in the 1222nd Engineer Company, perform a wide range of missions and duties and often have the potential to get injured. This program is a great way for commanders to help their Soldiers recover from injuries, get out of a fitness rut or improve their overall life style.
“Physical fitness is a big part of being in the Army, particularly in the infantry,” said U.S. Army Capt. William Self, 1222nd Engineer Company commander. “And as a Sapper company, we are right there with the infantry breaching or emplacing obstacles. We’ve seen some dramatic results with our Soldiers involved in the program.”
Self explained, the number of Soldiers in his unit not passing the APFT has declined by nearly 50 percent since getting involved with the Health and Wellness Program last October. He expects them to drop even further after the upcoming APFT.
“When a Soldier gets flagged for not passing the APFT, things like promotions, schools and tuition assistance go away,” said Self. “So it is better for the Soldier, the unit and the overall Army mission for Soldiers to be physically fit.”
There are a variety of trainers working with the program from a wide range of backgrounds, from fitness trainers to former coaches. Their sole intent is to help a Soldier meet their goal. One of these trainers is Tyson Chandler, a former strength and conditioning coach with University of South Caroline Upstate.
“We look at how the body works. We find out what you do. Then we create a program for you. I take the same approach that I did with the athletes and apply them to meet the individual needs,” said Chandler. “There is a science behind everything we do and that is what I’m excited to share with you. It’s not about getting you to a gym to lift weights, it’s trying to make you feel better throughout the day. That’s the wellness part of what we do.”
Once those goals have been attained, a Soldier doesn’t have to stop there. The trainers will continue working with the Guard member to reach another goal or to simply maintain their current health and fitness level.
“Instead of having a guy who scores a 300 on an APFT try to train you two days out of a month, we can be there every day throughout the month,” said Chandler, “And if you have a question that we don’t know the answer to, we have the educational background to go find the answer and bring it to you. Anyone can go to the web and look up information, but we can dispel some of those myths about diets and nutrition.”
Many Soldiers have already seen progress and benefitted from this program through positive changes in their lifestyle and fitness habits.
“I realized when I looked at my [Department of the Army] photo, that wasn’t the person that I wanted to be,” said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Terrence Dover, 1222nd Engineer Company platoon sergeant. “So I reached out to Ron and it started there. Since I’ve been with the program, I’ve lost weight, been able to get off the medication I was on and just been able to improve my overall health. It has worked really well for me.”
U.S. Army Sgt. Michael Semko, 1222nd Engineer Company combat engineer, had a shoulder injury that began to interfere with his ability to perform his duties and complete his APFT.
“When I began working with Ron, I found out that part of my problem was my form on my run was incorrect,” said Semko. “I was doing my pushups incorrect and my sit-ups incorrect, so he walked me through step-by-step on how to correct those. We worked on keeping my shoulders back, running on the balls of my feet and other things that were slowing me down.”
In the beginning of the process, Doiron would run with Semko and when something needed to be corrected, they would stop, talk about it, make the adjustment and then start over again.
“About the first time we got together I was able to improve my stride and my form,” said Semko. “I’m now back to at least 70 percent across the board on my PT test. Push-ups and sit-ups are no longer an issue. The pain I used to have isn’t there.”
In fact, Semko has seen such a dramatic improvement that he is going to compete in a Spartan Run with Doiron in October.
There are six districts throughout South Carolina with a Health and Wellness instructor for each area. The trainers do not just come up with a plan and then leave the Soldier to complete the training on their own. They are there to work with the Soldier, and even train with them if that is what is needed.
“I’ve had constant contact with Ron,” said Semko. “He calls me regularly to check up on me. We worked together almost daily. ”
In addition, the Soldiers are not the only ones who have the responsibility of keeping up with how the program is working for them. The program also provides information to leadership to keep accountability of the Soldiers in the unit.
“We also send updates and reports up to the commanders and first sergeants to let them know these are the Soldiers who want to improve,” said Doiron.