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Commentary | Aug. 9, 2012

Physical training: The first step to staying Army strong

By Army Maj. Gen. Michael Garrett U.S. Army Alaska Commanding General

One of my favorite words is serendipity, which means something delightful or valuable happened when you weren't expecting it. When my family and I found out we were returning to Alaska, it was a serendipitous moment in our lives. We are very grateful to be Arctic Warriors again, and I'm excited to be the commander of U.S. Army Alaska.

As I continue to assess the command, I'd like to highlight a personal focus on fitness. In order to be successful in our profession, we must be fit to fight and I'd like U.S. Army Alaska to be the fittest unit in the Army.

I don't just mean physically fit, although that's absolutely a priority, I also mean nutritionally, mentally, spiritually and emotionally fit. Healthy living is a big part of what being Arctic Tough is all about. If you aren't prepared to sustain the fight in the bitter cold, then you don't fit into the USARAK vision of ready units.

Physical training is not optional. If you have ever had a conversation with me, you've probably heard me say that PT is my number one priority. If you're not giving your all during PT, then you're not meeting the standard. I wake up every morning fired-up to do PT; we all should. The day I don't wake up excited to do PT will be the day I'll have to retire.

Why do I take PT so seriously? Because it is my responsibility to train and prepare our units to deploy, fight, and win on the battlefield. The fitness of our Soldiers has a direct impact on the combat readiness of our units.

Fit Soldiers are much less likely to get physical injuries or have long-term medical issues. Overweight Soldiers are more likely to injure their feet, knees, hips and lower back.

Soldiers who are physically fit are more likely to have enjoyable and fruitful lives. They are less likely to become injured, are able to perform more vigorously during training, and often have superior productivity and mental alertness.

When Soldiers do dynamic and energetic PT together, they build esprit de corps and a shared sense of accomplishment in overcoming difficult hardships. They know they can count on their teammates to perform when it really counts.

Effective leadership is vital to the success of any good PT program. I am impressing on your brigade and battalion command teams how important PT is to me personally and what I expect of their PT programs.

Leaders must lead PT. I should never see a private out doing morning PT on his own. That indicates a poorly executed PT program and lowers unit morale.

PT is easy to get right. If your day begins with challenging and meaningful PT, then the whole rest of the day goes better. If your unit has morale problems, PT would be the first place I'd look for improvements.

During a recent visit to the Warrior Leader Course, I spoke with some of our young Arctic Tough leaders and discussed how they will likely see a big change in our Army during the next two years. There are Soldiers in our ranks who will not be here very much longer. Some will choose to leave the service, but others simply will not make the cut.

If you cannot pass the Army Physical Fitness Test or meet the height/weight standards, you risk being processed out of the service. Therefore, I strongly encourage you to reach down deep inside, to find the strength to discipline yourself, and to do some serious PT to get in shape. Your leadership can do a lot to help motivate you to become fit, but in the end it is your personal choice.

Some of this may sound harsh, but sometimes the truth hurts. If it were up to me, every Soldier in USARAK would be among the healthiest, strongest, fittest Soldiers to ever serve.

I would like each of you to meet the standard so when it comes time to reenlist, the Army has no reason to exclude you from its continued tradition of excellence. I am proud to be your commander and want to see you succeed. But ultimately it isn't my choice; it is up to each of you to decide for yourself.

Arctic Warriors! Arctic Tough!