JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska – Since the beginning of 2020, both Buckner and Elmendorf Fitness Centers have creatively taken the record-breaking, low-traffic months due to the novel coronavirus as an opportunity to transform at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.
Although the complementary duo has held records for developing full-size and full-scope fitness centers, spending just over $1 million in facility repairs and upgrades in 2018 and 2019, they now boast layout upgrades and equipment intentionally built with a renewed vision of addressing the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force priorities of readiness, modernization and reform and building a lethal and ready force.
Spending time to develop a deep-rooted fitness culture and bringing top notch equipment to Arctic Warriors and their families has been a top priority in 2020. An additional $830,000 was spent to further develop the Buckner Fitness Center as well as Hangar 5, a large indoor 24/7 fitness facility. JBER is also one of the first military installations to install a complete setup capable of handling both the Army Combat Fitness Testing (ACFT) and Occupational Physical Assessment Test (OPAT) in full scope.
“Looking at it from a problem-solving standpoint, we only have so much square footage of indoor facility space,” said Joshua D. Grieser, the Elmendorf Fitness Center director with the 673d Force Support Squadron. “We started by evaluating how we can maximize it to best fit the needs of the installation when almost six-plus months of PT [physical training] are done indoors. In 2016 we got rid of almost all of our single-use items and evaluated ways we could provide better capability to our large but diverse user population.”
JBER, the largest military installation in the Department of Defense, not only houses more than 12,000 military members who use the fitness facilities, but upwards of 30,000 dependents, retirees and contractors who also use them.
“Yes it’s true, when you walk into either one of our fitness centers the equipment is top notch, but there are a few things in front of that which make for a highly usable and effective facility,” said John Limon, the Buckner Fitness Center director with the 673d FSS. “We work together constantly to ensure, between the two facilities, the entire base’s needs are taken care of. We focus on harnessing the strengths of one gym over the other to ensure that, through our combined effort, we can do more than if we just copied each other.”
Critical factors that make top-notch equipment possible for any base is leadership’s trust and support for the overall fitness vision, while also funding maintenance that is locally staffed, accurate and timely.
“At JBER, we have a fitness culture that stems from the top down,” Limon said. “The staff and I work hard to breed a weight-room culture, a goal-oriented fitness mindset and a venue to allow expression of that. I try to ensure equipment is available for nearly every fitness aspiration and ability level. I want to make sure the highest-level performing athletes have what they need to be competitive at whatever they are getting after and for those who are looking to stay active to have plenty of options.”
Although personal fitness goals are a huge motivation, it’s ultimately about the warfighter here. The definitive objective is to not only have Arctic Warriors pass PT tests, but to fight downrange and return safely.
With this in mind, one of the ways units can make gains is to take advantage of the JBER Strength and Conditioning (S & C) program. It is a unique opportunity Arctic Warriors now have access to. The main theme of the custom S & C program is to educate and ultimately manifest into proper and safe equipment usage in the main gym making way for more complex gym equipment in the future.
“This professional grade program boasts two National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) S & C certified coaches,” Limon said. “It is a separate custom-built specialized gym within the facility under lock and key that can only be accessed by getting you and your entire unit to work toward fitness development and sign up together.”
Previously, S & C was limited to Special Forces only, but JBER led the way being the first military installation to have a custom built professional S & C rig installed. It then established a professional S & C facility model in a full scope general purpose weight lifting setting offered for the everyday troop.
“Although we weren’t necessarily thinking about a pandemic when we decided to go with multipurpose equipment, the upgrades have definitely played a part in allowing us to keep more fitness centers open compared to a lot of other bases,” Grieser said. “Whether you’re doing it at home or here with us, the important thing, especially during winter, is to find your own physical fitness outlet. Find ways to get the stress out. We want to encourage people to stay safe and continue to work toward their fitness goals in whatever environment they can.”
Prior to the pandemic, more than 900,000 visits were made annually to the fitness centers. Now, under the current Public Health Emergency order, no more than 65 individuals are allowed in a gym facility at one time. Despite the need for numbers to remain limited for safety and health precautions, the gyms are still on track to have facilitated more than 180,000 separate visits during 2020.
“With those numbers it’s really quite incredible that since March 30, we have had zero contact trace [of the coronavirus] come back to the fitness centers,” Grieser said. “This is a combined effort. It means not only are gym goers being more conscientious, but our cutting-edge operational cleaning and mitigation efforts are working and we’re super proud of that.”
We are also noticing some significant changes in the prime usage hours which has helped more people access the gym when it is most suitable for their schedules. Our typical low hours of usage are from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., if you're looking for a time to come in, and not have to wait, these are your hours, Greisen and Limon commented.
“We can put the best looking stuff in here but if the culture isn’t right it won’t be used,” Limon said. “Whatever your discipline is, it doesn’t matter, it is hard work, but you have a place to come in and earn it, there’s a place for everyone here.”
For more information about the Buckner or Elmendorf Fitness Centers, please visit their official Facebook pages at: https://www.facebook.com/JBERbfc/ and https://www.facebook.com/JBERFITNESS/