Approaching a group of Soldiers on a Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall basketball court any afternoon during the normal work week, one would think they were outside enjoying the camaraderie of exercising together. The sound of laughter fills the air as they get started. Any visitor passing by would never know these Soldiers were flagged by the Army Physical Fitness Test. They either failed the PT test or did not meet the weight requirement.
The Soldiers are required to participate in a remedial physical fitness training program, commonly known as PT. The group, comprised of 13 Soldiers from the 529th Regimental Support Company on JBM-HH, is led by Sgt. Jason Vallejo, noncommissioned officer in charge of the remedial program. He took over running this program in January 2012 with 15 Soldiers. Two met the standards within two months, and of the remaining 13, Vallejo said “two others don’t need to be here but are staying to progress on their scores for the upcoming company APFT in April.”
Vallejo explained Soldiers are required to take a physical fitness test at least twice each year. Events measured include push-ups, sit-ups and a timed two-mile run. Soldiers are required a minimum of 60 points on each event in order to pass. “If you fail [an APFT], you automatically get flagged and given 90 days to [meet the standards] and come off the program. If you’re overweight, you have 180 days to come off the program,” he said.
“Each month they have to show significant improvement losing weight. The guidelines are determined by gender, height, weight and age,” said Vallejo. “There’s a mathematical equation which determines body fat.”
Vallejo said before he started running the program there were no set guidelines on how to conduct remedial PT. “I restructured it with specific guidelines, documenting results with efficient paperwork and in a few months, the program has proven to be a success.”
Soldiers in the remedial PT program meet twice daily, five days a week for remedial PT, Vallejo explained. In his program, Soldiers do cardio training Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays and muscle training Tuesdays and Thursdays. “The cardio workout has been a big help with push-ups and sit-ups,” said Vallejo. “We [also] do a combination of exercises to build up endurance for the two-mile run.”
He explained muscle training varies from upper and lower body exercises and also working with weights at the JBM-HH Fitness Center. The Soldiers use a variety of machines at the gym, including elliptical, treadmill, rowing, bicycle and weights.
“When I first started running remedial PT, I felt challenged but it wasn’t that difficult,” said Vallejo. “All that was needed was positive motivation to get these Soldiers [to the level] they are currently. As long as they knew they had someone to help push them forward and tell them they were doing well, that’s all that was really needed.”
Although he’s never failed an APFT since he enlisted, Vallejo felt [remedial PT] was a negative situation to be in and could tell some of the Soldiers built up anxiety about having to attend.
“I told them to forget about everything negative and focus on their goals, focus on a new foundation to build upon and move forward,” he said. Building self-esteem and confidence was important to Vallejo in helping the Soldiers meet the PT standards. “There was a lot of ‘I can’t,’ I wanted to change to ‘I can,’” Vallejo remembered. “I took exercise regimens that worked well for myself and others I knew were successful and introduced them into the program. I started with the lowest levels of weights and repetitions and the slowest runs. Slowly they improved on the diagnostic tests.”
Pfc. Brion Edie has been in remedial PT for the past few months after being flagged for weight and a failed APFT. “There’s a serious amount of accountability in the remedial program, which wasn’t enforced well before Sgt. Vallejo started running it. We didn’t have the structure we have now. He makes attendance mandatory, but if you miss [due to work requirements], it’s up to the individual to make up the PT session,” said Edie. “He tracks our progress with weigh-in tapes and diagnostic tests, so we know how we’re performing. This is for our own benefit and tells us[whether or not] we’ve been working hard and doing the right thing.
“I couldn’t be happier about the way Sgt. Vallejo has set up and maintained this program,” said Edie. “He wanted us to start at a level we could achieve. Also we’ve gained confidence.”
Edie said another benefit to the program is time with the Rader Clinic nutritionist. “I showed her my food chart and got good tips that won’t hinder my diet and helped me with my weight loss. It helped a lot.” Edie learned to make healthy choices at the dining facility. “I learned portion control and making conscious choices like choosing turkey instead of beef, eating salads. Also, I learned these are life choices, something I can do even if I decide to leave the Army.”
Edie also quit smoking after nine years. “I couldn’t run. I knew after being in the program two or three weeks, I wouldn’t make progress if I didn’t stop smoking, so I quit cold turkey one weekend. That was a gigantic step for me.”
In just over nine weeks since Edie started the program overseen by Vallejo, the 31-year-old, 6’4” Soldier said he has gone from 12 percent over the Army’s limit for body fat to five percent over the limit. He also has seen a decrease in his weight from 300 pounds to between 282 – 286 pounds. “It depends on how much water I drink before I weigh in,” he said. “I’ve improved my push-ups by 17 and my sit-ups by 19 and taken two minutes and 28 seconds off my run time. This shows the program is working.”
Edie also works out during his lunch break with his team leader two to three times a week. “If I’ve treated myself to a fun meal or a beer on the weekend, I’ll work out extra, so I’m doing PT three times a day about three days each week.
Pfc. Randall Frenchman, another 529th RSC Soldier, has also been in the Vallejo-run remedial PT program since January, 2012. “I was flagged for weight,” he said. “I was 25 pounds over my weight limit when I started remedial PT. This is a good program. It’s structured very well and I like both the cardio and muscle training,” he said.
Frenchman’s weight has dropped from 225 to 208 and reduced his body fat from 4 percent over the maximum to zero percent over. “I’ve also decreased my smoking from a pack a day to a pack every three days,” said the 38-year-old Soldier whose goal is to completely quit smoking.
“After meeting with the nutritionist, I cut down on junk food and stopped drinking sodas. Now I only drink water, including vitamin water and coffee,” said Frenchman. “I attend remedial as much as work allows. When I’m at work, the transportation platoon has a makeshift gym where I can work out, and I try to do sit-ups and push-ups on the bus when the unit is out on runs.”
Confident about passing the APFT test in April, both Edie and Frenchman know they have two months to maintain their weight before they’re allowed to leave the remedial PT program.
“Staying fit is an important part of a Soldier’s life,” said Vallejo. It’s also mandatory. “With the reduction of forces, the Army can only keep the best of the best. Failing the AFPT can prevent a Soldier from promotions, winning awards, even getting tuition assistance for education.”
Vallejo is humble about the praise he’s received from Soldiers in the program. “I just want them to know I am here for them and let them know someone cares about them and their success,” he said. “I want them to know they have a positive goal they can achieve. There is a method to my madness,” he said with a smile.