The Soldier Wellness Education and Training program was created to help Soldiers whose careers have been set back by conditioning issues – and will end prematurely unless they improve their physical fitness. The New Jersey National Guard’s two-week program, held at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, gives Soldiers the opportunity to get back in shape.
“For some people, this may be their last chance,” said 1SG Peter Sarni III, one of the instructors. “We’re showing them that they may have dug themselves a hole, but they can get themselves out with the right tools.”
Those tools include low-key classes on topics such as nutrition, basic physiology and resiliency, complemented by blood-boiling workout sessions, where Soldiers are pushed to their absolute limit.
Soldiers like SGT Richard Hutton say the reason they have come to love the program is that balance.
“The cadre are hardcore when we’re doing PT [physical training],” he said. “But they are also compassionate. You know they want you to do well.”
Like nearly all of the 23 Soldiers enrolled in the July SWEAT class, SGT Hutton serves in the National Guard part time. He said the demands of a new civilian job as a mental health technician, college classes and a new baby took their toll on his workout routine.
His failure on his most recent Army physical fitness test prevents him from attending military schools that would qualify him for promotion; plus the fitness test failure could ultimately end his Guard career.
“It’s embarrassing, and it’s a detriment to my career,” he said. “I had started to really beat myself up. This course has me back on track. I love it. I just wish it was longer.”
Everyone enrolled in the course volunteered to take it.
SPC Poonam Singh sees the SWEAT program as an opportunity to pursue a longtime ambition – an officer’s commission.
But her inability to handle the physical demands of the New Jersey Army National Guard Officer Candidate course forced her to drop out. She vows that if she has the opportunity to go back, her fitness won’t be an impediment.
SPC Singh lost 7 percent of her body fat and 4 inches off her waist in just 10 days in the SWEAT program. She said she learned that for her body type, many small meals a day are better than two or three big ones.
“This course has really been about wellness,” she said. “It’s not just a smoke session.”
As the course wound down on July 25, 1SG Sarni offered class members words of encouragement after their most challenging day of workouts. The schedule began at 6 a.m. in a swimming pool at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and ended nearly 12 hours later with a 90-minute workout that included a three-mile run, circuit training and weights.
“We’re proud of you,” 1SG Sarni said. “You have earned our respect.”
By SFC Wayne Woolley, New Jersey National Guard