JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. –
Partnerships are crucial in the National Guard, no matter what state. Partners can drive highly effective engagement through information sharing, best practices, and cultivating stronger subject matter experts. This has been proven with our State Partnership Program with Panama and training partnerships with Honduras and Israel, to name a few. Most recently, our partnerships with state and local organizations were vital for supporting COVID-19 Response operations.
A new partnership between the Missouri National Guard (MONG), The National Security Innovation Network, and Washington University (WashU) have the potential to impact a holistic health approach to readiness. However, that impact can only occur with appropriate funding and an implementation plan.
The Army’s new health initiative, Holistic Health and Fitness (H2F), aims to make a genuinely comprehensive holistic health approach by adding key tenets to holistic health, such as mental, sleep, and spiritual readiness. The program encourages soldiers to take better care of their minds and bodies and emphasizes learning how to conduct wellness training properly. But without funding for the program Army-wide, how will National Guard units implement this initiative? That’s what this year’s class at WashU is here to help find out.
Hacking for Defense (H4D) project to address the challenges of implementing the Holistic Health and Fitness doctrine in the Guard. H4D pairs DoD end-users with top university students for collaborative problem-solving over an academic semester. Students work to develop a minimally viable product solution to improve service members real-world problems, which can be adopted by the DoD end-users, in this case, the Missouri National Guard.
So, what’s the problem and why do we need this collaboration? Readiness is the answer to both questions. When the Active Duty Army implemented H2F in early 2020 they determined nearly 60,000 Soldiers were non-deployable due to one or more deficiencies., H2F will eventually become an official program for the Reserve Component, highlighting a similar holistic fitness gap which we must address. To begin developing a program, the Missouri National Guard hired one Project Officer who works with partners who can assist in developing a course of action for the implementation of H2F.
MONG’s Project Officer and subject matter expert for H2F, is Maj. Dori McClelland, who brings some serious chops to the table. Dori recently served as the Task Force Battle Captain, during the roll-out and implementation of state-wide COVID-19 Response operations and as the Task Force Liaison Officer with the Air National Guard during the mass vaccination efforts. These assignments give her the unique ability to build on that experience to develop a partnership with WashU and present a pathway to implementing H2F.
By using WashU’s graduate students to work on problem-solving, MONG increases the speed at which solutions are developed and implemented. In addition, a networked approach enables the consistent problem-solving capability for the DoD that helps bridge the civil-military divide and improves outcomes for service members.
The WashU students taking part in partnerships are educationally focused on lean startup methodology using a hypothesis and test approach to problems. The students working on H2F are split into two teams, Alpha and Beta. Each team creates a problem statement given to them by MONG, and then they change and adapt the original hypothesis based on what they’ve learned. Team Alpha’s theme is “Performance Team Positions,” which asks, “How does the MONG install Performance Teams tailored for the Missouri National Guard H2F program within the current budget and resources available?” Team Beta’s theme is “Resistance to Change.” They analyze the hurdles of implementing H2F by asking, “How can the H2F doctrine be made compelling to the largest number of MONG Soldiers while achieving buy-in from senior leadership?”
Not easy tasks.
The WashU teams first interview Soldiers of all echelons to find the “pain points” of implementing healthy lifestyles. They then analyze the answers by bouncing them off the original hypothesis, forming actionable item(s) that could be adopted by the MONG.
Enrique Perdomo, the graduate student spearheading Alpha Team, said, “Since I work at Boeing, I have insight of working in the defense industry. Anything I can do to make the defense industry more effective is something I’m passionate about.” When asked about the interviewing of Soldiers, Perdomo said, “This has been a real pleasure to be a part of this experience. I’ve learned a lot about the Guard, and it has been a pleasure meeting different people across the state. One commonality I’ve seen is everyone is willing to help each other and there’s great joy that comes with that help.”
In addition, Missouri partners with Washington University on the X-Force Fellowship. In this paid-intern program, graduate students work full time for the MONG over the summer. WashU provides two interns, paid for by the National Security Innovation Network, to allow Maj. McClelland to do a “deep dive” into what resources the Missouri National Guard has, and how, or if, these resources can be better utilized and shared. After this analysis, they will finalize their recommendations to implement H2F and provide that data to MONG.
McClelland, working closely with the students, described the partnership by saying, “The collaboration between the Missouri National Guard, Washington University, and the National Security Innovation Network to solve the challenge of implementing Holistic Health and Fitness in the Guard has been a great partnership leading to innovative ideas. The Washington University Graduate students, studying the problem from the outside, are developing creative solutions to a complex problem.”
Short-term, the National Guard Bureau, is currently developing a package of training videos with registered dietitians, occupational therapists, physical therapists and strength and conditioning coaches to further develop Soldiers’ understanding and implementation of H2F. Exercise science will be included in the curriculum at the Basic Leader Course for future sergeants, while officers at the Pre-Command Course will learn to plan, budget, and assess their own H2F programs.
The long-term solution includes holistic and health professionals working in Soldier Performance Readiness Centers throughout the state for Soldiers to access on and off duty. We are taking the first steps to bridge the gap between Master Resiliency Training, Master Fitness Training and the Army Combat Fitness Test. Our goal is to create the full embodiment of health and wellness across the Missouri National Guard, to be a better prepared, resilient, and healthier fighting force. And it all starts with a good partnership.