March 31, 2023

How to Operationalize an H2F Program – Part 1: Initiating Change

By Joe Cruz, H2F Program Director 1/1 ABCT, 1st Armored Division

This is the first article in our three-part series on How to Operationalize an H2F Program. A huge “THANKS” to Joe Cruz for sharing his experience and wisdom. We hope you find this series helpful and stay tuned for Part 2 – Foundational Systems

I spent 10 years running a human performance (HP) program for Naval Special Warfare Group Four-Special Boat Team 20 and have been working with tactical operators for over 20 years. The US Army launched the Holistic Health and Fitness (H2F) initiative to provide soldiers with the same type of service operators receive to optimize soldier performance, readiness, and overall well-being.  

A lot of my experience working in the special operations community lateralized when I became the H2F program director for Ready First Combat Team. But there were also many differences between deploying an HP program with a small group of operators and trying to serve 4,500 troops across seven battalions. In this blog series, I’ll share some of the ways our group made that leap. 

When I arrived at Fort Bliss in 2020, I had to grapple with the difficulties the H2F program itself presented. The multi-domain, holistic approach offers an opportunity for development in five areas – physical, mental, spiritual, sleep, and nutrition – but expanding beyond the previous narrow view of preparedness and readiness that’s still pervasive in the military also creates some complexities. 

Trying to instill a collaborative, cross-domain, high-performance culture in a setting where people aren’t familiar with this model is complicated. It’s still a relatively new concept for many units, so we had to get all stakeholders to understand the purpose of H2F, why it existed, what we were going to do, and how it would benefit them. This necessitated building strong relationships, understanding leaders’ objectives and concerns, and being engaged with them as we built out the program. 

Holistic Health and Fitness Domains

Receiving the Commander’s Intent and Vision

The very first thing I did when I joined the HP program was meet with my brigade commander to understand his intent, what he expected of me as the Program Director, and the H2F capability as a whole. Then I was able to go to town as a leader and do what I needed to do to achieve his goals. 

Everything I do revolves around making sure that if we have an initiative on the team, it’s tied to a brigade priority and furthering the commander's intent. If it doesn’t relate to something that he wants to accomplish, we shouldn't even be considering it because it’s only going to detract from what he has in mind. 

You can't come in thinking you know everything. Even though you might understand what a human performance program looks like, you need to be able to tailor that to the commander's intent because the buck stops on his or her desk. 

That is probably the best advice I could give any program director trying to operationalize H2F. Our commanding officer is ultimately responsible for what the unit does or fails to do. It's our job to advise him correctly, give him buffer room to make timely decisions and help him achieve the goals tied to his main priorities.

Overcoming High Soldier-to-Provider Ratio

Arguably the most daunting initial obstacle to operationalizing our H2F program was the large number of service members our staff had to serve. Even if we were able to add more staff, we knew we’d never be able to reduce the Soldier-to-provider ratio to an acceptable level – there are just too many people in the brigade. We had to figure out how to augment the capability of our H2F team to enhance our operational reach at scale. 

To start addressing this issue, we organized our team into smaller human performance teams, assigning two strength coaches and an athletic trainer to each of the seven battalions and the remaining staff of 14 people at our headquarters. This way, every battalion has a touch point, there’s a team solely dedicated to their needs, and we have our hands on each unit in the brigade. Assigning these three-person teams allowed us to cast a wider coaching net and rapid access to acute care. 

The second way we’ve extended our reach beyond the capabilities of the H2F staff is by identifying change agents who use the program, believe in it, and are willing to share it with others in their formation. They can carry our message farther than we ever could on our own. We initiated this outreach with a specific program we created called the H2F-Facilitator. It was designed for educating individuals within the formations that possess the right attributes and characteristics we need to help us reinforce the message of H2F. The Facilitator course runs at least once a quarter and includes all the domains. We teach soldiers about sleep, stress, nutrition, physical training, and spiritual readiness. This educational process enables us to groom leaders within the formation to become ambassadors for culture change

Read the Full Series: How to Operationalize an H2F Program

We hope you found some inspiration and tips in this series on operationalizing an H2F program, authored by Joe Cruz, 2F Program Director 1/1 ABCT, 1st Armored Division. Below are links to read the full series.

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