Physical and Mental Combat Readiness
By Gustavo Arguello
The United States Army is an organization designed for war, created to protect America's interests at home and abroad. Accomplishing the country's strategic goals, protecting America's freedoms, and supporting the nation in times of need, requires well-equipped and professionally trained Soldiers. The Army needs mentally and physically prepared Soldiers to meet operational environment demands across all war domains. Reaching combat readiness requires a holistic health approach, including spiritual practices, mental health, physical conditioning, proper nutrition, and good sleep practices (Department of the Army [DA], 2020a).
Soldiers apply strength and endurance and use their cognitive capabilities to execute combat operations (DA, 2020a), and to maintain high levels of attention and strength Soldiers require sleep, sleep is like a resupply operation for the Soldier. Physical and mental preparation for operational environment demands is a commander's responsibility, and leadership involvement is critical to mission success because mental health and fitness are imperative to a Soldier's lethality and overall readiness to prepare Soldiers for the chaos of war.
Soldiers' lethality includes the ability to tolerate stress, use physical strength, and mental accuracy, therefore physical and mental conditioning is vital to performing occupational tasks on the battlefield. Physical fitness is just as necessary as a Soldier's optimal mental function, which refers to a Soldier's mental capabilities, including emotional, cognitive, social, and people skills (DA, 2020a), which is critical for top performance during combat operations. Effective movement lethality and mental readiness enable Soldiers to make effective decisions in close combat; consequently, the Holistic Health and Fitness (H2F) concept improves Soldier lethality.
Comparable to any other military operation, leaders create and implement strategies to improve the organization's overall readiness. To prepare units for the operational environment, the Department of the Army (DA) provides organizational physical training programs for commanders, and the DA directs units to include H2F in their training plans (Department of the Army [DA], 2020b). The H2F program must incorporate prescribed guidance to meet their unit's mission essential task list (METL), focusing on Soldier readiness following Army doctrine. Training plans require continuous evaluation to assess the effects on the unit and to measure performance.
Commanders assess the organization's performance against known standards using data from existing databases or prescribed Army standards. For example, Soldiers train on their assigned weapon system, and the assessment occurs during weapon qualification events; each Soldier requires a minimum qualifying score to meet Army standards. To measure physical fitness, the Army uses the Army's Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) (Department of the Army [DA], 2020c); the ACFT shows the commander the individual and the unit's scores to determine the fitness level, the scores assist in evaluating the organization's fitness program. However, H2F is not about the physical assessment score; the H2F overarching goal is Soldier's overall readiness.
Overall readiness leads to Soldier lethality; the H2F's purpose is "to provide the organizational structure required and doctrine across the Army" (DA, 2020a, p. 1-1). The H2F standardizes preparation for operational challenges, assists in rehabilitation, and reconditioning Soldiers increasing physical and mental readiness. H2F Incorporation and assessment allow commanders to foresee the unit's future performance across multiple metrics using databases. For example, the Medical Protection System (MEDPROS) measures the organization's overall medical readiness (United States Army, 2022). Commanders use MEDPROS' information to predict the unit's deployability percentages for future operations based on the Soldier's injuries or mental health issues identified.
Operations pose physical and mental challenges; to cope with mental obstacles, Soldiers require strong cognitive skills to perform their occupational skills. According to the DA, cognitive ability refers to a Soldier's capacity to develop and integrate information into decisions under stress (DA, 2020). A Soldier's ability to think clearly in chaotic combat operations is critical to their survival and mission accomplishment; mental cognitively requires development. Soldiers need realistic, challenging training to recreate combat stress to achieve robust cognitive ability. For example, during unit competitions and training events, Soldiers face a variety of scenarios that replicate combat environments while wearing full combat gear, providing experience essential to prepare a Soldier for chaos.
Prepare Soldiers for Chaos
Preparing Soldiers for the chaos of combat is similar to the physical and mental preparation professional athletes conduct during pre-season training; professional teams, just like the Army, focus on realistic training. Units incorporate the Army's principles of "precision, progression, and integration" (DA, 2020a, p. 7-1) into training plans to achieve Soldier readiness. Precision refers to perceiving the difference between proper and improper techniques. For example, Soldiers wear their combat gear in the field, experience austere conditions, and conduct frequent execution on their occupational and warrior tasks to improve lethality; soldiers also need progression to improve performance and build muscle memory and stamina.
Soldiers achieve physical and training goals by training often and joining precision and progression using the integration principle. Progression refers to the correct quantity, intensity, length, and kind of training required to challenge the body and mind without causing injuries (DA, 2020b). The progression objective is to progressively advance the physical ability to perform occupational and combat-related tasks. For example, Soldiers prepare their bodies to carry heavy loads, starting at a lower weight and learning to properly wear their heavy gear, progressing to the desired weight, integrating the principles of precision and progression.
According to the Department of the Army (2020a), integration focuses on "tasks and drills Soldiers perform that enable them to fight and win" (p. 7-2); integration emphasizes linking combat tasks into physical exercises as described in the DA H2F drills and exercises publication (2020b). Precision, progression, and integration play a critical role in the combat training of an organization, incorporating physical and mental training to replicate chaotic environments and prepare Soldiers for enduring the physical challenges of performing occupational tasks while carrying full combat gear.
Mental health and fitness are imperative to a Soldier's lethality and overall readiness in order to prepare Soldiers for chaos. Soldiers' lethality includes the ability to tolerate and use strength, endurance, and speed while performing demanding physical tasks, which is critical for top performance during combat operations. Commanders assess organizations' performance against known standards using data from existing databases or prescribed Army standards; the H2F is not about scores; the overarching goal is the Soldier's overall readiness because it leads to Soldier lethality.
The training incorporation and assessment allow commanders to foresee the unit's future performance by using the information to predict the unit's deployability percentages based on Soldiers' injuries or mental health issues identified. Soldiers need a variety of scenarios that replicate combat environments while wearing full combat gear, providing experience essential to prepare a Soldier for chaos. The precision, progression, and integration principles play a critical role in the combat training of an organization; incorporating physical and mental training to replicate chaotic operational environments is critical to Soldiers' overarching readiness.
Department of the Army. (2020a). Holistic health and fitness (FM 7-22).
Department of the Army. (2020b). Holistic health and fitness drills and exercises (ATP 7-22.02).
Department of the Army. (2020c). Holistic health and fitness testing (ATP 7-22.01).
United States Army. (2022). What is MEDPROS?