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Professional Soldier Athlete: The Cornerstone of Strategic Landpower’s Human Dimension

October 1, 2014

General Charles Chandler Krulak, 31st Commandant, U.S. Marine Corps, outlined a need for the military to prepare for a “three-block war, in which full-scale military action, peacekeeping operations and humanitarian relief can occur within three city blocks.” Strategic landpower requires physical and mental adaptability, stamina and resilience for Soldiers to shift effectively among tasks. When Soldiers fail to transition appropriately or become fatigued, their actions at the tactical level can result in negative strategic ramifications (coined the “Strategic Corporal” effect). Challenges to the human dimension of warfare have real costs in combat and can lead to increased risk of injury, death, fratricide or war crimes. In garrison, decreased physical and mental resilience can lead to increased rates of limited duty, nondeployable status, sexual assault and suicide.

In every war since 1860, impaired physical readiness and the inability to endure the physical requirements of combat have resulted in casualties on the battlefield.4 Unfortunately, competing priorities and fiscal constraints have hampered physical readiness, especially during interwar periods. Dr. Whitfield East, a professor at the U.S. Military Academy, analyzed the history of physical readiness training and determined that the “Army’s emphasis on physical readiness has followed a sinusoidal pattern of surge and consolidation through multiple force mobilizations and times of peace.” 

The health and fitness of our nation’s youth directly relates to the strength of our nation and future military readiness. Carl von Clausewitz recognized the importance of the trinity between the people, the government and the army as an essential basis to succeed at war.6 However, the extension of this concept to a whole-of-government approach to ensure that next-generation military recruits are prepared for the mental and physical rigors of war has had limited success. For example, Dr. East noted that after World War I “Americans moved steadily away from a physically active [lifestyle] . . . to a sedentary urban society, which further deteriorated 2 personal health and fitness,” leading to concerns about American preparedness for World War II.8 These concerns remain today, as America’s youth are becoming more unhealthy, overweight and unfit.

Both Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno’s Readiness and Resilience Campaign and the Performance Triad Initiative of Army Surgeon General Lieutenant General Patricia Horoho seek to develop physical and mental resilience. The requirements to build resilience in Soldiers are similar to the requirements for professional athletes. The Performance Triad Initiative seeks to optimize military readiness and improve the health of the military force— and ultimately the nation—through optimal sleep, activity and nutrition (SAN). Poor SAN degrades readiness, recruitment, retention and health. General Odierno’s Waypoint #2 calls for Soldiers to be committed to the Army profession.12 As part of that call, the military culture will need to embrace optimal SAN. A comprehensive strategic plan is necessary to ensure the military can meet our nation’s future national security needs. The purposes of this review are to 1) outline the strategic importance of SAN for both the military and nation’s youth from a military readiness and health perspective and 2) provide recommendations to enhance military readiness and resilience of the future military force.