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NEWS | Jan. 12, 2015

Soldiers Overcome Environmental Challenges to Fitness in Alaska

By David Vergun

Polar bears thrive in Alaska, as do Arctic wolves -- particularly the Arctic Wolves of 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team's 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, at Fort Wainwright, Alaska.

Thanks to the Performance Triad -- the Army surgeon general's prescription for building readiness and resilience through adequate sleep, activity and nutrition -- the two-legged variety of Arctic Wolves are thriving even more in their harsh environment, according to 1-5's commander, Lt. Col. Thomas M. Hough.

SLEEP

Soldiers in the lower 48 experience a good balance between night and day, but go north to Fort Wainwright, which is close to the Arctic Circle, and light and darkness fluctuate wildly from about three hours of sunlight around this time of year, to around 22 hours of sunlight mid-summer, Hough said.

People in Alaska are at greater risk of having sleep problems because of this fluctuation, according to Heidi Knode, the technical director at Alaska Sleep Clinic in Anchorage, a city 358 miles south of Fairbanks. She explained that it has to do with circadian rhythms of the body's sleep/wake cycle.

The Arctic Wolves know this, so they developed a sleep plan, said Hough said. "You can't let the environment master you, you have to master it."

"In the summer we teach our Soldiers and their families how to construct heavy drapes and sun shades so they can get some sleep even when the sun is up for 22 hours," he explained. "All these techniques passed from one Soldier to another enable the brigade to actively manage the incorporation of new Soldiers into this unique environment."

Hough admitted that getting sleep isn't always a guarantee in the Army, especially now that the Arctic Wolves are headed south for a rotation through the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, where heavy drapes won't be needed and training isn't constrained to a comfy workday schedule.

ACTIVITY

Keeping fit can also be challenging in Alaska this time of year, where temperatures average 2 degrees for a high and minus 18 for a low. That would make for a chilly morning run.

"[Physical Training] outdoors can be challenging," Hough said. "To combat the extreme environment, the brigade has resourced additional indoor physical fitness facilities as well as resourced training programs to educate leaders in how to conduct innovative physical fitness training with limited resources."

The brigade has a wellness center, which recently opened, so Soldiers now have a full range of indoor fitness equipment. "The indoor space really helped us," he said. "The younger generation understands functional fitness. You don't have to really talk them into it. They get it. They're motivated about it."

NUTRITION

The younger Soldiers also recognize that eating the right food is also an important part of being fit, Hough said.

It wasn't that long ago that the brigade dining facilities didn't have a breakfast salad bar, he said. They now do. "It sounds small, but it gives Soldiers a lot more choices and opportunities."

Hough summed everything up, "What we know is that the proper balance of nutrition, fitness, and sleep leads to a well-balanced and healthy Soldier and family. Balance is best achieved when the Performance Triad is a way of life, a behavioral change that over time becomes organizational culture. This concept is even more important to the Soldiers of the Arctic Wolf Brigade with the dramatically changing environment."

"Without the Performance Triad as a core custom, you are likely to find the Alaska environment mastering you versus you mastering your environment," Hough said.
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