FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — To Fort Leonard Wood’s trainee population, Army drill sergeants are supposed to be symbols of excellence. When they see the unique campaign hat drill sergeants wear, the trainees know they are around an NCO, who is an expert in all warrior tasks and battle drills, and who lives the Army Values.
While it is often called a rewarding job — is there a Soldier who doesn’t remember his or her drill sergeant? — it is also a demanding one, as a drill sergeant’s day often begins before dawn and ends long after dusk. Finding time to maintain the physical image of the professional Soldier while “on the trail” — the common phrase used to describe a drill sergeant’s tour of duty — is sometimes difficult, but Fort Leonard Wood’s Armed Forces Wellness Center has resources available to help.
When he first started visiting the AFWC here in December 2021, Staff Sgt. Winston Jordan, a drill sergeant with Company E, 701st Military Police Battalion, was already unhappy with his physical appearance — seeing the data, however, was the catalyst he needed to make some changes.
“I thought to myself, ‘How am I supposed to train, lead and mentor trainees at the current status I was in?’” Jordan said. “They look up to you, so you have to be that ideal image. And if you’re not, then you have to step back and look at yourself.”
For Jordan, that meant a hard look at the numbers his AFWC health educator provided: 27.4 percent body fat, 55.5 pounds of fat mass and 146.8 pounds of fat-free mass.
“I was not happy,” he said. “What happens on the trail is we get up early in the morning, and we rely on energy drinks or coffee — anything with caffeine in it — then we’re trying to figure out when we can work out. On top of that, we allow ourselves to eat poorly, so it’s wear and tear on your body.”
Jordan, originally from New Cumberland, West Virginia, grew up weight training and wrestling, and he set out to make some changes, including increasing his fat-free mass.
According to Anna Schwartz, the AFWC’s supervisory health educator, Jordan returned for an appointment just four months later and had already added nearly 14 pounds of fat-free mass, but that’s when his luck changed. He developed a condition called diverticulitis, an inflammation or infection in the large intestine that causes abdominal pain, fever, nausea, vomiting and changes in bowel habits — Jordan said he initially thought he had a hernia.
“That was definitely a setback,” he said. “It was a challenge, because it took away some of my motivation.”
He consistently kept coming back for follow-ups, though, Schwartz said.
“Although he was dropping fat mass and (body fat percentage), his goal was to increase muscle mass,” Schwartz said. “Unfortunately, due to his condition, he was reversing in his ability to maintain the muscle mass.”
To make things worse, in July last year, Jordan had to have emergency surgery when the condition worsened, which included having a colostomy bag for two months — as a drill sergeant.
“That was fun,” Jordan said.
At his mid-tour point, Jordan attended what’s called the Drill Sergeant Resiliency Program, intended to provide a week-long break from drill sergeant duties. During DSRP — in which the AFWC collects data on the changes in body composition, stress levels, sleep and blood pressure that occur from the start of the drill sergeant tour to the DSRP — Jordan’s body composition data was tracked at 23.2 percent body fat, 43.3 pounds of fat mass and 143.4 pounds of fat-free mass. He had dropped 17 pounds of fat-free mass since his diverticulitis started.
“It was around this time that his diverticulitis started to improve, and he was able to start implementing changes in his diet and exercise,” Schwartz said.
Within a few months of DSRP, Jordan was able to progress with his goal to gain fat-free mass, including gaining back the progress he made prior to having diverticulitis. Schwartz said he not only gained back a little more in fat-free mass, but he also lost nearly 20 pounds of fat mass and nearly 10 percent of his body fat.
“He drastically improved his body composition while on the trail and dealing with a very challenging health condition,” Schwartz said.
In March at Specker Gym, Jordan completed what’s called “The 1,000 Pound Club,” a strength-training achievement that signifies an individual has lifted a combined total of 1,000 pounds in three major lifts: the squat, deadlift and bench press. Jordan lifted a total of 1,190 pounds, which is 45 more than he lifted before his emergency surgery last year.
“It is a great feeling to randomly do the 1,000 Pound Club competitions and progress in weights,” he said. “Now, I have set my current goals to bench 335 pounds, squat 415 pounds and deadlift 550 pounds, for a total of 1,300 pounds during my next attempt.”
Jordan credits a lot of his success to the classes offered at the AFWC. In addition to having his body composition data analyzed over the course of his tour, Jordan was also able to attend classes on topics, such as stress management, upping metabolism and health coaching.
“I think more people should take advantage of the wellness center,” Jordan said. “If they can get in here more often — and not just the requirement when they go through DSRP — for drills especially, it’ll help them out and keep them motivated. Because if you don’t hold yourself accountable for what you want and your goals, then you’ll never succeed.”
Schwartz called Jordan a success story — and much of that success is found in the little details that show incremental improvements, even through setbacks.
“This was truly determination and overall consistency that would have been lost in the sauce had it not been measured or tracked,” Schwartz said.
Jordan said he is often asked by his trainees for advice on maintaining fitness levels when they get to their first duty station — in addition to books and websites on the topic, he also keeps a list of which installations have wellness centers.
“When they get to their unit, they have so much else going on,” he said. “They don’t have time to figure out what’s available on their installation, but you have to be physically fit in the military. If you’re not, then your mental capacity to stay motivated dwindles. Also, it’s a stressful environment, so it’s good to have that release — a lot of us love to go to the gym just to decompress.”
Jordan said drill sergeant hours are long and busy, and it takes discipline to manage limited free time — using available resources to help ensure “you don’t come off the trail in worse shape than you arrived” just makes sense.
“We’re trying to give all our time to the trainees, but you also have to remember to give some time to yourself, because the trail comes to an end,” he said.
The AFWC’s services are available to all service members, Schwartz said, including National Guard and Reserve, military dependents, Department of Defense civilians, and retirees and their dependents. The process begins with a 30-minute initial health coaching appointment, when the health educator learns about the client’s behaviors, disease risk factors, goals and interests, and readiness and confidence to change.
“This allows the health educator time to make individualized recommendations of services that would benefit the client on their wellness journey,” Schwartz said, adding clients may also attend any AFWC educational classes at any time after their initial appointment.
The AFWC — formerly called the Army Wellness Center — is located in Bldg. 350, next to General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital, at 14122 3rd St. For more information on available services, visit their website or call 573.596.9677.
The AWC can also be found on Facebook and Instagram @FortLeonardWoodAWC.