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Soldiering fitness is key to mission and career success

By Staff Sgt. Jennifer Milnes | 35th Infantry Division | Feb. 26, 2018

CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait – As the Santa Fe division winds down its effort at forging the trail for future divisions to assume command and control of Task Force Spartan, several key enlisted 35th leaders share their thoughts on the mission and the importance of maintaining individual Soldier readiness even while in a deployed environment.

"In the past, when Soldiers deployed forward, they would become so focused on the mission, that those individual Soldier readiness tasks would get sort of shuffled to the side until the unit redeployed," said Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy Newton, 35th Infantry Division command sergeant major. "There's an extensive real-world mission happening here with a lot of moving parts and pieces – but it's important that Soldiers not forget to maintain their proficiency on basic skills."

Sgt. Maj. Newton developed and routinely communicates that there are five key pillars of fitness that Soldiers should strive to live by; stability fitness, sustainment fitness, SHARP fitness, safety fitness and Soldier fitness.

"Soldier fitness is that baseline pillar," says Newton. "It's part of the NCO creed, 'I will strive to remain tactically and technically proficient,' and it essentially involves not allowing those basic Soldier skills to get rusty."

Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 35th Infantry Division Command Sgt. Maj. Jeff Bayless agreed on the importance of Soldiering fitness and hopes that Soldiers are able to take a step back and understand why they continue to train, even while deployed.

"Soldiering fitness is already what every Soldier is required to know, practice and execute at any time." Bayless said. "These are your basic skills to function as Soldier and survive in combat."

Bayless explained that from pre-deployment training through their rotation in the Middle East, he has seen Santa Fe Soldiers grow tremendously.

"There's been obvious growth in these individuals," Bayless said. "They're growing as Soldiers, not only by honing their crafts, but many of them have cross-trained in additional duties and this benefits them just as much as building on their basic Soldier skills," continued Bayless.

To help with this, the 35th Infantry Division conducted multiple internal training exercises called "Blaze the Trail." The intent of these exercises was multifold; to build upon the Division's combat readiness, further develop interoperability between U.S and Kuwaiti Forces, and to help build individual Soldier's confidence in their basic soldiering skills.

"The exercises helped maintain Soldier fitness by practicing basic skills," said Sgt. First Class Sokly Lach, Bravo Company first sergeant. "It gave our guys the opportunity to go through the steps to prepare vehicles and equipment for movement, transport the equipment and then set it all up so the division and command staff could operate out of it."

Lach assisted his Soldiers throughout the exercises and instructed those who had never experienced setting up a DRASH (deployable rapid assembly shelter) system.

"It may seem redundant to Soldiers to have to leave their office and set up a mobile TOC (tactical operations center) only to perform the same duties they'd be doing from their office," said Lach. "But part of maintaining Soldiering fitness is essential for readiness and always being prepared for the worst-case scenario."

Lach said the significance for sustaining the basic soldier skills is that it's the basis for soldier functions. Prepare for adversity before it happens. When Soldiers do not know how to take care of themselves, they will struggle to manage stress through difficult situations they will inevitably face throughout their careers.

"To be Soldier ready is to be a leader," said Lach. "Soldiers need constantly train to prepare themselves for their next promotion or leadership position. Instill your work ethic the same as you would train your Soldiers."