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Ft. Jackson opens one-stop-shop training center for physical, mental health

COLUMBIA — Fort Jackson recruits, their families and civilian employees now have a single facility they can turn to for both physical and mental health support at the Columbia-area Army base.

Fort Jackson opened a soldier performance readiness center on March 24 in an effort to better serve trainees' needs in five areas of fitness: physical, mental, nutrition, sleep and spirituality.

The $2 million facility is officially named for the late Drill Sgt. Timothy Kay, who overcame cancer before moving up the ranks to drill sergeant, and later died after his cancer came out of remission. Fort Jackson officers said Kay embodied what they call "H2F" — holistic health and fitness.

"'H2F' is a seismic shift in how our soldiers are trained, evaluated and sustained," said Gen. Jason Kelly, who oversees infantry training at Fort Jackson. "We can consult with occupational therapists, dieticians, behavioral specialists, athletic trainers and spiritual advisors. Of the recognized domains of fitness, here is where you come to learn how to dominate all five."

Among other reasons the Army is concerned about the whole health of its recruits at Fort Jackson is the rate of suicides among active duty military personnel, which spiked at 384 nationwide in 2020, before dropping slightly to 328 in 2021, according to the Department of Defense.

Until now, Fort Jackson recruits have had to set up appointments in varying spots all over the 80-acre campus. They have not been getting enough rest or health education, Fort Jackson spokeswoman LA Sully said. The base put $2 million toward transforming an office building into the performance readiness center to bring all of the different specialists, therapists and coaches together in one place accessible to everyone living and working there.

The "H2F" moniker came from revisions the Army made to its physical readiness training regulations in 2020. Sully said those changes were based on an Army Special Operations program called "THOR3:" tactical human optimization rapid rehabilitation and reconditioning.

"It's fitness to accomplish any task, overcome all manner of challenges, remain resilient in the face of life's toughest moments, and be healthy and present during its best," Kelly said of the H2F ideal.

While the Army has opened other soldier performance readiness centers across the country, Fort Jackson's is the first of its kind in any of the four basic combat training installations — Fort Jackson, S.C., Fort Benning, Ga., Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and Fort Sill, Okla. — of which Fort Jackson is the largest, with roughly 45,000 soldiers training there annually.

Col. Kent Solheim, a commander of Fort Jackson's infantry brigade alongside Kelly, said he has been learning not to focus all of his attention on physical training at the expense of his overall well-being and hopes to see similar changes in recruits coming through the base.

"Yeah, I'd love to see you come in here and bench press more, but that's not the goal," Solheim said. "The goal is to make you stronger in all areas, and that starts with a cultural shift. That's what this represents."

While a chaplain will be at the facility for spiritual guidance, that part of the Army's five readiness and fitness pillars does not necessarily have to be religious, Solheim said. The goal is to find something to fall back on when facing adversity, whether that is faith, nature, family or something else, he said.

As a wounded veteran who has been shot multiple times and lost a leg to amputation, Solheim said that for him, spiritual health from his children has grounded him and gotten him up every day to fight through his injury.

Roughly 60 percent of the Army's basic combat trainees come through Fort Jackson, and roughly 10,000 people are training there on a given day, according to University of South Carolina Division of Research for the S.C. Department of Veterans' Affairs. Solheim said he wants every soldier he trains to visit the center at least twice during their time at the base.

"We are training over half of the Army's forces through Fort Jackson," he said. "I want them all to leave here and know what the domains (of soldier readiness) are. This is a lifelong venture."

Click here for more news from Columbia, S.C.

K-12 Education Reporter

T. Michael covers education in the Columbia area. He studied journalism at the University of South Carolina and communications at the University of Denver, and worked as a reporter covering Denver Public Schools.

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