Saving Soldiers: Health in the Military

It seems like we’re always hearing stories in the news about how we should exercise more, go to the gym and maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle. But with long, stressful hours spent working throughout the day, the gym is not always the most appealing option for post-work activities. We know that obesity is a growing issue impacting average Americans. According to the annual State of Obesity report, “[t]he average American is more than 24 pounds heavier today than in 1960.” And while we think of the military as being ultra fit, it turns out that even service men and women struggle to maintain healthy habits while stationed overseas.

Chuck Milam sought to change this trend. As the Department of Defense’s Principal Director of Military Community and Family Policy, Milam worked with the National Prevention Council to implement several programs that have improved the mental and physical health of millions of service members. For his outstanding work and dedication to making life in the military just a little bit easier for soldiers and their families, the Partnership for Public Service has recognized Milam as a finalist in the Career Achievement category for the 2015 Service to America Medal Awards, or SAMMIES.

In an interview with Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program, Milam discussed what inspired him to institute the integral changes to military bases that led to his SAMMIES award nomination.

xmilam_charles.jpg.pagespeed.ic.cyfMEkHOCpMeeting the Need

Having himself grown up on military installations, Milam had first-hand experience of how hard a military lifestyle can be for both soldiers and their families. Long deployments overseas can make it difficult for many to stay in touch with their loved ones and reassure their spouses and children that they are safe. In addition, a lack of nutritious food and wellness activities often make it difficult for personnel in isolated areas to maintain the degree of physical fitness to be combat-ready. Given the inherent health risks each of these problems presents, Milam “just saw a need” to put programs in place that would maintain both physical readiness and morale among the troops.  When asked about his motivation to implement these changes, Milam said, “I lived it growing up, and now I have an opportunity to really make a difference.”

Healthy Living, Inside and Out

When implementing lifestyle-improvement programs on military bases, Milam took a holistic approach to health, focusing not only on its physical aspects, but also mental wellness for soldiers and their families. He established the Healthy Base Initiative to equip military bases with a wide variety of healthier lifestyle choices for soldiers stationed overseas. This Initiative has provided more nutritious food options on bases, implemented a number of fitness programs to increase physical activity, and even helped reduce tobacco use among military personnel. The preliminary results already point toward improved fitness. Milam has found that people actually want to make healthy choices, they just have to be given the opportunity.

As for boosting morale, Milam found staying in touch with loved ones back home to be one of the most important yet difficult tasks for soldiers to do while stationed in remote locations abroad. To remedy this, he helped fund the installation of over 1,000 Internet cafes overseas. Using these newly-installed hubs, soldiers can now more easily use the web to connect with their loved ones via Skype and other internet services. Despite the costs of these lifestyle-improvement programs, Milam contends that health improvement is a prevention method that will ultimately save treatment costs in the future. These simple, yet integral improvements to military bases overseas are helping produce millions of healthy soldiers, inside and out.

Prevention & Preparedness

It is a simple yet essential fact: the more physical activity service members engage in while stationed at bases, the more prepared they will be to meet the physical demands of combat. In addition, closer contact with loved ones in remote locations can ease the burden of stress on both soldiers and their families and improve overall morale among troops. The personal benefits soldiers reap from Milam’s programs are thus also essential to “mission preparedness.” Mentally and physically healthy soldiers yield an all around more prepared military.

Exceptional people like Charles Milam demonstrate just how much of an impact public servants can have on the lives of millions of people. Simple ideas can ripple into changes with incredibly large, positive effects. As for future improvements in the Department of Defense and other sectors of government, Milam said, “I think there is a great opportunity for…our younger generation to come into government and make a huge difference.” For his innovative contributions to the military as a whole, we congratulate Principal Director Milam on his Career Achievement SAMMIES nomination.

*Photo credit to the Partnership for Public Service


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