Close up of a soldier with a WHOOP wearable on his wrist

What if you had to run a marathon on a treadmill that was getting faster and faster and you were only given a third of the calories you normally needed to accomplish the task? That is basically the situation that the U.S. Army and other service branches are dealing with when it comes to recruiting servicemembers, where only 30% of the military-age population in the U.S. is eligible for service. 

This year, WHOOP participated in the 2nd Annual Army Holistic Health and Fitness (H2F) Industry Day at Fort Eustis, Virginia to meet the individuals who are transforming the way the U.S. Army trains and equips a more ready force. 

Poor sleep can be a contributing factor leading to injury and mental health issues, particularly in the military, which prides itself on “getting the job done” in extreme conditions. Half of the soldiers get less than 5 hours of sleep a night.

The H2F program was born from the insight that if the Army is going to continue to win in this new era, they need to shift from providing one-size-fits-all training and a culture of just getting by, getting injured, and not seeking help to a holistic approach to readiness with five pillars: mental, physical, sleep, nutritional, and spiritual readiness. The goal is to attract and retain the best people and keep them in the fight longer.

Challenges

Attrition was top-of-mind for the H2F and CIMT leadership. General Paul E. Funk, the commanding officer of the Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) said that the Army loses 18,000 first-time soldiers to attrition every year at a cost of $1.4 billion. 

Preventable injuries play a role in attrition. Colonel Kevin Bigelman, the Director of the H2F program highlighted the troubling statistic that over 50% of servicemembers are injured annually, the vast majority being musculoskeletal “overuse” injuries, which are generally preventable.

Mental health and readiness were persistent themes as well. Army suicides hit a peak in 2021 and a prevention program was rolled out that year. As the services shift from two decades of constant deployments to an era with fewer active deployments and more training, some soldiers are struggling to adjust. 

A close up of a cell phone screen containing sleep data data with the cell phone laid on a green background

A New Focus on Sleep

Sleep is the business of Major Allison Brager, Ph.D., a neurobiologist at the Sleep Research Center at Walter Reed, and one of the foremost experts on fatigue management in the military.  Dr. Brager highlighted research results that found that soldiers with even slightly reduced sleep were much less effective in combat conditions. Dr. Brager also discussed research on Army Rangers that identified a 50% drop in testosterone levels in Rangers switching from daytime to nighttime operations. 

Dr. Brager’s research points to one simple fact: sleep is the unlock to both physical and mental readiness. She highlighted a number of solutions to the military’s sleep deficit: blue-light-blocking glasses, tactical naps, and wearable technologies like WHOOP.  Dr. Brager recently spoke on the WHOOP Podcast.

Two soldiers thoroughly study a document

How wearable technology can help the mission

Wearable technology like WHOOP is critical to H2F mission success because military leaders are interested in technology that:

  • Helps scale their efforts in fitness and mental health for a more ready force
  • Helps them make decisions driven by data, not hunches
  • Is accepted in the field

As H2F rolls out to brigade combat teams, scale is incredibly important because they lack the resources to create 3-4,000 individualized wellness plans for the brigade. This new approach to individualized training requires baselining the individual so the military knows how far they can safely push their people and understand what works and what doesn’t. WHOOP can be a force multiplier to the H2F staff by establishing physiological baselines for individuals in the brigade at scale and aggregating that data for leadership to understand how to train more effectively.

For example, WHOOP worked with Army Alaska (recently renamed the 11th Airborne Division) to enable commanders to make better decisions in the field by tracking strain and recovery data on soldiers in extreme training environments. One of our findings was that recovery to baseline after a difficult training or combat mission can take more than two weeks. 

24/7 biometric data and insights delivered by platforms such as WHOOP allow Army commands to get a much more accurate picture of their soldiers in the field and make better decisions individually and organizationally. It will take a tremendous effort to solve the Army’s attrition issue, but making better decisions and preventing injuries using wearable data is a key step in the right direction. 

Technology is interesting but ultimately means nothing if users don’t trust and adopt the device. WHOOP recently worked with U.S. Coast Guard aviators and flight crews to evaluate the technology. Over the course of the trial, study participants began to see WHOOP as an empowerment tool, not a monitoring device. The longer they wore WHOOP, the more they wanted to learn about their fatigue data and how they could use it to make better decisions for themselves. By the end of the trial, they trusted the WHOOP recovery data more than their self-reported assessment of fatigue. 

Beyond the Pillars

The urgency at H2F around improving soldier readiness and resilience while combating attrition was palpable, particularly in light of the recent situation in Ukraine. 

Perhaps the most moving moment in the conference came when a young man came up to the microphone to address Major General Thomas Solhjem, Chief of Chaplains, during his session on spiritual readiness. The young man, a double amputee, who had lost both his legs in Afghanistan, had recently successfully passed the Army Combat Fitness Test – a feat he attributed largely to resilience from faith during his recovery.

His story served as a reminder to all that while the U.S. Army may be running a marathon that gets harder every year, its people are more than up for the challenge.

Seth Engel
Group Product Marketing Manager, Public Service, WHOOP Unite

Seth Engel leads public service product marketing at WHOOP Unite. He has spent over a decade marketing to and working in the public sector, including stints on Capitol Hill and in the US Department of Energy. When he’s not geeking out on GAO reports on military end strength, Seth is probably being silly with his kids.

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