Brig. Gen. Milford H. Beagle Jr.
Fort Jackson Commanding General
During the initial conversations regarding how Fort Jackson could increase awareness, visibility and participation in civilian wellness, it appeared as if we were discussing solving world hunger. Time after time, ideas and solutions were shot down as being too difficult to achieve or a lack of interest. I had a great leader once tell me that "the art of strategy was in making the complex simple." So without becoming overly frustrated or deterred, I began to think simply about the problem I wanted to solve; increase awareness of civilian health and fitness and introduce the habit of an irreversible path to better fitness.
More importantly, I began to "hyper analyze" what I witnessed occurring across the installation on a daily basis. So what do I mean by "hyper analyze"? Sometimes the most obvious answers are right at our feet, but we miss them because we aren't actively looking; we don't take the time to closely analyze what we are actually seeing. The answer to the riddle that I wanted to solve was literally at our feet. During PT runs in the morning, daily rides around the installation or my drive home after work, I would see many people in civilian clothes walking around the appropriately named "Pecan Orchard" next to the post headquarters and near Darby Field. More importantly were the number of Army Civilians walking during PT hours, lunch hours and on weekends.
In viewing these people walk around our installation on a daily basis and in such great numbers (that go unnoticed by most), I made several assumptions: 1) many of the walkers are part of our civilian work force, 2) many, if not all of them are walking for purposes of their own internal satisfaction and health, and 3) no incentive would cause them to walk more than they were already walking to sustain or improve their fitness. In good military fashion, after weighing the facts, assumptions and possibilities, the simple answer was obvious ... A Million Step Challenge. Leverage what our workforce was already doing for their own personal reasons and the intrinsic motivation that already existed within each individual.
After developing a plan of execution and a way to sustain the plan, we rolled out the CG's Million Step Challenge. There was reluctance and some naysayers as is the case with most "good ideas," but the initial feedback was overwhelming. Optimistically, we set the bar at 100 participants which would be viewed as a measure of success. In addition, if the program lasted longer than 4-6 months (the average time it would take the average person to achieve a million steps by walking 10,000 steps per day), the program would be a huge success, so the thought process went.
After sustaining the program for the past 10 months and participation numbers reaching over 300 of our civilian workforce; we have exceeded expectations. As part of the recognition process, I had to demonstrate commitment to our civilian workforce and part of that commitment had to be visible. The approach to doing this is with a personal visit to every individual that achieves 1 million steps. I have met every 1 million step achiever which to date is 105. The original idea was a simple "drive by" to meet and congratulate the individual without disrupting their day or that of their co-workers. This lasted for only one visit.
The enthusiasm of co-workers was overwhelming to the point that now each visit comes with an entourage of co-workers, supervisors and in a few cases family members to witness the recognition for this achievement.
Without fail, words in the background often spoken are "I'm next sir," or "I'm at 500,000 steps now." Some of the original million step achievers that come to support others in their achievement are proud to announce that they have continued and surpassed two million steps.
In interacting with the million step achievers and their supporting casts, I often relay the same message. This started as a CG's Challenge, but my intent was to physically see the fitness of our entire workforce. I can easily see the fitness of part of our workforce everyday between the hours of 6 to 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday during physical training. I thank them more for joining the Million Step Team than winning a challenge.
Fort Jackson is an almost equally balanced workforce comprised of civilians and Soldiers. In addition, the "early adopters" as they are referred to (those that signed up for the challenge without hesitation) did another intangible but incredible thing which is to bring many others on board for the ride (or in this case the walk). Co-workers inspired co-workers, spouses inspired spouses and organizations inspired each other. This caused a growth in participation and created healthy habits that are now not easily broken. Many million step achievers already had Fitbits, Apple watches, or some type of step tracker and many are proud to show off upgraded versions of their watches that track heart rate, calories burned and several other unique features. One achiever commented that I had to upgrade my watch and now this little thing (pointing to their new Fitbit) vibrates when I sit too long and need to move, "it's annoying, but I love it."
Interestingly enough we have some employees that have PCSed and continue their commitment to the program. We have also had leaders from other installations contact us about our program because our success spread by simple word of mouth. Our program is now spreading into other installations within the Southeast.
I have heard many funny stories and many stories that are so inspirational as to bring tears of joy. Without revealing any names (many of which you may have seen in previous Leader articles), the stories cover the gambit of inspiration, humor and awe. I typically ask one or two questions to each new million step achiever ("How do you get your steps daily?" or "What inspires you to walk / run?"). The most common answers are as follows:
"Running around after my young children before and after work," "The daily activities of my job require me to do a lot of walking," and "My health is important to me."
The funniest answers fall along these lines: "My wife makes me do it," and "I heard you were coming to give me a coin, so I joined."
The most impressive ways of achieving 1 million steps: "I walk five miles before and after work," and "I walk the stairs of Moncrief Clinic everyday" [keep in mind, Moncrief Army Health Clinic is 12-stories].
Some of the most inspiring stories are linked to outcomes such as weight loss (the most I've heard thus far is 30lbs.) or spouses that finally had the impetus to inspire their significant other to join them on the journey.
The stories are many, but the outcomes are all the same. An inspired workforce that views their health and wellness as a key part of their contribution to our team and their Families. I am proud each and every time to see the smiling faces of those that achieve a million steps. In the coming months, we will transition the program to an organizational challenge to enable more participation and retain those that have reached the million steps as an individual. As we started with a simple concept, we will continue with a simple concept; the more steps the organization achieves as a team, more of our workforce we bring on board and continue our journey to a healthier Team Jackson!