A mind, body, spirit approach to troop readiness

Noelle Austin-Jones found her path to wellness while with her husband who was stationed in Japan. Now, as the director of the Armed Forces Wellness Center (AFWC) at Fort Meade, Md., she helps veterans, servicemembers, their families and others on similar journeys.

As this week’s guest on The American Legion Tango Alpha Lima podcast, she talks about her role where she trains staff members on best practices when it comes to supporting Department of Defense (DoD) beneficiaries in making healthy lifestyle choices and overcoming a variety of physical and mental challenges. 

The AFWC’s global mission is to provide programs and services that improve and sustain health, performance and readiness of the total fighting force delivered by trained health professionals. The programs are designed to promote both individual and unit-based readiness.

In 2014, the Army transferred her husband and their family to a base in Japan. That’s where Austin-Jones was first introduced to healthy living and a holistic health approach. As a client, she lost weight and gained a new appreciation for the research-based lifestyle change. Eventually, she took a job there, which led her — after another military move — to become the director at the AFWC at Fort Meade. 

Austin-Jones, whose father served in the 82nd Airborne before transitioning to the Air Force, has seen the military’s shift in its approach to ensuring troops are physically and mentally fit. “It used to be, ‘You’re the soldier, and we need you ready to fight,’” she says. “We didn’t used to look at the whole picture. What’s happening at home can impact your work. And what’s happening at work can impact your home.”

She says now they can help identify and addresses fitness issues earlier that allow military members to stay in the service longer whereas in the past they faced an earlier exit.

The AFWC core programs include health assessment reviews, physical fitness, healthy nutrition, stress management, general wellness and tobacco education. Their services are free and available to active-duty servicemembers, dependents, activated Guard and Reservists, military retirees and their spouses, and DoD civilians.

For those who may be dealing with a variety of issues an often-overlooked cause is a lack of sleep, Austin-Jones says.  

“If your sleep isn’t good, it’s really hard to want to exercise when you’re tired,” she says. “It’s really hard to try nutritious foods when you’re tired. It’s even hard to perform your job.”

Referrals can be from medical professionals or patients can refer themselves. Whether the individual is dealing with an addiction to smoking, PTSD- or stress-related issues, or something else, the goal for everyone is to receive the help they need. 

Austin-Jones’ husband battles PTSD so she knows the first-hand struggles presented to family members. AFWC not only assists those with PTSD but their loved ones as well.

“The way we deal with that is we are teaching you new coping skills,” she explains. “Our brains are really good at keeping us alive. It’s number one goal is survival. In certain situations your brain does something that works but it doesn’t work in every situation.”

Also in this episode co-hosts Stacy Pearsall, Adam Marr and Joe Worley discuss:

• The circle of life for woobies.

• Bugs feasting on one’s flesh.

• A Jamaican-born reggae musician, singer and deejay who credits his time in the Marines for his success.

• A Bravo Zulu from a grieving veteran.

Check out this week’s episode, which is among more than 230 Tango Alpha Lima podcasts available in both audio and video formats here. You can also download episodes on Apple Podcasts, Google Play or other major podcast-hosting sites. The video version is available at the Legion’s YouTube channel.