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How to Leverage Unit Resources for Unit Total Fitness Programs

A chaplain who was interested in Freedom Fitness America the other day asked me how should he go about gaining the appropriate resources to include finances to enhance the total fitness of his unit by utilizing our tools. Understanding how to navigate supply, logistics, finances, and personnel resourcing is crucial if a chaplain or unit leader is to be successful in advocating for limited resources. In this blog post, I will show you how you can maximize your potential to do just that.

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I was on a Zoom call the other day with a chaplain who was very interested in the tools and resources Freedom Fitness America has to offer. He asked me some questions on where he should begin to include having conversations with his supply officer. Having run through these difficulties myself and coached other junior chaplains in particular on this topic based on my experience securing resources for various training and operational needs, I want to provide 6 Proven Tips to help innovative military leaders and chaplains like yourself launch awesome total fitness programs in their units!

Tip # 1: People

Securing volunteers or directed individuals is the first step in really expanding any type of training program you want to have in your unit to develop your people to be physically, mentally, and spiritually tougher than before. There are multiple ways to attack this issue. First, you must categorize expertise needed into physical fitness facilitation, operational leadership, ability to facilitate conversation among fellow service members discussion on important topics, and volunteers who can contribute to the Command Religious Program. For the first two categories, there are many ways to skin this cat, but I find the easiest way to do this is talk to key decision makers of a section or small unit who oversee non-commissioned officers/petty officers who are capable of leading a unit workout or soliciting the source individual itself. To get people to help lead discussion groups, look to talk with local Professional Military Education course instructors such as Corporals Course facilitators who would be interested in helping their students gain awareness at how to coach fellow service members in important life topics. You can also work with the unit leadership to direct a certain quota. If looking for volunteers, look to talk with unit morale programs like the Single Marine Program with young enthusiastic leaders who are looking to make a difference that are willing to be trained. Lastly, for the Command Religious Program, work with the unit chaplain or key lay leaders to figure out who in your unit has a serious religious interest for the faith group session you are trying to lead and recruit them to help with facilitating optional small group discussion. All of this is crucial if you as a military leader or chaplain is to not get burned out trying to implement total fitness on your own. You want to multiply your influence by developing and leading leaders, not leading followers who are lost without you.

Tip # 2: Look at Available Equipment and Space

You would be amazed at the amount of tactical equipment, space, and even personal gear like individual cell phones or computers that can be used in support of implementing a unit total fitness program. I have personally had volunteer leaders bring their cell phones to training on how to use video based discussions along with blue tooth speakers which cost the unit nothing and made good use of personal devices in support of unit training without having to procure a lot of extra information technology. DoD regulations regarding the Command Religious Program allow for the use of government personnel time, equipment, and space to integrate into an overall unit's training program to meet the spiritual needs of a military unit. There are also regulations that allow for the use of finances to support these efforts which I'll cover next.

Tip # 3: Research Policy on Financial Issues

Money can be a touchy subject but it is a essential topic of understanding for unit leaders as they move up the ranks and particularly for chaplains on how to secure government finances resources (called appropriate dollars) or non-appropriated dollars in an ethical and legal manner. Not knowing this puts you behind the eight ball in terms of advocating for resources to support your personnel that might be used elsewhere. The first step is to figure out what you need money for after you have looked at how to secure the appropriate people and equipment in the most economical fashion. Then see where you need funds and for what particular items. This is crucial because you will need to justify why you need the funds and demonstrate to appropriate decision makers you are making wise use of taxpayer dollars. Next, you will want to talk to your Supply, Logistics, and/or Finance/Comptroller Section on appropriate regulations regarding the use of appropriated dollars and non-appropriated dollars. You can certainly ask them questions to gain advice, but I have found that being familiar with appropriate references and reading the most important issues is crucial to advocating ways you would like to spend money. I say this because everybody is busy and if you catch a particular staff leader on a day when they are tired, busy, or just feeling lazy, they can give you the run around when you propose your idea making you think asking for money in your particular instance can't be done. However, being a leader, you likely are just as good as reading as they are and can now negotiate on principle based on regulation vs. personality. So if the regulation says no, then figure something else out. If the regulation mentions something can be done, you are moving in the right direction. If it doesn't mention something, you might be able to work between the lines. By the way, this goes for researching any issue. Sometimes you will have to take an issue to a lawyer or counsel. If you did your research ahead of time, you stand a better chance at negotiating favorably your request vs. just getting the run around and brushed off.

Tip #4: Look At Budget Priorities and Available Funding

It is important to have a good relationship with a key member on the staff who handles money. Typically in a military unit, finances are handled at the O-5 Command Level or above. The more senior ranking the individual in command, typically, the larger the budget will be. Ask questions on how the budget is flowing for various priorities that the unit needs, understand those priorities, and think of how you can either nest your needs in those priorities or make a case for excess funds. Be realistic as well. If money is needed for a critical item, you are not likely going to win your case and you will want to look elsewhere for money or wait. The first quarter of the fiscal year (which starts in October) is typically pretty sparse with funds because to be honest Congress takes time to pass a budget and money trickles down slowly to lower units it seems these days so don't expect much funds during this quarter. The next two quarters are hit or miss, but the last quarter is essential because for some strange reason, comptrollers get money that can't be spent any other time in the year and they will ask around if it can be executed. If you are prepped and ready to go, you can likely get your project funded. Which leads me to my next point.

Tip # 5: Consider Purchase Card vs. Contract Funding

In the interest of efficiency of military units and other agencies, the government has decided to have a threshold of about $5000 now for a supply and $2500 for services. As a bonus, off the shelf commercial training can be purchased for $24,000. Federal Acquisition Regulations and other appropriate policies which your Supply Officer can tell you about will be the authority on this. That being said, typically the purchase card is the last thing to shut down before the end of the year close out and it is very easy to use in terms of providing research on necessary items for comparison, and is generally not that much of a hassle. If you can get your purchase under these amounts, you are likely to be much more successful especially in a pinch for time because contracts are looked at much more carefully and require more hoops to go through. There are policies as well you must stay aware of such as avoiding split purchases which essentially means you can't buy x amount of items one month to stay under a threshold only to then buy x amount of items the next month. This will get you in trouble. Furthermore, you generally have to rotate vendors of a similiar supply or make a case why something should be "sole sourced" which is fancy terminology meaning that nobody else creates a product or service that is similiar and meets a legitimate requirement you have. I will mention that justification write ups are crucial for this and your financial folks will know how to word things to keep things legal. I'm not saying embellish the truth, but you must be innovative at the words you use to describe why a certain product should be used above others. That includes justifying higher cost products or services for quality vs. going for the lowest bidder. For example, if you want to purchase a climbing rope, you would be justified in purchasing a sturdier one that will hold up after many rope climbs in boots vs. one that will fall apart if a bunch of warriors use it for only a short while. In terms of contracts, there are various sizes but the key here is that you need to conduct your homework, be prepared for a contracting officer to take time to bid out the project service, or help you with sole source justification. This all takes time and effort. Make sure the juice is worth the squeeze before going this route.

Tip # 6 Advocacy With Unit Leadership

Lastly, once you have done your homework, you will need to make a pitch to unit leaders, especially your Commanding Officer, on why you feel the unit should use either appropriated or non-appropriated dollars for a total fitness cause. Know your Commanding Officer priorities and other senior leaders in the chain of command priorities to nest your request in this so that the decision maker feels like your proposal will only accelerate what they want to do anyhow. You will want to also socialize your proposal with key leaders on the staff to especially include the Executive Officer or Chief of Staff before preparing to make a pitch to the Commanding Officer. If you sense other key leaders on the staff like lawyers are part of the decision making, get their buy in so that you have a good amount of social advocacy helping you gain support for your request.

With all of that being said, I know that there are still probably lots of questions you may have if you're not experienced with navigating the military institution to secure these resources. Thankfully, I created a FREE resource just for you called the Unit Total Fitness Accelerator which is a 90 minute video course that goes over how to put together a Total Fitness Event for your unit based on proven best practices that actually have worked in military units to include securing and training the right people and coming up with the right equipment and funding. Check it out here if you want to learn more! Unit Total Fitness Accelerator

Fit for the Fight and Life,

Chris Reardon