Spring marks the beginning of the traditional Army Physical Fitness Test (AFPT) season. Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers now have a new tool to help track their personal progress, and their Soldiers, thanks to one Noncommissioned officer with the 135th Chemical Company in Machesney Park.
Sgt. Daniel Pitariu of Sibiu, Romania, launched his website, www.apft-mentor.com, April 1, 2011. The 28-year-old wheeled vehicle mechanic, who now lives in Wheaton, said he initially wanted to increase his company’s overall APFT scores.
“My goal with this site is to create a virtual meeting place for Soldiers and NCOs, and to provide all the tools and information necessary for NCOs to mentor Soldiers toward improving their fitness,” he said.
Pitariu, who works as a civilian computer programmer, created the tracking website after Sgt. 1st Class Adam Abdul of Rockford, platoon sergeant with the 135th, developed a physical training plan for their unit. The plan focused on a well-rounded approach to improve APFT scores, while holding the entire unit accountable for its APFT failures. Although the plan sparked the creation of the website, Abdul credits Pitariu with the website’s successful launch.
“Sgt. Pitariu deserves the credit for the development of this program,” he said. “I did what I could to advance it through the leadership and monitor Soldiers’ progress.”
Pitariu said he developed the website with a leader’s needs in mind. He intended the website to be a place for NCOs to mentor their Soldiers while giving Soldiers a place to log daily workouts and to get information on ways to improve fitness. “
The site is designed to make it easy for leaders to communicate with all their Soldiers on a daily basis,” Pitariu said. “It can take as little as five to 10 minutes for NCOs to log their own physical training,check their Soldiers’ workouts and send each one a short message, which Soldiers receive as an email, all from one page on the site.”
It commits NCOs to helping their Soldiers be physically fit and allows them to monitor their progress outside of monthly drill days.
“It is the NCO’s job to make sure his Soldiers are passing the APFT, and that takes a lot of time during the month if it is going to be accomplished.”
Sgt. 1st Class Eleuterio Medina of Decatur, motor sergeant with the 135th, said the website helps Soldiers and their leaders make physical fitness a priority.
“It most definitely, if utilized correctly, will give Soldiers and leadership a sense of ownership of their own progression for their life, health, and well being,” he said. “It is kind of hard to stay on top of these issues when you can only interact with your Soldiers one weekend a month.”
As the website is still fairly new, only about 250 Soldiers have used it so far, but Pitariu said usage is increasing. The website was mentioned at a recent senior leader conference, which influenced more first sergeants to implement it as a tool to improve their companies’ APFT scores. Because the website is still fairly new, Pitariu said it is difficult to see if the website has contributed to improved APFT scores.
First Sgt. Richard T. Carroll of Mattoon, with the 233rd Military Police Company in Springfield, uses the website heavily.
“I saw this as an absolute opportunity for my NCOs to be able to track their Soldiers that are struggling with physical training,” he said.
Carroll recently implemented unit-wide use of the website, first educating his NCOs on mentoring Soldiers who struggle with physical fitness. Although he mandated only the APFT failures to track their workouts on the website, he encouraged everyone to use it. Carroll said the website enhances the ability of his NCOs to track daily progress and to keep their Soldiers accountable.
“It puts it into the lap of the Soldiers to log their workouts. The mentors can see almost a real-time feed of what the Soldiers are doing to improve APFT scores,” he said.
Carroll said NCOs can use the data logged on the website to gauge what their Soldiers are doing. This enables NCOs to tailor their workouts to address specific APFT needs, in addition to promoting overall health.
Although Pitariu designed the website for leadership, he also kept Soldiers’ needs in mind. Soldiers are able to view their peers’ workouts, ask fitness-related questions on the forum, and gain motivation from others.
“I think many Soldiers feel like they are on their own during the month between drills,” Pitariu said. “I hope this site gives Soldiers a place to more easily stay connected to their peers and mentors.”
Carroll said his unit is still in the preliminary stage of using the website, but knows the signs of the website’s effectiveness will come once his unit completes the APFT.
“The big proof is going to be at the next APFT to see if we’ve improved scores,” he said. “If we haven’t, that’s fine, what we can do is look at it.”
Carroll said the feedback from the website will allow his NCOs to assist Soldiers in changing their daily workouts to be more effective.
“We see them that one weekend a month and that’s just not enough to fix that kind of problem,” he said. “This gives us that one tool to watch them while they’re at home, while we’re separated for that whole month, almost real-time and see what kind of workouts they’re doing daily and keep track of it.”
Pitariu hopes to implement new features in the future to encourage greater usage and enhance physical fitness improvement, including Smartphone applications, food logging, a way for leaders to develop progress reports, and integration with social media websites.
“Everyone needs a mentor or at least a good accountability partner,” Pitariu said. “With the site I hope to make it easier, and hopefully fun, for NCOs to take care of this one aspect of their already difficult job.”