A conversation with registered dietitian LT Pam Gregory about Registered Dietitian Support to Operational Forces
LTJG PHILLIPS – Welcome to the Sailor to Sailor podcast. I’m LTJG Stuart Phillips, for the Chief of Naval Personnel.
Today we’ll be talking about Registered Dietitian Support to Operational Forces, an initiative that promotes Sailor health and wellness – in direct support of the Chief of Naval Personnel’s priority of promoting career readiness through Sailor 2025.
Sailor 2025 is the Navy’s program to improve and modernize personnel management and training systems to more effectively recruit, develop, manage, reward, and retain the force of tomorrow.
It is focused on empowering Sailors, updating policies, procedures, and operating systems, and providing the right training at the right time in the right way to ensure Sailors are ready for the Fleet.
Part of this effort is ensuring Sailors are aware of, and have access to, the resources that can help them adopt and maintain a healthier lifestyle – which brings us back to our topic for today’s podcast, the Registered Dietitian Support to Operational Forces initiative.
This brand new initiative allows commanding officers to request Navy registered dietitians to join their command team under TAD orders to educate Sailors on the extensive topic of nutrition. You know the old saying “Garbage in, garbage out”? Your diet can be a huge factor in your physical health and wellbeing.
To talk about this new initiative, we have LT Pam Gregory, the Navy Nutrition Program Manager from the office of Total Sailor Fitness, who is also a registered dietitian. She’s going to give us the scoop on how Navy dietitians can come to your command to share some knowledge on nutrition and healthy eating habits.
Thanks for joining us today.
LT GREGORY – Thank you. Thank you for having me on.
LTJG – Absolutely. So, can you tell us a little bit about this initiative?
LT – Yes, so this is an agreement between BUMED and OPNAV to allow subject matter experts on food and nutrition to come out to a command and provide either nutrition education or preventative nutrition education to Sailors right there in their workplaces. Several times, when I’ve been providing either one-on-one nutritional education or group classes, many of the people have said, “man, I wish so-and-so was here and able to hear this” and now, they can – right there in their command spaces.
LTJG – That’s great. So what is it that makes this initiative so important or unique?
LT – Up until this point, for a Sailor to obtain nutrition education or preventative nutrition education, they had to take time off from work, go to the nearest MTF [medical treatment facility], or sometimes registered dietitians were occasionally asked to come out and provide information at health fairs, safety stand downs, outreaches, etc., with limited information being provided due to time constraints. With the release of the Navy Registered Dietitian Support to Operational Forces Memorandum of Agreement, it now allows commanding officers to request a dietitian to come out to their command, provide nutrition education (or preventative nutrition education) to their command in their workspace – and that’s not been done before.
LTJG – So what was the driving force behind introducing this idea?
LT – Well, nutritional fitness is one of the eight domains for the chairman’s total fitness force framework and a top priority for the Joint Chiefs of Staff due to the direct impact on unit readiness and Sailors’ operational readiness, retention, resiliency, or toughness – as some of you may know it – and Sailors are the Navy’s number one asset. A couple statistics from this are: from 2002 to 2011 there was a 61% increase in obesity among active duty forces TRICARE data from 2010 showed the annual cost to treat overweight and obesity related issues was at $348M and in 2013 the average replacement cost for a Sailor was $167K. So as registered dietitians, we’re BUMED assets and we’re recognized as the foremost in nutrition and disease prevention. We’re critical in transforming the culture of the Navy from a focus of treatment to a greater focus of prevention. And a large percentage of the Navy isn’t even aware that there are dietitians in the Navy, let alone that we’re able to come out to them, and what are the services that we are able to provide right there in their commands. So, the specific nature of this MOA between OPNAV and BUMED is to officially inform the Navy and the constituents within it, OPNAV commanders at the 10 Commander, Naval Installations Command (CNIC) regions (including multiple tenant commands), and six Fleet regions, about this highly valuable resource that is now available to them, and allows the dietitians to travel on official TAD orders to deliver upstream preventative education to the Sailors in their work and living spaces – rather than having to take time off to come to an MTF to seek out this type of care.
LTJG – Ok, so even a small ship that wouldn’t normally have a medical officer onboard, and definitely would not have a registered dietitian on board, like a destroyer or something…
LT – Right, we’re not out on any of those ships. We’re only located in the MTFs, so this is a total paradigm shift.
LTJG – So with the registered dietitians coming TAD to the commands, is there a specific length of time that they would be assigned? Is that kind of open-ended?
LT – Well, yes and no. So, the length of time that a registered dietitian is TAD is going to be based on the commanding officer’s request, the mission needed, and BUMED’s availability. So, just be aware that dietitians are equipped to go underway for workups, deployments, field ops, work outs, FEP sessions, we can serve as consultants for CFLs, FITBOSSes, SUPPOs, medical officers and there are several other areas that are well within our scope of practice.
LTJG – Ok, so how do you see this benefitting the fleet?
LT – This is a huge benefit to the fleet. Dietitians can help the Navy get a better grasp on the overweight and obesity epidemic that is plaguing the United States and now spilling over into the Navy. Many people think that the best way to get fit is to exercise, but I’d have to disagree. Nutrition is 80-90% of the equation, and only 10-20% [of the equation is] physical activity. A person can perform for a short period of time on a poorly fueled diet, but are they performing at their best? Not just physically, but mentally. And what you eat affects every aspect of the body. Also, let me put this out there – if you think dietitians are teetotalers on eating healthy all the time – we’re not. We’re people just like everybody else – we like to eat ice cream, eat burgers, pizza, cake, and things of the sort. So if a person thinks we’re going to come out and say what you can’t have, then there’s a total misconception of what a dietitian does.
LTJG – Sure, yeah. Ok, so that’s very surprising to me – as far as weight loss, that diet is 80-90% of the equation. I did not know that – maybe I should be coming to see a Navy dietitian!
LT – Yeah, it really is. Because if you’re not fueled properly, then you’re not going to perform properly.
LTJG – That makes sense. So, what are some of the nutritional health topics that the dietitians will be talking to Sailors about?
LT – Well, we can talk about performance nutrition, which is what we were just talking about. We can talk about hydration, supplement safety, how to make healthier selections, post-workout recovery eating, weight management, cardiovascular health, diabetes… these are just a few of the things that we can do. In addition to that, some of the dietitians are “Ship-Shape” facilitator instructors, so that’s an additional benefit that one of those commands could have – that we can teach that, depending on the length of time that we’re out.
LTJG – Ok, that’s quite a bit. I know this is probably a tough question, but if you had to choose just one important piece of advice to give as a registered dietitian – to give to a Sailor – what would that be?
LT – You’re right, that is a tough question. Food and nutrition isn’t just fuel for the here and now. It’s actually information for your body. You can either feed a disease or prevent one. If you treat your body like it’s a top performing car or jet, and you provide the nutrients to equip it like it is, you’ll last long and you’ll be able to perform better, longer, faster than those that don’t. Also, if you look at your gene pool in your family, if it’s riddled with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer – pick the disease – just know that it doesn’t have to be your destiny. It all starts with what you eat and the frequency in which you eat it. And that’s one of the reasons I got into the field of dietetics.
LTJG – So, it’s about being cognizant of what you’re putting into your body and sort of having a plan.
LT – The majority of the time, yeah. Like I said, we [dietitians] are normal people. We like to have the same things that you do, but we’ve got to be cognizant of what – like I said, what is in your gene pool, then of course what you feed it either is going to help bring it out or can help prevent it.
LTJG – So this initiative – bringing registered dietitians TAD to commands – is this strictly for operational forces or is this open Navy-wide?
LT- By no means is this only operational. This initiative is for any command – shore or afloat – that would like to have better performing Sailors, and potentially increase productivity with less Sailors on FEP, and a healthier environment all-around. If you would like to know what all a dietitian can do to help, just ask one to come out to your command and see.
LTJG – Is there one location where we can get all of this information for requesting a registered dietitian?
LT – Yeah, absolutely. The MOA in its entirety is located on the Navy Nutrition web page under the title of CO’s Toolbox along with a sample request letter, a CO’s Checklist, which will help ensure that both the command and the dietitian are in agreement of what’s being asked – and make sure that is what they’re getting provided – in addition to that there is a world-wide dietitian locator. The website is located on the NPC webpage under Support and Services, or you can go to www.nutrition.navy.mil and it’ll bring the page right up.
LTJG – Ok, perfect. Alright, is there anything else you’d like to add about the registered dietitian support to operational forces?
LT – Yes, and I’m glad you asked that, thanks. There are different types of dietitians in the Navy – for example, some of them are certified sports dietitians, there are certified strength and sports conditioning dietitians, diabetes educators, weight management specialists, and various other types, as well as general clinicians. So if you’re not sure what you’d like to have or you’re not sure if the dietitian in your area is one, please contact them. They’ll either let you know if they can provide what you’re looking for or they’ll know where you can find that one, and they’ll either put you in contact with them or give you a good idea of where they are. So definitely, recommend checking out the website for sure.
LTJG – Ok, absolutely. Alright, well thanks so much for letting us pick your brain today and Teaching us a little bit about how Navy registered dietitians can come out and support the fleet. For our listeners, for more information on Sailor 2025 and initiatives like this, go to CNP’s homepage on Navy.mil, MyNavy Portal, check out our Sailor to Sailor Newsletter, or visit us on Facebook and Twitter. And that’s @USNPeople