JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
The U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence trains Soldiers that have recently graduated from Basic Combat Training in the next step in their initial military education in a variety of medical specialties. One such specialty is not as widely known as that of the Combat Medic, yet is equally as important in maintaining a strong fighting force.
Proper nutrition is critical to the U.S. Army in developing and maintaining a strong fighting force. It is the job of 68M Nutrition Care Specialist to provide healthy and nutritious diets for Soldiers and medical patients.
In just seven weeks Soldiers learn nutrition care operations, including basic nutrition concepts, clinical nutrition concepts and functions, performance nutrition for warriors, therapeutic and regular patient diet preparation, assembly, and service, and Army medical field feeding concepts and functions in a mobile environment.
Along with learning the skills for this Army medical career, the 68M Nutrition Care Specialist path has led two Soldiers to other opportunities.
Staff Sgt. Alvaro Acosta, a 68M Nutrition Care Specialist assigned to the 264th Medical Battalion, is originally from Columbia. Acosta moved to the United States seeking better opportunities for himself and his family. Wanting to serve in his newly adopted country Acosta joined the Army. He trained to become a Nutrition Care Specialist and earned his U.S. citizenship. Now he enjoys passing his knowledge and skills to a new generation of AIT students as an instructor.
Since people join the Army from a variety of paths, and not all new Soldiers understand proper nutrition, Army noncommissioned officers pass along their skills and knowledge to students by serving as instructors.
“We teach them how essential proper nutrition and diet are for staying healthy,” Acosta said. “The first thing we ask new AIT students is to write down their diet for the last 24 hours so they understand what they are eating so they can later compare that diet to what they learn in the class.”
Acosta takes pride in seeing his Soldiers learning the importance of health and nutrition. “My reward is hearing from students how much they learn, and I encourage them to continue passing on their knowledge of nutrition to others and continue learning.”
The Nutrition Care Specialist course averages about 20 Soldiers per class. After graduating, the students then go to their first duty assignment in hospitals, clinics, or field situations where they continue learning by working with other Soldiers and NCOs, as well as working closely with registered dietitians planning special diets for patients based on specific soldiers' individual needs.
Spc. Audley Wright is currently one of Acosta’s students training to become a 68M. Wright has been in the Army just six months and feels the experience and training have changed him. After graduating from high school, he attended college playing football and earned a degree in exercise science, then later worked delivering packages. One day while on his route, a chance encounter led him to join the Army.
“I was delivering a package to a house and the homeowner was an Army recruiter,” said Wright. The recruiter was at home off-duty but mentioned to Wright he would be a good fit for military service “We talked a little over the next two months and I learned more about the Army. Then I made the commitment to become a Soldier.”
Wright’s long-term goal is to become a physical therapist. Initially, he wanted to become a 68F Physical Therapy Specialist but there were not any openings. “A 68M popped up and I looked to how it related to becoming a physical therapist, and their careers went hand-in-hand. So I decided to go with that,” Wright said.
When asked how he likes the program Wright mentioned the quality of instructors and knowledge.
“I’m able to learn a lot about proper nutrition, especially since my father has diabetes,” Wright said. "I’m learning how to make a meal plan, and what kind of food people should eat to help lower their chances of complications. That’s important to me.”
Looking back over the past year Wright feels his leadership ability and self-assurance have grown.
“The Army has built a lot of confidence in me that I can do anything I tackle,” Wright said.
After graduating from the Nutrition Care Specialist course, Wright’s first duty assignment is Camp Humphries, Korea. He’s excited at the upcoming possibilities and wants to continue his college education and pursue a Green to Gold path to one day become an Army officer and a physical therapist.
To learn more about the 68M Nutrition Care Specialist career and other opportunities in Army medicine, visit https://www.goarmy.com/careers-and-jobs/career-match/science-medicine/physical-mental-health/68m-nutrition-care-specialist.html.