Story by Master Sgt. Enid Ramos-Mandell
Army Reserve Medical Command, Public Affairs Office
SILVER SPRING, Md. — Why do we choose to serve our country in the armed forces? If you ask, you will get many different responses. First Lt. Leah Evert, 31, a dietician and nutritionist with the 4215th United States Army Hospital, Richmond, Va., was selected for the “Why I Serve” Discovery Channel Project.
“It was an honor to be selected, but I was nervous about appropriately representing such a large group of people and slightly intimidated,” responded Evert to how she felt about being selected for the "Why I Serve" Discovery Channel Project. She says she has as a story to tell and can relate to folks who are thinking about joining the Army Reserve.
Evert, a native of McLean, Va., fulfills many responsibilities at the 4215th USAH which include: wellness expert, education and counseling for improved nutrition, soldier’s fitness, cardiovascular, counseling diabetes prevention and sports nutrition. She also serves as the officer in charge of the units’ fitness program, and runs the Soldier Athlete Readiness Program consisting of a two-week intensive nutrition and fitness camp for Army Reserve soldiers looking to improve their wellness.
During a break between jobs, she was informed the Army was in need of dieticians. Evert decided to serve after completing her clinical internship. She knew her skills could be used and was looking forward to giving back, providing nutritional care and counseling to soldiers.
“I knew I had valuable clinical skills that the Army could use and there would be soldiers who needed to improve their health and like the rest of America, lose weight and decrease their risk for disease,” she added. “I knew I would be the right person to provide those soldiers with the tools they could use to improve their own health.”
With only two years in service, she stated that it’s not just about serving, the Army has made her a much stronger and confident woman and leader because of the soldier skills she learned. Land navigation, overcoming the obstacle course, weapons firing, combative training and more, is something that a dietician would probably never get to do.
“I am organized, disciplined and driven, thanks to the skills I’ve learned during Army training,” she said. “That makes me a better employee and a better manager.”
When counseling soldiers on how they can improve their health and bring about a complete change, she sees impact of her contributions. This impact on soldiers’ lives is what she loves best about being in the Army. “I never get tired of soldiers approaching me to let me know of their improvements. I try to lead by example,” said Evert. “My goal is to create a culture of wellness that others want to be a part of.”
One point Evert wanted to get across to the audience during this Discovery Channel “Why I Serve” was the importance for her to share the impact that Army Reserve soldiers can make on their fellow soldiers and on the community.
“It's a part time job but we can certainly make a difference, particularly as a part of Army health care,” said Evert. “I hope the show will depict real life citizen-soldiers who can show the benefit of being a soldier, civilian employee and impactful member of his or her community. I hope that we can also convey accurately the life and career benefits of which an Army soldier is privy.”
“What a surreal experience,” said Evert. She was not sure of what to expect. She arrived with her father, Raymond Evert, who also resides in Mclean, who would be part of the Discovery Channel interview. She wondered what type of questions would be asked of her relating her military service.
“It was very intimidating,” Evert said, as she contemplated how the interview would come across to the audience. “It seemed awkward, but I felt my answers came naturally.”
What she hopes to get from this opportunity is to be able to share with others what an impact the service has brought to her life. “I hope that I can change some minds regarding the roles and responsibilities of an Army Reserve soldier.” she said.
In her civilian career, she is a senior program manager for Wellness Corporate Solutions, based out of Cabin John, Md. She develops and manages wellness programs for corporations across the United States. This includes developing weight-loss challenges, providing wellness seminars, coordinating biometric screenings and more. “Our health and wellness content, and programming, influence the health of thousands of employees across the country,” said Evert.
Evert commented on how supportive her employer has been of her military service. “They see the value in a soldier,” said Evert. “They are very understanding when I have to take off for military duties … my employer recognizes that being a citizen-soldier, you are dedicated, responsible and organized.”
In Evert’s civilian job she does public speaking, seminars and training, along with interacting with people of all levels. “This allows me to be able to make presentations to any audience from enlisted to general officers with ease,” she stated.
Evert has a Masters degree in Sports Nutrition and Exercise Science from Marywood University, Scranton, Pa.; a Bachelors degree in Kinesiology (Exercise Science concentration) from James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va.
Future plans for Evert include getting involved with research for the Army in the field of nutrition and wellness to provide soldier-athletes the best advice possible. She would like to command a company, then work more in the dietary field to improve the Army’s Meals Ready to Eat. Additionally, Evert would like to be involved with decisions that ensure we provide the safest and optimal fitness programs for our warriors.
Friends and family questioned her decision to join the Army, but now they see that her decision has built up her confidence and strengthened her leadership skills. “They admire my decision and are fully supportive of my military career,” she said.
Her hobbies are playing softball, climbing mountains (twice as high as 14,000 feet), and is an expert skier. She is an animal lover and volunteers at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington.
“I have high hopes that my experiences in the Army Reserve highlighted in this program might motivate others to seek out similar opportunities. But, most of all, I hope that I’ve represented my fellow soldier and the Army well,” expressed Evert.
The Discovery Channel Project is expected to air in Oct. 15 of this year.