‘I can do this … Keeping fit to fight’

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. James Barber
  • 42nd Medical Support Squadron commander

With the upcoming changes to the Air Force fitness program and our high rates of deployment, there has never been a better time to get (and stay) in great physical shape. When I first joined the Air Force, we were transitioning away from the run to the bike ergometry test. I took lots of jabs from my Army and Navy friends during that time and was elated to see the Air Force redesign the fitness program in 2004.

Since that time, we've brought back group Physical Training, adopted a PT uniform, and even refined the process with improvements on the horizon. In the past, we would "gut it out" for a passing score, but with today's physically challenging environment, we must stay in top shape all year long.

The Ironman race is the pinnacle of physical fitness. It's held annually in Kona, Hawaii, and consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112 miles on a bike, and a full marathon (26.2 miles). Yes, that's 140.6 miles in the same day! The mantra surrounding Ironman is "I can do this."

Granted not all of us are destined to complete a 140.6 mile race, but if you've ever watched the race, you know that the desire to complete comes from within. It is a personal drive to succeed, and most competitors will complete the race within the allotted time of 17 hours. I mention this because there is Ironman will in each of us. If the task of staying in top physical shape seems daunting to you, then repeat after me, "I can do this."

Not all of us come from athletic backgrounds. Some of us were All-State high school quarterbacks; some of us were just high school football players; and some of us sat in the bleachers enjoying the game. Regardless of your background, you are now an Airman in the Air Force and a combat-ready, deployable athlete. As such, you should be "fit to fight."

Getting in the best physical shape possible should be one of your professional goals. Failure to maintain a passing fitness level is now reported on OPRs and EPRs, so there's plenty of motivation to do well. Achieving great fitness levels is easy and starts with finding a program you enjoy and likely to continue to perform for years to come. Running/walking, intramural sports, spinning, weights, and aerobics are all great exercises to get the blood pumping. Mix it up and encourage a friend to become a workout partner with you. There will come a time when you question your motivation to stay physically fit. If that happens, then repeat after me, "I can do this."

A healthy lifestyle is not only advantageous in preventing illness, it could save you or your wingman's life in a deployed setting. As the taskings for deployments increase and tours become longer, staying in shape takes on an even greater priority. Operating in a hot, dusty environment will take its toll on your body. Couple the environment with 50 to 70 pounds of equipment in a pack and you can quickly see the benefits of staying fit to fight.

During a deployment you may have to perform self aid and buddy care and could be required to drag your wounded wingman from a dangerous situation. The time you spent lifting weights in the gym will pay off tenfold as you preserve the life of your fellow Airman. The opportunity to save the life of your wingman should drive you to achieve the highest levels of fitness, but if you still have reservations on improving performance, then repeat after me, "I can do this."

Let's face it, the requirement to pass the new PT standards are not going away anytime soon. You may not have the athletic abilities to achieve an "excellent" score, but you are an Airman serving in the greatest fighting force the world has ever witnessed. You are a professional and possess the qualities to excel at any task. One of those tasks is achieving year-round fitness to operate in a deployed environment. Make the decision to stay in shape throughout the year, not just test time.

And remember, the ability to achieve comes from within. When you're running the last part of the 1.5 mile run, or stretching out that last push up, or more importantly saving a life in a hostile setting, simply state "I can do this," and the rest will take care of itself.