Don’t wait until it’s too late, workout now!
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- The convoys through insurgent-infested mountains and deserts were grueling and long, and the days were even longer. Most lasted from dawn to dusk, chasing a hidden enemy through convoluted caverns and crannies that proved impassable for most vehicles carrying troops.
The conditions forced them to travel by foot, where they trekked miles and miles to and from their destinations. Their missions were to clear routes and unearth improvised explosive device laboratories and weapon caches. For Staff Sgt. Charlie Orantes, 35th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, the success of his missions came down to one thing - resilience.
"We were forced to walk four and five mile stretches with full battle rattle, weapons, ammunition, and our personal packs," said Orantes. "Being a dog handler, I had to carry extra food, water and medical supplies for my dog. It starts adding up, and rucking with 80 pounds of gear isn't something you come in and do overnight."
Orantes has developed a resilient lifestyle through fitness, and said it helped him during a taxing tour through Iraq in 2009 while paired with the U.S. Army.
"I didn't know when I was going to have to pull someone from beneath a door that had been blasted down or when I was going to have to buddy carry someone who was injured," Orantes said. "Being ready for conflict in the military goes hand-in-hand with fitness; we have to be ready to perform under stress and pressure."
Orantes is part of a group here at Misawa who eat, sleep and breathe fitness. They've made it a lifestyle, and probably care more about your own fitness than you do.
But ... why? If it means extra hours of their day in the gym motivating the unmotivated and pushing people to their physical limits daily - what's the point?
Daniel Hershey's reasoning is simple - it can change your life.
"It's scary for yourself and the people around you if you aren't taking care of your health," said Hershey, an exercise physiologist with the 35th Aerospace Medicine Squadron. "It's a career-changer for some people ... a huge influence on their life."
Hershey defined fitness as preparing your mind and body to overcome stress and handle adversity.
"You become resilient when you're working on your fitness every day," he said. "The more you get in the gym, the easier the rest of life becomes. You begin to develop a belief that there's nothing anyone can throw your way you can't handle."
Hershey is a two-time CrossFit regional champion of Asia, and spearheads a variety of daily workouts with the help of fellow trainers for literally anyone who wants to get in shape. He said he does it because he gets a thrill from seeing others accomplish things through hard work they thought were previously impossible.
Another reason might be that he's paid to do it at his position with the base's Health and Wellness Center, but spend more than five minutes around Hershey and you'll want to get better ... at anything. Sometimes that's all it takes.
"The goal is to get better than you were the day before," Hershey said. "You might hate everything you do one day, or be terrible at everything you do, but you will get better both physically and mentally.
"There are days when it's going to be rough, but you learn something about yourself when you fight through and overcome challenges," he said.
Airman 1st Class Denny Kimmel, 35th Force Support Squadron, has worked out with Hershey for about two years now, and finds his motivation in similar areas.
"I want to be depended upon," said Kimmel. "Resiliency is having the ability to be depended upon. I want to be health and accountable for whatever the Air Force asks of me."
If for nothing else, putting an emphasis on fitness can be a career-changer - especially when it comes to meeting standards.
The current Air Force physical fitness test uses an overall composite fitness score and minimum scores per component based on aerobic fitness, body composition and muscular fitness components to determine overall fitness. The test includes a 1.5-mile run, a minute of push-ups, a minute of sit-ups and an abdominal circumference measurement.
It's a test that makes Hershey's job somewhat of an oxymoron - the less he has to work, the more he's actually doing from an impact standpoint. That's because one of his primary duties is working with those who have failed their fitness test and creating programs and workouts that get them past the hump.
While Hershey admits a standardized test will never suit everyone, he believes some people simply don't take it serious enough.
"How often do you get a test years in advance you already have all the answers for?" Hershey exclaimed. "It's a 100 percent representation of the environment. If you went to a new job and every single person there put full effort into what they did, and you didn't, you would stick out."
Hershey said some people aren't comfortable at the gym or feel intimidated in the company of those who are regulars, while others are just too lazy. No matter the excuse, no one is exempt - everyone can get in shape.
Take it from Isabel Fodge, wife of Master Sgt. Rodney Fodge, 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, who didn't find her way into a gym until she came to Misawa. She spent 18 years smoking cigarettes, drank about eight sodas a day and made the couch her second home.
"I basically went straight from the couch to the gym and at first, couldn't walk for a week," she said. "Now, every day I spend trying to get healthier than I was the day before."
Fodge said she started working out because she wanted to live a little longer than it felt like she was going to.
"When I come to the gym, the last thing I am thinking about is lighting up a cigarette," she said. "It's helpful to surround yourself with people who care about your well being."
That's exactly what Hershey is after - an environment where people want to get better and can rely on others to help them through tough times. No matter the battle someone's facing, implementing physical fitness - one of the four pillars of Air Force Comprehensive Airman Fitness - can make even the weakest Airman stronger.
"Everyone has their problems or is struggling with things," said Kimmel. "You have to have the ability to bounce back when things go wrong and respond the right way."
Lt. Col. Hall Sebren, 35th Maintenance Group deputy commander, leads early morning workouts at the gym throughout the week that cover a variety of exercises. He'll lead any willing Airmen through a workout and doesn't care if you show up with no experience. His reasoning is simple and straight forward.
"Fitness makes you resilient," said Sebren. "The more physically fit you are the more effective you'll be on the job."
Hershey and Sebren are patient, thorough and adamant about fostering a support system that builds a stronger, more resilient Air Force.
"We're a military that's build on teamwork and camaraderie," Hershey said. "In order to achieve success, you have to have personal accountability.
"You don't have to be highly skilled to work out. You have to start sometime, why not make it now?"