The world has changed and so has the Army. I was invited to spend three days with new recruits at Fort Benning in Georgia to observe and experience their basic training. This is my story and interpretation of their physical training.
Obesity and the Army
As Americans have gotten heavier, so have the new recruits going through basic training. In fact, the Army has seen a big increase in overweight recruits enlisting in the Army. Drill Sergeant Peffer estimated that 20-30% of the Soldiers he sees are “over table weight”. And in 9 short weeks (14 for infantry training), Drill Sergeants have to get them combat ready and in the best shape of their lives. How do you do something like that in 9-14 short weeks? The Army has it down to a science, and I was able to experience the training and meet face-to-face with Soldiers that have lost an incredible amount of weight by going through basic boot camp.
Years ago, the Army used to rely partially on running as a way to get Soldiers in the best shape of their lives. Well, that is still true, but they don’t do long distance running anymore as their primary method. They were finding that as new recruits were getting older and overweight, they were developing more injuries, such as stress fractures. Soldiers were spending more and more time in the infirmary, and at a tax payer expense of over $35,000 per recruit to go through boot camp, the infirmary is NOT where we want them to be. Instead of long distance running, where soldiers run upwards to 10 miles per day, the Army now incorporates interval running as a primary tool used to get them in the best shape of their lives. Interval running is a type of physical training that involves bursts of high intensity work followed by periods of rest or low activity. Drill Sergeant Peffer refered to it as “12 minutes in heaven.” Here is how it went, we ran around a field for 60 seconds as fast as we could, and then walked fast for 120 seconds, then for 60 seconds we ran as fast as we could, then walked for 120 seconds, etc. That was repeated in what seemed like forever, but was actually for 24 minutes. The following day we did interval activities a little differently. We did upper body work on pull-up bars then we ran around the building, followed by more pull-ups, then we ran around two buildings, then we did more upper body work, then around three buildings, and so on till we got to five buildings, up a hill and then down it again. I was pretty tired after that. And it wasn’t over yet….
Lean vs. Strong
The physical training the Army used to rely on left Soldiers very lean, but able to go long distances in the humidity and heat, which is what they needed to do when my father-in-law was in the Army during Vietnam. That was fine when we needed Soldiers to be lean and skinny, but that isn’t the case anymore. Today, our soldiers don’t run long distances as often, because most of the action is seen in urban settings. Different skills and training are needed for environments in the Middle East that require more upper body strength and brute force. Again this is where interval training comes in handy. The training they go through are intended to build more muscle and create Soldiers that are strong, able to break down doors, and sprint very quickly.
Our Soldiers are NOT eating organic meals full of tree bark and roots. They are eating high calories meals that are packed full of protein to give them enough energy and build muscle. When I sat in the mess hall to interview Private Torres, a Soldier that lost about 70 lbs. during Boot Camp, he told me that he was instructed to eat his fruit and veggies first before anything else and all candy and caffeine from his MRE (Military Ready-to-Eat Meal) was taken away. Soldiers are only given five minutes to eat for two reasons: (1) Everything is about creating discipline in the Army and (2) they need to be in and out quickly to complete all their training. If they talk during the meal, their eating time is cut dramatically to remind them not to be chatty in the future. Eating in the Army is all about obedience and fuel, not enjoyment.
Soldiers in boot camp are given at least two hot meals everyday. One meal may consist of an MRE (Military Ready-to-Eat meal) which I also got to experience. MREs are meals that don’t need refrigeration and can be stored for years. They also come with flame-less ration heaters that warms up the meal. They are compact and very convenient on-the-go. The complete amount of calories within a MRE is in between 1,200 and 1,600 calories if you eat everything. Sounds like a lot of calories, but remember that soldiers are calorie burning machines in basic training AND the meals are created to sustain a soldier that might only get one meal in a day in a combat environment. In fact, MREs are fortified with vitamins and nutrients so they can sustain a soldier in the field. In addition, the amount of preservatives and sodium in a MRE are very high for two reasons: (1) to keep the food from spoiling, and (2) to encourage fluid retention.
Physical Training Testing has changed:
Soldiers have to pass a physical test in order to advance in the Army. The testing has also changed dramatically. Requirements are different depending on one’s age, but they are designed to test one’s strength and endurance as opposed to just endurance. In fact, the tests have been created with the 40-70 lbs. of equipment, weapons and body armor in mind that they will need to haul around in Afghanistan and Iraq. The test includes running on a balance beam with two 30 lbs. canisters of ammunition, dragging a sled weighed down with over 180 lbs. to simulate carrying a fallen Soldier, and going through obstacle courses with full body gear and rifle in hand, then pointing and shooting. All testing has been created to simulate combat to ensure the Soldier is ready for “real life” experiences when they happen.
The Army wants to be part of the conversation in social media. People are talking about them anyways, so the Army decided to engage in the conversation. They ultimately decided to give people an honest, unfiltered view of what a soldier’s life is like in order for everyone to make informed decisions about their relationship with the Army. They created Armystrongstories.com to give anyone affiliated with the Army a chance to communicate what happens to them everyday. This site is dedicated to creating accounts of what soldiers and their families are experiencing all over the world so that when people want to learn more about the Army, they are able to get the “real” story. The site is packed with positive and negative accounts of how the soldiers feel about their service. Drill Sergeant Levi Peffer acts as the Army Strong Network Reporter, and was my chaperone throughout my stay. Soldiers, wives, sisters, supporters, etc are given the opportunity to blog by just signing up. Anyone visiting the site is given a platform to ask questions and interact with over 600 Soldiers. (And anyone reading this who decides to share their story will get entries in the iPad giveaway offered below.)
My Army Strong Video of Fort Benning
And I created a video of my experience. Here you will see me getting yelled at by 3 Drill Sergeants, watch Soldiers come out of the CS gas chamber, and listen to the story of Private Torres, a Soldier that lost about 70 lbs. at boot camp. Enjoy!
Giveaway (Sorry, US Citizens only):
1. iPad, (1 winner)
2. Hooah packs, including a bag, shirt, hat & water bottle compliment of the US Army (5 winners)
How to Enter:
1.Tweet this message, (1 entry per tweet, maximum of 30 tweets, DO NOT SPAM while tweeting!)
“Support our troops! Read abt changes @GoArmy, @bookieboo’s experience @FortBenning & enter iPad giveway, http://bit.ly/fpl5zf #armystrong“
2. Stumble this post (1 entry)
4. Share this post on your Facebook wall (1 entry)
5. Become Facebook Friends with Leah Segedie (1 entry)
6. Become a “fan” of Mamavation (1 entry)
7. Become a “fan” of Go Army (1 entry)
8. Become a member of Bookieboo, fitness community for women (females only, 5 entries)
9. Watch “Twitter Butt” Video (1 entry)
10. Watch “Facebook Flab” Video (1 entry)
Deadline for giveaway is April 14th. Winners will be drawn that weekend and announced on twitter.
FTC Disclosure: I was invited by the US Army as a guest to Fort Benning, Georgia. All my travel, food, and lodging expenses was taken care of by the US Army. I was not paid to write this post. I was there to observe and participate in a real “Boot Camp” training experience for new recruits and share my experiences with my community. Take that and *coughs* shove it FTC! *smiles*
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