First Lieutenant Jennifer Sheringham

Staying fit and eating healthy is tough if you are an individual who is on the go and have to juggle a career, a mortgage, household tasks, a social life and a family life. Occasionally, working-out is the last thing on your mind. Everyone today understands the importance of staying healthy and eating right, but what happens when you are a Soldier in a combat zone?

The American military creates standards, and expects every Soldier to maintain a top physical fitness routine. As a rule, the United States Army conducts Army Physical Fitness Tests (APFT), semi-annually. The APFT gauges the progress and even maintenance of a Soldier’s readiness and basic health. For Commissioned Officers it is a huge indicator of discipline. During wartime deployment, how is it possible to maintain a healthy lifestyle and uphold the Army Standards?

Most Soldiers work a twelve-hour day, sometimes more, and may not even get a day off. During Soldiers’ non-work hours they want to sleep. Healthy nutrition choices are not abundant at the Chow Hall. The Chow Hall generally serves fried food, oily rations or canned goods packed with not-so-healthy ingredients. Another huge factor that adds an element of nutritional danger and disrupts the healthy lifestyle are the countless care packages that come in. Care packages always contain perfect homemade American baked cookies and extra double fudge brownies! They are greatly appreciated but, you can easily see how the cycle can turn against us in a deliciously ugly way!

Our current environment is no picnic either. The ground consists of gravel, fine baby powder sand, and slippery muddy clay, which prevent us from running outdoors. Some Forwards Operating Bases (FOBs) have gyms, but those are crowded. Picture yourself stopping in the middle of a rep to let another gym member squeeze by you in order to get to a piece of equipment. Weightlifting becomes exceptionally impractical.
As a First Lieutenant, Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Group Instructor, I must keep myself disciplined and keep my troops actively wanting to improve physically. This at first it was a very difficult task.

Currently my unit is stationed at FOB Stryker located on Baghdad International Airport. When we first arrived here, there were two gyms. Recently one gym closed while contractors started building a larger gym that will not be open for one to two more months. The craving for weight training gets on our nerves because we literally cannot move. So how have I mitigated the risks of becoming idle when it comes to Physical Fitness? Get a friend or a Personal Trainer, it motivates. Working in a group has kept others from interfering in our workout space.

Sometimes our care packages are better than fudge brownies. Recently my friend and mentor, Dave Bluman (see the article in Gym Rat) sent me two stability balls. Stability balls are a great tool as they amplify any workout when incorporated.

After our twelve hour work cycle, I bring my two Soldiers to the gym and perform two/four circuit training stations in which we do three iterations or sets. We have only racked up about eight exercises per day but a variety of different exercises to keep it fun. It’s great because for that 45 minute time frame, we are keeping our heart rates up. I have also integrated Dave B’s homework technique in which I have my Soldiers do cardio training on their own, approximately 30–60 minutes per day plus intervals.

Working out in a group injected great energy into my Soldiers. I am now noticing that it has even affected their daily eating choices. They are avoiding the dangers of fried food and baked goods. It also helps them deal with combat stress, and I believe that this has helped my Soldiers cope mentally and emotionally with being away from their families and children.

If you think you have it hard, do not make excuses not to stay healthy, because even in Iraq we maintain a healthy lifestyle, and with the odds against us. YOU ARE FREE TO MAKE YOUR OWN CHOICES MAKE NO EXCUSES!

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