Deployments Show Lifestyle of Fitness Pays Off
By Master Sgt. Bob Haskell, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
KEYSTONE, Colo., May 28, 2004 Qatar is not as hellishly hot in November and December as it is in July and August. But the 80- to 90-degree days and the 40- degree nights in that small desert land between Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf can raise havoc with people who are not physically fit.
That is a lesson that some members of the New York Air National Guard out of upstate Syracuse learned for themselves in Qatar during the last two months of 2003, said Col. (Dr.) Reid Muller, commander of the 174th Fighter Wing's medical group. He is also a practicing cardiologist.
"There was a period of adjustment, and it would have been a little easier for some of the people if they had been paying better attention to their physical fitness," recalled Muller, who appears to be superbly conditioned himself and staunchly advocates the Air National Guard's new fitness program.
Muller helped prepare the program that Col. Sylvia Nye is administering for this country's 108,000 Air Guard members. Nye is a nurse and fitness advocate who maintains that good physical fitness enhances people's overall health and quality of life.
That is the long-range benefit of the program that the Air Guard started last year. It focuses on five areas: body composition, cardio-respiratory, flexibility, muscular strength, and endurance, explained Nye in mid-May during the Air Guard's Readiness Frontiers Medical Conference high in the Colorado Rockies.
"This isn't just about taking an annual physical fitness test," Nye said. "This is about enhancing our Guard members' lifestyles. We can help people who do not do well in the tests improve their diets and exercise programs so they will feel better about themselves and perform better in their everyday activities, thus improving their test scores."
The more pressing objective, however, is to improve the physical fitness of Air Guard personnel who are being deployed, sometimes on short notice, to harsh terrain during the global war against terrorism.
"Physical fitness is a command program, because commanders need to know the fitness of their people as well as their airplanes and other equipment," Nye said.
"We have to become a more fit force. We are deploying to rugged and remote areas," said Col. (Dr.) Randall Falk, the National Guard Bureau's air surgeon, who is Nye's boss. "We're serving under austere conditions. We're not going just to Ramstein Air Base in Germany or to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, (which) have all of the creature comforts, advanced medical support and neighborhood pharmacies. A fit force suffers fewer occupational injuries and illnesses."
That message has come from the top. Air Force chief of staff Gen. John P. Jumper is emphasizing improved fitness for all Air Force personnel in the active and reserve components, Nye explained, so they are ready to deploy.
That has led to a standard physical fitness test for people in the active, Guard and Reserve forces, Nye added, as well as the idea that everyone develop a workout schedule for at least three times each week.
The test includes running or a three-minute step test, abdominal circumference measurements, push-ups, sit-ups and stretching, Nye explained. The Air Guard goes a step further, she said. It's called the Fitnessage Program. It is a way of determining how each member's fitness scores compare with their chronological ages.
The average age for the 67,000 people tested last year was 36, Nye said. The average fitness age was also 36, she added. That is a pretty good sign that, overall, Air Guard people are in pretty good physical condition, she said. But fitness is a personal matter, and some people are in considerably better shape than others, she added.
Those who are not physically fit may find the adjustment considerably harder in hot or cold or high-altitude environments than those who are, Nye and Muller indicated.
"If you want to thrive and make your life a lot more enjoyable, it's better to be in shape and stay in shape," Muller said. "There is no excuse for not being fit. If you are not in shape, you will be mission-ineffective."
(Army Master Sgt. Bob Haskell is assigned to the National Guard Bureau, Arlington, Va.)