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Face of Defense: ‘Sgt. Ken’ Urges Enlisted Leaders to Stress Fitness

By Army Master Sgt. Bob Haskell
Special to American Forces Press Service

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y., April 30, 2008 – The Army Physical Fitness Test would be a lot more demanding if “Sgt. Ken” was in charge. It would, in his world, gauge soldiers’ ability to do a lot more than perform a mandatory number of push-ups and sit-ups in two minutes and run two miles within a required time. The test would determine soldiers’ fitness for combat, if Sgt. Ken had his way.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Tennessee Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Ken Weichert leads Army and Air Guard senior enlisted leaders through a strenuous workout in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in April. He is better known as “Sgt. Ken” in GX Magazine. U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Bob Haskell, National Guard Bureau

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

“We need to be focused on physical conditioning for combat, not just the APFT. The battlefield is no place for those who fatigue quickly,” Sgt. Ken told the Army and Air National Guard’s state enlisted leaders here in mid-April.

“Sgt. Ken” is Staff Sgt. Kenneth Weichert of the Tennessee Army National Guard. He has gone to war in Southwest Asia twice: during Operation Desert Storm as an active Army soldier in the early 1990s and again during Operation Iraqi Freedom as a California Army Guard soldier in 2003-04.

He is 41, and he may best be known in Guard circles as the fitness guru for GX (Guard Experience) magazine. That magazine, which focuses on Army Guard soldiers, has included his feature, “Start Fitness,” for the past three years. He is now the monthly publication’s co-editor for health and fitness. He also has created workouts in video, audio and print products as the fitness director for AmericanSoldier.com. He has, in short, become the 21st century’s Jack LaLanne for the Army Guard.

Weichert enlisted in the Army in 1988 and then joined the Louisiana Army Guard in 1992 after serving during Desert Storm. He was a traditional soldier and full-time recruiting and retention NCO with the California Guard from 1997-2007 before transferring to Tennessee to join the IOSTUDIO team that publishes GX in Nashville. He has been a master fitness trainer since 1993 and has trained servicemembers and civilians for nearly 20 years.

The man who was partially paralyzed for four weeks from a football injury during his senior year in high school has made physical fitness his lifestyle and career.

Weichert is as much showman as he is a soldier. He has a Schwarzenegger-like body. He is polished and outgoing in word and manner. He has studied theater at Drake University and the University of Southwestern Louisiana. He was clearly the celebrity at the National Guard Bureau’s first Senior Enlisted Leaders Conference here April 18-21. He barked encouraging commands, sang inspirational songs and counted cadence like a seasoned drill sergeant during nonstop, half-hour morning workouts that were not for the faint of heart.

He attended the conference, however, not to promote himself but to promote physical fitness among Guardmembers who could find themselves in combat during the global war on terrorism or engaged with wildfires or floods in this country.

Command Sgt. Maj. David Ray Hudson, the National Guard Bureau’s senior enlisted leader and the driving force behind the first-of-its-kind conference, acknowledged that his emphasis on fitness was Weichert’s most important contribution.

Soldiers should train as if they are athletes year-round to be physically fit for those challenges, Weichert told the state command sergeants major and the command chief master sergeants. Combat, he observed, requires a lot of upper body strength. An infantryman should be able carry a 160-pound person in full combat gear on his back for 30 meters, as if he were carrying his injured buddy to a landing zone, Weichert said.

Guard soldiers should be able to sidestroke the length of an Olympic pool in full uniform, holding a rifle above the water, to be fit enough to swim across a flooded river. They also should be prepared to hit a hill in full gear to help fight the wildfires that scorch sections of this country from March through October.

Push-ups, tummy crunches, pull-ups, marches with full rucksacks, and swimming in uniform are the drills that Sgt. Ken advocates for those who must be prepared to support their state or defend their country during crises. And the traditional troops who are not inclined to exercise have to be encouraged to work out during the 28 days of most months when they are not in uniform. “We have to ‘think smart, not hard’ about ways to stay in shape,” Weichert said.

“They don’t call out the Guard when things are going good. They call us out when things have gone bad,” he observed. “We have to be ready -- mentally and physically. Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

(Army Master Sgt. Bob Haskell is assigned to the National Guard Bureau.)

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