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Face of Defense: Captain Pursues Commitment to Fitness

By Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Matt Proietti
Special to American Forces Press Service

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany, May 14, 2009 – Air Force Capt. Charlotta Blalock admits she gets some strange reactions from people when she does push-ups in the aisle of an aircraft 41,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air Force Capt. Charlotta Blalock, aide to the commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, works out at the Southside Fitness Center on Ramstein Air Base, Germany. U.S. Air Force photo by Chief Master Sgt. Matt Proietti
  

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

"I get teased a lot. My boss thinks I'm nuts," said Blalock, an amateur figure competitor of the National Physique Committee who travels up to 20 days a month in her job as aide-de-camp to Gen. Roger A. Brady, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and head of the NATO Allied Air Component Command here. "I can crank out 400 to 500 if we're heading to the U.S."

Though she has always been athletic, she said, the 36-year-old mother of two increased her commitment to fitness in 2005 while stationed at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. Working with a personal trainer, she started a new diet, worked on her body's weak spots and took gymnastics lessons to increase her flexibility. She went from exercising three to four times a week to five or six, and she expanded her focus from cardiovascular activities.

"I did some lifting, but with no organization,” she said. “[The personal trainer] established that for me."

Blalock amplified her cardiovascular work as well, adding sprints and lots of inclines, and moved from using a treadmill to a StairMaster to an elliptical trainer.

"My fitness level was always high in terms of the cardio piece,” the San Antonio native said. “Now I've turned this into the competition mode, which is a little bit different. I'm more fit now. I have less body fat."

She exercised under the trainer's tutelage for a year before being reassigned to Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., where she worked as executive officer at the 55th Wing before coming to Germany in June 2008.

Blalock competed in her first bodybuilding contest in 2005 and has since participated in five more, the most recent of which was the Texas Shredder Classic Bodybuilding, Figure, Fitness and Bikini Championships April 25 in Austin, Texas.

Rooting for her in person were her parents, Charles and Charmane Gilmore.

"My dad is proud," Blalock said. "[He's] in the audience yelling. He's embarrassing, actually."

Her father, a retired Air Force chief master sergeant, said there's an "aura of excitement" being in the audience when his daughter is onstage.

"[I'm] just kind of blown away to see her go out and compete," he said. "It's good for her to have something to put her heart and soul into. She's a strong young lady. I've seen nothing but the best out of her."

Blalock placed fifth among women 35 to 49 and received personal feedback on how she can be more competitive.

"I have work to do. I'm going to challenge myself to place better," the captain said. "They're very critical [and] take the whole bodybuilding thing seriously."

In the gym, the captain alternates body areas on which to focus. If it's a cardio day, she'll do 30 to 45 minutes of hard exercise to increase her heart rate, coupled with 30 minutes of relatively light weightlifting. When she concentrates on weights, she does 30 minutes of cardio work and lifts for 90. Between repetitions, she does pull-ups, crunches and circuit training.

"She's definitely focused," said Air Force 2nd Lt. Neil Wood of the 86th Air and Space Communications Group, who befriended Blalock last fall at Ramstein's Southside Fitness Center. "Once she starts, she's in the zone."

Capt. Michael McKenzie, who works at USAFE headquarters, said he admires Blalock's willpower when they travel together.

"We're inundated with free food [and] wine, and she just says, 'No, thanks.' She has amazing self-control. She is dedicated to her diet."

When they put in a 15-hour day, including flying elsewhere in Europe, "she heads straight to the gym when she's back at Ramstein," McKenzie said. "That's always impressed me."

Eight to 12 weeks before a competition, Blalock adjusts her diet, exercise routines and the amount of rest between working out specific areas of her body. Her pre-contest diet is made up of 10 percent fat, 40 percent carbohydrates and 50 percent protein.

"It's completely structured, and very strict,” she said. “If I'm not looking like I think I need to look, if I'm not as lean as I think I need to be, then [there's] going to be a significant calorie cut."

When she's not preparing for a competition, Blalock said she puts on a couple of "vanity pounds."

"I eat clean for the most part,” she said. “I do cheat. I like pizza. I'll eat a burger a couple of times per year. But as a lifestyle, I eat healthy."

She credits being fit with helping her deal with the workload she has as Brady's aide at USAFE headquarters. Another officer does the same job for the general in his NATO post.

"When you're fit, you feel good when you come to work. If I wasn't in really good shape, I'd have a hard time traveling as much as we do. Being fit helps [my] mental state to deal with those stresses."

She described her job as "overwhelmingly crazy, fun and humbling."

"You observe, you see a lot, you learn a lot," she said. "You often wonder how policies come about. Now I'm actually privy to kind of watch them in the early making of those decisions."

Though she works for one of the highest-ranking officers in the Air Force, getting a commission wasn't an early goal for Blalock when she was serving as an enlisted finance specialist.

"I wanted to be a chief, like my dad," she said.

With the encouragement of her superiors in the 60th Operations Group at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., she earned a bachelor's degree in education from Southern Illinois University and applied for a commission. She learned she had been accepted for Officer Training School while assigned to Osan Air Base, South Korea.

Blalock routinely scores "excellent" in the annual Air Force fitness test, but hasn't set a goal of scoring 100 on it. Completing the 1.5-mile run fast enough has been a chore, she said.

"I'm going to challenge myself to max it this year. The fact is, I could go test right now and get an 'excellent.' That doesn't motivate me, [but] if someone tells me I need to do [the run] in 11 minutes to get an 'excellent,' I'm going to get 11 minutes."

Her long-term fitness goal is to turn professional as a bodybuilder.

"It's a personal achievement; I'm no longer an amateur,” she said. “They have recognized my body as a form of -- no kidding -- excellence, diet, training, discipline, commitment, all of that stuff. That's what it means to me."

(Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Matt Proietti serves in the U.S. Air Forces in Europe public affairs office.)

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