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Face of Defense: Doctor Finds Comfort in Running

By Air Force Master Sgt. Michael Voss
455th Air Expeditionary Wing

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, April 29, 2011 – It's late in the afternoon, and a warm April day in Afghanistan is coming to an end. The blistering sun, which earlier had cast its glare upon the surrounding mountains, is now setting over the base here.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air Force Col. (Dr.) Christian Benjamin begins his daily run, at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, April 12, 2011. Benjamin is the commander of the 455th Expeditionary Medical Group. Over the course of 12 years, he has run more than halfway around the world, including more than 2,750 miles during deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sheila deVera

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

In a small office at the Craig Joint Theater Hospital here, Air Force Col. (Dr.) Christian Benjamin, commander of the 455th Expeditionary Medical Group, laces up his red and gray shoes, tucks in his physical-training shirt and recites a statement to his staff that’s occurred nearly every day for five months.

"I am going," he says. "If you need me, call."

Benjamin then exited the hospital, walked out to the base’s main road and trotted off at a slow pace on a journey that has accumulated more than 1,800 miles over the past year during his deployment here.

"Some might think it is a selfish thing for a commander of such an important place to take off for a run,” Benjamin said, “but it is a time for me to escape the e-mails, the phone calls and focus on those things that need detailed attention, like how we are going to equip the next rotation of doctors here.”

The journey around base's perimeter road, approximately eight miles, is exactly the type of terrain that most professional athletes would avoid, with rocks, uneven surfaces, traffic and potholes. But for Benjamin running isn't about competition -- it is about an athletic endeavor.

"Running is the culmination of an athletic journey," he said.

The 50-year-old doctor said he has felt a passion for sports since playing softball in junior high school. Prior to joining the Air Force, Benjamin bounced around between sports trying to find his niche.

The second of five children, Benjamin was the 'runt' of the family, and when the family moved from small-town America to northern Virginia, his average athletic ability didn't allow him to be a star.

Through his high school years, Benjamin played various sports trying to find where he could fit in. Always interested in the team aspect and athletic side of sports, he tried football, basketball, and track and field. On the track is where Benjamin found his calling, though not as a sprinter or a hurdler.

"I didn't have blistering sprinter-speed, and I was too short to clear the hurdles with ease, but at 17, I found a sport called decathlon that incorporated running, jumping and strength," he said. "I wasn't excellent at any one sport, but I was good at all three which made it a perfect fit for me.”

Decathlons involve 10 track and field events.

“Decathlons were it for me in high school,” Benjamin said. “I found my niche. Over the years I would find a few more, but in high school, decathlons were it."

Benjamin said he can't explain why he started recording his daily mileage, but running three miles a day turned into six and later to eight.

"Because I am just an average guy, I am not interested in competing in races or marathons," he said. "Competing would take something away from me that I do for fun or to relax."

Now nearing the end of his fourth deployment to Southwest Asia, Benjamin’s color-coded sheet is tracking some serious mileage. The doctor has accumulated 2,750 miles during his time between the Iraq and Afghanistan combat zones.

"A lot of people become fanatical about things; I just happen to be a fanatic about fitness. And guess what? The military is the perfect match because they foster it," Benjamin said.


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