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Aviation Soldiers Volunteer to Coach, Lead Functional Fitness

Our community is very big—we are an Army—so, we are a family. These classes are going to bring you a fitness cohesion with people outside your unit, and essentially build camaraderie and new partnerships."
Army 2nd Lt. Meagan M. O'Leary

It's not uncommon to find soldiers continuously performing their own workout routines while deployed. The U.S. Army's new Army Combat Fitness Test continues to serve as the fitness requirement for all Army components, and soldiers stationed overseas are doing everything they can to keep physical fitness standards in check across their formations. 

Several soldiers will also go the extra mile to help others reach their health and fitness goals, turning fitness challenges into opportunities for achievement. 

A group of people work out on either side of a large fitness structure.
Team Workout
Army 2nd Lt. Meagan M. O’Leary, platoon leader from 2nd Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment, General Support Aviation Battalion, 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, Texas Army National Guard, leads group stretches prior to weightlifting instruction at the CrossFit gym in Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Oct. 22, 2022.
Photo By: Capt. Steven Wesolowski
VIRIN: 221022-A-KM234-942

Army 2nd Lt. Meagan M. O'Leary, platoon leader from 2nd Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment, General Support Aviation Battalion, 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, Texas Army National Guard, shares about her initiative in helping fellow soldiers with their strength training workouts at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. 

"This is my first deployment, and on my first day here—not even 24 hours on ground—I kind of 'barged' into the base commander's office and said, 'I want to volunteer!'" said O'Leary. "I introduced myself and said I wanted to be a coach. So, now I coach Olympic weightlifting." 

O'Leary previously competed as an Olympic figure skater for over 19 years. Ten years ago, she expanded her own fitness journey in CrossFit training, and then transitioned to Olympic weightlifting for the last five years. 

A woman figure skating leaps into the air with her legs horizontal and parallel to the ground.
Figure Skater
Army 2nd Lt. Meagan M. O’Leary performs a jump during her Olympic figure skating career.
Photo By: Army 2nd Lt. Meagan O’Leary, Courtesy Photo
VIRIN: 221022-A-KM234-685Y

"My goal is to qualify for nationals when I get home," she added. "I have had it in my mind to do more with the deployment than just my job. So, in addition to doing personal and professional development like taking online classes, I wanted to work on my skills and volunteer to give back." 

Since September, O'Leary runs one-hour weightlifting classes during her off-duty hours at the camp's military-affiliated CrossFit gym. Every weekend you can find her instructing and motivating groups of participants to properly exercise compound movements with barbell weights. Every participant achieves a workout after practicing fundamentals of the snatch, clean and jerk, and clean and press component lifts. Class sizes vary each week, but she has managed to fill out the entire gym in several of her sessions. 

Accompanying O'Leary as her assistant instructor during the weightlifting classes is  Army Spc. Megan Caffey, CH-47 Chinook helicopter repairer assigned to the 449th Aviation Support Battalion, 36th CAB. 

"I also did the same thing [2nd] Lt. O'Leary did when I arrived here day one—I wanted to be a coach," said Caffey. "I have been able to coach and teach soldiers pretty much every single day, and I love it because I have actually had people thanking and showing me with 'hey, you corrected me on my exercises, now I can lift 50 lbs. more than I have ever done before'—that has been very rewarding." 

Caffey serves in the Army Reserve back home, and since July, she volunteers as a functional fitness coach at Camp Buehring. She stands by her belief in how group CrossFit exercises can benefit soldiers training to max the ACFT. 

Six people wearing medals around their neck stand on wood boxes and pose for a photo.
Winner's Circle
The winners of the "Nightmare Before Demob" CrossFit team competition at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, pose for a photo, Oct. 15, 2022.
Photo By: Army 2nd Lt. Meagan O’Leary
VIRIN: 221015-A-FT283-922

"To me, CrossFit is like a family. Everywhere I go, no matter where I live or serve, I always end up finding my fitness support group at the nearest CrossFit gym," she added. "I like how CrossFit exercises and the ACFT coincide with each other, introducing more functional movements for all soldiers. This gives them the ability use all ranges of their physical fitness, instead of just focusing on push-ups and sit-ups. So, that's been really good." 

Army Lt. Col. Chris Nohle, commander of the Base Support Battalion, Army Support Group - Kuwait, for Camp Buehring, participated in his first session with the Olympic weightlifting class. 

"The program of instruction provided by [2nd] Lt. O'Leary and her team is simply phenomenal," Nohle remarked. "I've been lifting for over 25 years and was humbled by the workout. Her focus on form and mobility is the quality of instruction that helps our soldiers safely see those gains." 

Nohle actively supports all service members at Camp Buehring to expand on their fitness journeys and take advantage of the numerous workout classes provided. Along with the Olympic weightlifting class, Camp Buehring offers a variety of volunteer-based instruction for functional fitness, including CrossFit, spinning, and Jujitsu classes. CrossFit sessions run four times a day, Monday through Friday, while spinning and Jujitsu classes run three evenings per week at the aerobics tent. 

"These soldier-led classes easily max out every day and have some of the highest participation numbers for the installation," he added. "While our camp's population is constantly revolving, the [BSB] works alongside Morale, Welfare, and Recreation fitness teams to continually assess our community's needs and direct resources to meet them. Soldiers will see new classes and offerings over the next few months." 

Nohle also had some advice for soldiers conducting their first ACFT diagnostics while stationed in Kuwait. 

A group of service members work out in a field while the sun sits just over the horizon.
Sunlit Sweat Session
Army Staff Sgt. Mark Masten, geospatial engineer sergeant for the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, "Task Force Mustang," leads an Army Combat Fitness Test diagnostic at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Oct. 24, 2022.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Mark Masten
VIRIN: 221024-A-KM234-172

"The new ACFT provides our soldiers with an opportunity to develop functional fitness skills and are actually designed to improve their daily lives," stated Nohle. "Some of the test's events do require practice but should not be viewed as daunting. I encourage all soldiers at our camp to use the opportunity to train and learn from some of the other 7,000 service members stationed here. That's what these classes and MWR facilities do – they create a community of soldiers developing soldiers to get better and stronger." 

Caffey recalled witnessing soldiers achieving body transformations while sharing their workouts with neighboring service members at Camp Buehring. 

A woman wearing a headset sits on an exercise bike and gestures to a large group of people working out on bikes.
Functional Fitness
U.S. service members max out attendance during a volunteer-led spinning class held at the aerobics tent in Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Oct. 1, 2022.
Photo By: Army Lt. Col. Christopher Nohle
VIRIN: 221001-A-KM234-518

"We'll receive service members in our classes who get here and haven't had solid workout routines in quite a while or feel like they don't know what to do with themselves when it comes to fitness because they're unmotivated," said Caffey. "But because of our community support, we have seen fellow soldiers experience positive changes in their fitness. I had the honor of working out with a soldier who dropped from 265 lbs. down to 185 lbs. All he did was show up and join a class on a consistent basis. His transformation was incredible." 

O'Leary further emphasized how sticking with a fitness community will produce results. 

"Our community is very big—we are an Army—so, we are a family. These classes are going to bring you a fitness cohesion with people outside your unit, and essentially build camaraderie and new partnerships," she added. "You will always have a safe place to go, and a healthy outlet to come exercise, burn off steam, and be with like-minded people outside your workplace. All it takes is putting on your workout shoes and showing up!"

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(Army Capt. Steven Wesolowski is assigned to the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, Texas Army National Guard.)

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