Thursday, June 4, 2009

Gym Class Heroes

June 4
Today we walked to breakfast as we always do around 0745, having woken up at 0600 and worked out. On our way past the gym we turned the corner and nearly walked into a group of about a dozen airmen playing floor hockey on the outdoor basketball court. Somehow they had managed to get their hands on the shin pads and sticks and there they were going at it. Considering the fact that by 8 o’clock in the morning it’s already pushing 90-95 degrees outside, the whole thing seemed a bit ridiculous to me, but having seen other groups run circles around the courts and then do pushups together, I’d say at least this group was getting some laughs out of their sunburns. One of my many goals for this deployment is to avoid running (or exercising at all) outside. So far so good, unless you count the lugging of bags and gear from place to place, activities I’m far too familiar with. With the burn pit smoke wafting over the base in the mornings and evenings, and the dust pretty much filling in the rest of the time, I just don’t see the point. Treadmills, ellipticals, and weights will continue to dominate my time in the gym. My buddy and I have committed to a pretty strict workout regiment and since we spend one to two hours a day in the gym, it’s no surprise that we have developed a small list of random gym moments, and weight-slinging heroes we enjoy sharing a laugh at throughout the rest of the day. It wouldn’t be fair to keep them all to ourselves…

…From our trips around to different FOBs, I’ve developed an appreciation for the way soldiers work out. At least from what I’ve seen, it’s hard to argue with the fact that in general soldiers are in better shape than airmen. This makes sense if you think about the majority of jobs that each side has. It makes sense that airmen who, in general, hold jobs that require them to sit for long periods of time in air conditioned offices (this includes pilots, who also spend the bulk of their time sitting in offices, albeit very small, conditioned, cockpit offices, but still…) would not be in as good shape as soldiers who constantly are out on patrols in the ridiculous heat with their gear and weapons. It comes down to the nature of what each branch brings to the fight, another reason why I’m convinced I made the right career choice, one where I spend most of my time drawing up designs in an office and then periodically go out on construction site visits and inspections, although I’ve definitely enjoyed the chances I’ve had thus far to go out and play Army.

Here at Balad, we have soldiers, airmen, and seamen, with the majority being airmen, although you wouldn’t know that by going to the gym, at least not in the early morning. No… The early mornings are dominated by an even mix of the diehards, the heavy lifters and the big guns from all three services. At least I think that’s what they want me to think. They, more specifically, are the weight slingers, the max-outters, the “can you spot me bro” guys, and most definitely, the screamers. There is never any question that they’re working hard. They know it, and they want everyone in the room to know it. How do they announce the immense effort that they’ve just exerted pushing an absurd amount of weight up into the air? You can hear it a room away. It’s an enormous yell followed by a giant thud as the weights are dropped (usually in close proximity to the “Please do not drop weights” signs posted on the walls), followed up by a “Thanks bro”, and a jubilant lap around the room “shaking it out” and stopping to talk with all of the other weight slingers scattered about the room. As far as we can tell, this pattern is repeated for the greater part of an hour or so until they head home. How these guys see any gains to their strength by following this pattern every time they go to the gym I have no idea. One soldier in particular fits this mold. He’s a big guy. Clearly been lifting for a while. That alone would be enough for him to get noticed but he is one of our most notorious loud-lifters. For a few days in a row we were treated to a double dose of fun during our morning session, a combination of our loud friend, and someone’s bright idea to play Creed through the gym’s stereo system. I don’t have anything against Creed. I actually have (somewhere) most of their CDs back home. Still, there’s something just not right about being asked “Can you take me higher?” while working out, especially when over the music you can hear the grunts-screams-yells of exertion of our friend the weight slinger. I wear headphones but there’s no escaping the two of them, Scott Stapp (Creed’s lead singer) and our red-headed, weight-slinging hero…

…Yesterday walking home from dinner we caught up to our Iraqi Engineer coworkers who were also heading back to their rooms. It’s never the easiest thing to do, to strike up a casual conversation with them, but we try anyhow. One time I managed to talk for a while with one about “football,” him being a big Euro-Cup fan, but usually our Q and A sessions tail off into silence. Anyhow, I hadn’t seen them for most of the afternoon at work, so I asked where they had been and they told me they were at the gym. Curious, I followed that up by asking them what they liked to do at the gym. One of them answered: “We go on the treadmill, light weights, and we do abs!” He knows what I know, that is, the ladies love the abs. Good to know that this fact of life is universal knowledge.

I wonder if it’s as difficult for them to decide which weights to lift here at Balad (since they’re differentiated by increments of pounds) as it was for me the first time I was out at a Forward Operating Base and all of the weights were in kilograms. I spent the majority of my workout trying to figure out how much weight I was lifting. It was a guessing game. I tried to figure out the amounts by eye-balling the weights. Then, towards the end I realized there were signs posted indicating that a kilogram is roughly equal to 2.2 pounds, good to know. The most challenging weight-lifting experience I’ve had was at another FOB where they actually had a combination of weights in kilograms and pounds. It took me more time to figure out how many pound and kilogram plates to put on the bar to add up to the 5-pound increments I was trying to get to then it did to actually do my exercises. Why whoever ordered the weights didn’t buy all of them in pounds, or all in kilograms, I’ll never know, but all of the calculating definitely gave it the full-mind-body workout experience-feel...

...I just checked my schedule. Tomorrow's workout is supposed to focus on legs. Maybe I'll pull on some shin pads and pick up my hockey stick instead. At the very least, I'm sure I can find some weights to throw around. Can you spot me?


  1. I knew you had been hitting the weights, boy!

  2. Good stuff, Tim! I'm pretty familiar with the slingers. Of course, the last time I heard them Savage Garden's Truly Madly Deeply was playing in the background. I'm sure those guys would have loved to hear Creed about then!