Fit to fight is not just about being 'fit'

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Tim Wood
  • 366th Civil Engineer Squadron
Many of you have probably noticed a disturbing trend in our education system. To focus on academics, schools are slowly eliminating recess and physical education periods. 

Additionally, traditionally accessible after-school sports are becoming more exclusive, weeding out the non-athletes through grueling try-outs. 

So, why is this a concern for not just parents, but for the Air Force and our sister services? It's because sports and physical training programs are not just about being fit. The same principles an athlete learns in training for and competing in sporting events is what we want our Airmen to demonstrate on the job. 

Teamwork. Many of you have played on or witnessed winning sports teams that don't have a Michael Jordon or Joe Montana to score all their points. The players have such a strong sense of teamwork. They put personal ambitions aside to do what's best for the team. Athletes learn teamwork comes only by submitting their needs to those of the coach and to the team. It means practicing the core value of "service before self." 

As a commander, I want Airmen who know what it means to be part of a team. I want them integrating within their shop and squadron, so their identity is tied up in the identity of the team. That's why we have team names, like the Gunfighters. A true team player doesn't care who the commander is or how glamorous their mission is; they are only concerned with achieving their team's mission and taking care of their teammates. 

If you have read or watched "Band of Brothers" by Stephen Ambrose, you see this concept demonstrated in Easy Company. When Sgt. Bill Guarnere was wounded and hospitalized, he went AWOL from the hospital to get back to the front lines with Easy Company so he could again be part of his team. 

Focus. I'm a runner and I run roughly the same number of miles each week. But I've noticed there's one thing that affects my training intensity in my daily runs- it's why I'm running. If I run simply to stay in shape, without purpose, I lack intensity and I have no motivation. On the other hand, if I'm training for a race, I find myself visualizing race day, the other competitors and the fans. My pace quickens without even thinking about it. 

That's what having a goal does; it gives you focus, purpose and direction.
A good athlete competes with a purpose; he or she competes to win the prize. As Airmen, we should strive for something besides a paycheck. As a civil engineer, I have a goal to continually make the base a better place to live, work, play and train Air Force warriors. Having focus ensures we practice the core value of "excellence in all we do." 

Discipline. Athletes cannot successfully compete without disciplining their lives. This may include adjusting his or her diet, performing certain exercises, observing rest periods, and avoiding negative influences. 

If we are to succeed in meeting our personal and organizational goals, we also must be disciplined. Successfully completing upgrade training or professional military education requires discipline. Developing a plan to prepare for the unit compliance inspection and executing that plan also requires discipline. Discipline is about sacrificing personal desires in order to achieve a higher goal. 

Following the rules. Playing according to the rules of the game is essential in competing and winning. Many of you may have tried playing crud or rugby for the first time and found out how easy it is to violate the rules. Even in running there are rules that, if not followed, will disqualify you. 

Runners may only start when the gun is fired and they cannot cross out of their lane or cut other runners off. Some of you may remember the 1984 Olympic 3000 meter event when it appeared South African barefoot runner Zola Budd cut off American Mary Decker, causing her to fall and eliminating her from the race. Zola Budd was initially disqualified for violating the rules. 

As a commander, I want Airmen who follow the rules. I need people I can depend on to show up on time, not drink and drive, and follow orders. It's easy to find people in our society who break the rules whenever they can get away with it. However, our core values tell us we need to have "integrity first." Airmen are entrusted by our nation to be military professionals and as such, must be above reproach. 

Our military lifestyle is not quite as exciting as that of a professional athlete, but the same principles you learn by competing in sports will also allow you to succeed in the Air Force. We want to train and retain Airmen who know how to be team players, focus on the goal, exercise discipline, and follow the rules. 

Next time you're watching your favorite sporting event or hear about more athletic cuts at the local school, consider the importance of the athletic principles we all need to exhibit in our profession, because it's not just about being fit.