Competition Brings Forward Operating Base Together

PAKTYA PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- Loud music blared inside the concrete walls enclosing the outdoor work-out area behind the gym. A crowd of Soldiers, Airmen, civilian contractors and even local Afghan workers, watched and cheered as a competitor struggled through part of a challenging course.

First Lt. Rachael Shafer, assistant logistical adviser for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division, sprinted past a finish line with a 70-pound tire strung across her shoulder.

"All the way across the line, all the way across," shouted U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Correy Hodge, one of the event coordinators and referees. "Stop."

Shafer's momentum came to a halt. She dropped the rope.

"Tire jump," Hodge says as he motioned her toward the next event.

Twenty competitors and twice as many spectators congregated for the Forward Operating Base, or FOB, Lightning Warrior Competition, a six-stage, CrossFit type fitness contest. Participants were separated into four classes: women's class, lightweight (159 pounds and below), middleweight (160-179 pounds) and heavyweight (180 pounds and above).

Each class had a series of events, starting with bench press repetitions, tire-drag, tire-jump, chin-ups and ending with the tire-flip.

"One of the residents came to me and asked why we never have any events," said Staff Sgt. Diamond Ott, a logistical adviser for Regional Logistical Support Command - Southeast and one of the event coordinators. "So I said I'll see what I can do and here we are."

"We wanted initiative to get camaraderie on the base," said Hodge, also a logistical adviser for RLSC-Southeast. Hodge, Ott and a few other Soldiers and Airmen at RLSC organized the event.

The competition is the first major event to get FOB residents from different sections together since the 4th of July 5K walk/run this summer. The event was more than just a contest. The warm November afternoon was a perfect opportunity to bring inhabitants of the small base outdoors for a chance to mingle outside the normal organizational communities.

"We expect them [the various participants] to gain a stronger sense of esprit de corps and camaraderie among the four different brigades that currently exist on the FOB," said Capt. John Morris, FOB commander for the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). "We have several different elements that often don't get to work together outside of a couple meetings every week."

Reasons for entering the warrior competition varied, but the main goal for many participants was to get exercise and test personal boundaries.

"My number one priority in just about everything I do is fitness," said Staff Sgt. Chandelle Stone, psychological operations noncommissioned officer in charge for the 320th Psychological Operations Company at FOB Lightning. "It's pretty much how I live my lifestyle."

"I'm competing in this event today more as a personal test instead of a competition between other people," said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Cody Jenkins, a munitions adviser to the Afghan National Army's 203rd Thunder Corps for the 2nd Munitions Squadron, 2nd Bomber Wing. "Obviously we wanted everyone to do well. I just wanted to see how I would do."

Of the 20 competitors, most of them hit the gym regularly.

"Most of our Soldiers go to the gym at least once if not twice a day when they have the opportunity," Morris said. "It hasn't really taken a lot of pushing from me or the first sergeant. They have a great ethos when it comes to staying in shape."

Regardless of how fit competitors thought they were, some of them were caught off-guard by the surprisingly challenging exercises. Added into the challenge was the 7,500-foot altitude, nearly a mile and a half above sea level.

"The easiest part was signing up," Jenkins said. "The hardest thing I thought was having to deal with the altitude. You don't realize until you get here, the effect that will have on you."

"I'm definitely acclimating a lot better than a lot of people," said Stone, an Aurora, Colo., native said. "Where I live is 5,280 feet."

Stone took first place in the women's class.

Aside from the regular daily physical training regiments, preparation for the challenge was minimal.

"Their platoon sergeant and section chief helped them get ready," said 1st Sgt. Scottie Johnson, FOB Lightning noncommissioned officer in charge for the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). "I just gave them the time off to do it."

"It's a good event for the Soldiers and great event for the FOB," Johnson said. "It breaks the monotony of doing the everyday routine."

"We encouraged them to take some personal time for themselves to maintain their morale," said Morris. "Without that, the long hours our Soldiers work, I don't think they would be able to perform their job as well."

Both Stone and Jenkins have a history with past endurance events back in the United States.

"I've done quite a few fitness competitions," said Stone. "My two most recent were a sprint triathlon in Aurora, Colorado, and a marathon in Denver."

"Back in the states I've done a few 5K [races], things like that," said Jenkins. "It's fun training for triathlons. I've also done a few of those."

A few competitors ate hot dogs from the barbeque that was cooking up snacks during the afternoon. The festivities came to an end as medals and t-shirts were passed out to all the competitors and trophies to the top finishers.

A punching bag carried during the final portion of the course had been ripped open while being dragged by a tired challenger and had to be stuffed and taped shut.

"I'm glad we had the wonderful weather and opportunity to work together as four separate units on this FOB." Morris said.

Ott is surrounded by both Army and Air Force master sergeants at the Regional Logistical Support Command at FOB Lightning. He is the junior enlisted Soldier among his three-man team. Although he currently has no subordinates to inspire, he has plans for when he does.

"If I were to have a Soldier, I'd bring him out here and lead by example," Ott said. "If these folks can do it, so can you."

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