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Marines stay fit on deployment

By Pfc. Nikki M. Fleming | | June 23, 2006

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Most Marines routinely devote time for PT.  Whether preparing for their next Physical Fitness Test, or just trying to stay in shape, Marines are known to use workouts to not only maintain a sharp physical appearance, but also manage their stress levels. 

For the Thunderbolts of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251, currently deployed aboard the USS Enterprise, fitting in PT presents new challenges.  The first simply being a long work day. 

“The Marines work about 12 to 14 hours a day,” said Sgt. Maj. Michael Gonzales, the sergeant major for VMFA-251. “It’s hard, but most of them fit in some sort of physical training at least once or twice a day.  It’s how we maintain our physical fitness; it also helps relieve stress here on the aircraft carrier.”

Sgt. Maj. Gonzales personally sets a high standard for PT, which in turn motivates the rest of the squadron, according to Lt. Col. John Jansen, the Thunderbolts’ commanding officer.

“Sergeant Major Gonzales has been a driving force in the squadron, both in the example he sets and the in the manner in which he encourages the Marines to excel,” Jansen said. “He routinely has the highest PFT score... and it shows in the performance of our Marines.”

The T-Bolts’ high PFT scores are proof positive - with 80 percent scoring first-class marks and no third-class  scores in the entire squadron.

The Marines use daily workouts  on the ship to break up the monotony and also keep them in shape for their demanding jobs.  One Marine described his workout schedule.

“My routine days vary between strengthening and cardio exercises,” said Cpl. Aaron Harmon, an avionics Marine. “I usually spend 45 minutes to an hour and a half working out. It’s important to stay in shape because it can get hot on the flight deck and staying fit helps a Marine perform their job.”

It’s more of a challenge to stay in shape aboard the ship compared to working on the flight line at home in Beaufort, S.C., Harmon added.

“Our avionics shop used to try doing a shop physical training, but it was too hard to schedule it around flight schedules and ship drills,” said Harmon. “Going to the gym can get frustrating. It’s always packed and the equipment they have can only accommodate so many people.”

However, just living aboard a ship and conducting normal work activities burns a lot of calories.

“Going up and down ladder wells, walking from one end of the carrier to the other and working in 120-degree weather is a work out in itself,” said Gonzales. “They’re also still doing push-ups and sit-ups in their work shops.”

According to Harmon, the aircraft carrier also offers self defense classes, bench press contests and other events in which Marines can participate.

“More Marines are taking advantage of the opportunities, although everyone should try to get up to the gym,” Harmon said. “We need to stay in shape to perform to our best ability on the ship and when we return. It makes you feel good.”

Despite the unique challenges of being deployed out at sea aboard the carrier, the importance of staying in shape still remains a priority for Thunderbolts.  Being a Marine is a profession where physical appearances count no matter the circumstance, Harmon added.

“Everyone looks at your physical appearance,” said Harmon. “Being fit and in shape shows others that you take care of yourself and are a hard worker. We are Marines. We should expect of ourselves nothing less than fit.”

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