Sunday, August 30, 2009


I mentioned in the past doing the CrossFit exercise program. The centerpiece of the program is the workout of the day (WOD). The WODs vary widely, but they always include some combination of metabolic conditioning (aka aerobic activity), Olympic weight lifts, and/or gymnastic movements (i.e., pullups, pushups). Many of the workouts are "named" WODs. The names are either those of girls or heroes. The hero WODs, such as Murph (I'll explain where the name came from later), are usually pretty brutal.

This past Saturday a group of nine of us met at 0530 at the stadium that is on base to do Murph. There were six men and two women doing the workout. The ninth person was Vanessa (the woman I dropped during the fire muster but who carried me without a problem). She did Murph on Friday so she was there to be our motivator, timer, and photographer (I'll post my pictures when I download them off my camera). The workout is running a mile (we did it around a 1/4 mile track), doing 100 pullups/200 pushups/300 air squats, and then running another mile. Oh yeah, you do this while wearing your body armor vest (about 25-30 pounds). We broke down the pullups/pushups/squats into 20 sets of 5/10/15. Some people didn't wear the vest and others, like me, took off the vest part way through the workout. Vest or no vest, it is a very difficult workout.

We all started together on the run. Some people took off like a shot and some of us (yours truly) were happy to plod along at a more modest pace. The "like a shot" group completed the mile in under 7 minutes. I came in at over 9 minutes. Then it was time to start the real part of the workout. The first couple of sets went pretty well. After that I started to feel the effect of the vest. Before we started, we attached resistance bands to the pullup bars. So when I got tired, I put my foot in the other end of the band and used it to help me up. I still did full movement pushups and squats. While I was in the middle of my exercises, one of the guys took off to do his second 1 mile run. Someone asked me what set I was on. I said I'm not going to tell you now after seeing that guy take off (I was only on 8 or 9). After 10 sets of the exercises, half the workout, I dropped the vest. I kept plugging away and eventually completed the exercises. I might have been able to do the pushups and squats with the vest on, but there is no way I could have done the pullups. I put my vest back on for my second 1 mile run. I ran (if you can call it that) at an even slower pace than I did my first mile, but I wanted to do it right. I had hopes at one time of beating Vanessa's time. She completed Murph in 1 hr, 8 minutes. I started my run at 1 hr, 1 minute, so I knew there was no chance of beating her (as I said in the fire muster, I knew she could kick my butt). I finished the WOD in 1 hr, 12 minutes.

So why is that session of self-abuse called Murph? As I mentioned earlier, it is named for a hero, Navy LT Michael Murphy. Here is what the CrossFit website says about it:

"In memory of Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy, 29, of Patchogue, N.Y., who was killed in Afghanistan June 28th, 2005. This workout was one of Mike's favorites and he'd named it 'Body Armor.' From here on it will be referred to as 'Murph' in honor of the focused warrior and great American who wanted nothing more in life than to serve this great country and the beautiful people who make it what it is."

That doesn't begin to tell you what a hero LT Murphy was. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military honor. He was a Navy SEAL on a scouting mission in Afghanistan when his 4-man team was ambushed by over 50 enemy. LT Murphy deliberately exposed himself to enemy fire so that he could get in a better position to radio for help. During the attempt to rescue the SEALs, a helicopter was shot down killing all 16 aboard. The SEAL team continued to fight against an overwhelming force. Eventually, three of the men, including LT Murphy, were killed and only Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class (SEAL) Marcus Luttrell was rescued. You can read the entire story here.

So why does anyone do something like Murph? For me, it's the same reason I do triathlons, the upcoming AF Half Marathon, or other events like those. It is a challenge to test myself. Also, even though I dropped the vest halfway through the exercises, I felt very proud of myself for finishing the full Murph. I'm not saying I'm looking to do it again anytime soon, but I'm glad I did it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fire Muster

A fire muster is a fire department competition consisting of several different events from a dummy drag, putting out a "fire" using a bucket brigade, rolling up a hose, and spraying a hose at a target. All of the activities resemble training the firefighters use to keep their lifesaving skills sharp. Each challenge is just a sample of the complex and vital job for firefighters and first responders. Basically, the events gave us non-firefighters an opportunity to walk in their shoes. The team event included 24 five-people teams from across the base competing in four challenges against each other. All this took place on a Sunday morning, 9 August.

I was on a team with the wing's lead lawyer (Josh), two people from his staff (Jim and Kat), and the wing's Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (Vanessa). All of us had to participate in each event. The first one was a series of different firefighter carries. We started with Vanessa using the fireman's carry to carry me the length of the basketball court. She then set me down and we switched. I only got a few steps before I fell flat on my face and dropped Vanessa on her behind. Thankfully she was very understanding. I was incredibly embarassed. We got back up but lost valuable time. Not surprising, we were in last after the first event.

It was an intense competition, Jim is really into it.

Next was the bucket brigade. We had to put our bucket in a pool, run over to a wooden house, and throw the water on top of the house. A tube in the house poured the water into a large trash can next to the house. We had to run back and forth until the trash can was about 2/3 full. I think I redeemed myself for the earlier fall. So if you ever need someone for a bucket brigade, I'm your man. Our team did much better in that event, 9th place and we moved up to the middle of the pack overall.

Josh and Kat leading the way, look at my form rolling out the hose!

Next event required rolling out two firehoses the length of the basketball court, connecting them together and to a water supply, and then spraying the wooden house until a softball popped out the top. I thought we did pretty well, but we ended up near the bottom.

Josh looks like a pro on the firehose and Kat looks like she is hanging on for dear life.

Josh is on the hose and I'm second, trust me.

The last event was called "tug of war" but it was actually two teams facing off against each other with firehoses. The teams both sprayed at a target on a rope over the court, the object being to push the target past the other team's line. It was a best two out of three. Those hoses put out a lot of water and it was impossible to see anything. We got spanked twice. Overall, we ended up tied for third from the bottom. Oh well, I had a blast and look forward to doing it again while I'm here.

The happy, albeit soaked, team.

My fellow blogger, Jake, also participated in the team event with his coworkers. He was manning the hose for his team for the "tug of war" competition. He was incredible and they just blew people away. Unfortunately, they ran out of water or else I'm sure Jake and his team would have won that event.

There was also an individual competition called the Firefighter's Challenge. It is known as the toughest 2 minutes in firefighting. I wish I had signed up for it but I was a scaredy cat. It was basically an obstacle course. The course was carrying a "hotel pack", a firehose folded up and tied down, the length of the basketball court and then back through a set of cones...pulling on a rope tied to a rolled up firehose at the far end of the basketball court until you pulled the hose to you...using a sledgehammer to hit a large tire with a sandbag in it along and then off a 6-foot long bench...running the length of the court and dragging back a firehose; after getting to the free-throw line, turning on the hose and spraying a ball off the top of a cone...climbing up and down a 15-foot ladder three times...and finally dragging a 180-pound dummy the length of the court. Whew! It was a lot of fun to watch. There were men's and women's competitions and a team competition between the senior officers in the wing versus the senior enlisted of the wing. Vanessa, the women I dropped, took third place in the women's competition. She definitely could kick my butt, so I'm glad she didn't after I dropped her on hers. This is a picture of her doing the dummy drag. The guys around her are spotters so that she doesn't fall. She did an amazing job!

All in all, it was a great way to spend a Sunday and fun to do something different. It certainly helped me appreciate what firefighters have to go through.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Gamble

The Gamble is the title of a book by Thomas Ricks that I have been reading for the past couple of months (too much tv watching, not enough reading). It is the second book Ricks wrote about the Iraq War. His first book, Fiasco, described the disaster that ensued after our invasion of Iraq in 2003. The title of The Gamble is a reference to the surge in troops and effort in 2006 that essentially prevented a disaster, both on the ground here in Iraq and for the US on the international stage. The surge was more than just an increase in the number of boots on the ground. It was also a major change in strategy, operations, and tactics. At the strategic level the focus shifted from figuring out how to get out of the country as painlessly as possible to protecting the Iraqi people. Operationally, US forces began working with and even hired insurgents who had been attacking them just weeks or even days prior. The significant change in tactics was putting troops out into the local populace. This helped the troops learn the area they were protecting, ensured insurgents couldn’t move into the area after the US left, and, most importantly, encouraged the Iraqis to assist in the security operations rather than tacitly or overtly supporting the insurgents. No one can now say the surge didn’t work (I was among the skeptics at the beginning).

I assume you heard about the 30 June deadline for us to move our forces out of Iraqi cities. That date was established as part of the Security Agreement signed between the US and Iraq. Prime Minister Maliki, the leader of Iraq, declared 30 June as a national holiday on par with Iraq evicting the occupying British forces in 1920. Not exactly a “thanks for a job well done.” You may have heard about a memo from a senior advisor in Baghdad that was recently leaked (go here for a link to a NYT article about it). This advisor, Col Reese, says we should declare victory and go home. The current plan is to reduce our combat forces in Iraq to 50,000 (currently about 130,000) by August 2010. Col Reese says we should completely leave the country by August 2010. At the end of The Gamble, Ricks presents many competing theories about how long the US should remain in Iraq. They range from proposals similar to Col Reese’s to keeping combat forces here indefinitely. The author himself thinks we are only at the halfway point of our time here, meaning we will be here until 2015 or later. My problem with all of those theories is they are based on what the US wants to do. What about the Iraqis?

I think there soon will be a second gamble in Iraq. The gamble this time will be by the Iraqis though, not us. Not only have we left the cities, but now we defer to the Iraqis to lead operations against the insurgents. I’ve often heard times when the Iraqi Army told our guys to stay home because they don’t need us. I don’t have a problem with that. This is their country and they should shoulder the responsibility for it. I’m just not sure the Iraqis are ready for it. Regardless, I think whoever wins their national elections in January 2010 will tell us it is time for us to go. We may get until August 2010 just because the sheer logistics of it, but they will want us out sooner rather than later. Sorry mom, I don’t think this means I will be coming home early. The Iraqis will need the USAF and other, specialized groups to remain because they don’t have the capability to replace us yet. The rules for us are changing and they are being written by the Iraqis. I’m certain, whether they are truly ready or not, they will become even more assertive after next year’s elections. I pray that they are ready.