Comprehensive Airman Fitness proves crucial to successful deployments

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Hailey Staker
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Editor's note: This is the last in a series of articles about how Ellsworth units prepare Airmen and their families prior to, during and after deployments.

During deployments, hot temperatures, extended work hours and separation from family and friends can all take a toll on Airmen, emphasizing the importance of being combat ready before you leave home station.  

While preparing for deployment, it is crucial one considers the four pillars of Comprehensive Airman Fitness: physical, mental, spiritual and social, with the physical pillar being key in many cases.

"[Deployments consists of] a lot of working long hours outside and the more fit you are, the less of a burden it is going to put on your shop," said Staff Sgt. Tim Burgett, 37th Aircraft Maintenance Unit communication, navigation and mission systems craftsman.

Burgett recently returned from a deployment where he worked with Senior Airman James Earnst, 37th Aircraft Maintenance Unit communication, navigation and mission systems journeyman, who said they were lucky they worked out year-round prior to heading overseas, emphasizing the importance of physical  fitness as a key component to a successful deployment.

Earnst added that working outside in the heat while performing the general duties of a maintainer can be exhausting, especially when you consider the distance they walk from aircraft to aircraft, and that once the shift is over, Airmen are fatigued, making it more difficult to maintain a regular workout routine.

Burgett said that if they are physically fit and stay hydrated, deployers are less susceptible to heat stress, which keeps them on the flightline doing their job longer than those not as prepared.

Capt. Janel Uiterwyk, 28th Operations Support Squadron weather flight commander, increased her physical activity prior to deployment, knowing she would be in an environment with higher elevation, humidity and temperatures than she is used to in South Dakota, and that she would be walking more frequently.

"The good thing about being deployed is you are constantly walking everywhere and continually exercising even if you don't know [it]," Uiterwyk said. "Things can change rapidly and we have to be prepared 24/7."

The captain, who has served 20 years as both enlisted and officer, added that she was less stressed due to her high fitness level going into deployment.

"It is a real shock to the body," Earnst said. "[Other Airmen] may have a physical training test once or twice a year and get ready for it a month before, but it is never 120 degrees in South Dakota, so you can tell whose body is ready for it and whose isn't."

Burgett added that usually there is a transitional period within the first few weeks where the body is getting acclimated to the different climate, and how being fit made it easier to transition.

"Over here you probably work eight hour shifts, over there you're working 14 hour shifts, five to six days a week and being on your feet that much is going to be rough on anybody," Burgett said.

Hydration is also important, no matter where one is in the world. It is very difficult to get needed nutrients from soda or juice, Burgett said. The dining facilities also offer a variety of food, Uiterwyk added, and that changing her overall diet and exercising helped her significantly during deployments. 

"A good way to physically prepare yourself is to get your diet in check and start drinking a lot of water before you [deploy]," Burgett said. "Combat ready: we go over there and we don't conduct combat, we fix aircraft but at any time we could be asked to do something outside of our normal job, [such as] tak[ing] up arms."

Earnst added that to be combat ready, Airmen should know how to do a task efficiently and in a timely manner, and that being physically fit year-round can ensure you are prepared for the change in climate and workload.

"[While deployed], the pilots are dropping bombs and communicating with people being shot at," Earnst said.  "It feels good knowing you are helping people out and that you need to get that jet off the ground [because] lives are at stake."