MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho --
For many, what initially comes to mind when thinking of U.S. military men and women are images of strength and courage. Imposing Captain America-like figures who seem to be chiseled from stone rather than born of flesh and when not fighting global injustice, spend their time working-out.
In certain cases this couldn't be further from the truth, particularly in office-oriented Air Force career fields.
I've been in Air Force public affairs short of three years, and so far I have been disappointed with some attitudes toward physical fitness.
I understand I'm merely an E-3 without much experience, but I do know working eight hours a day in an office environment is no excuse to ignore fitness. Regardless of what our jobs are, we all joined the same military, and wear the same uniform countless men and women have died for.
In some cases you may think your job will never require you to rely on your fitness in a combat situation, but I know an Airman who is living proof it is always essential to stay fit-to-fight.
Augmented into a group of U.S. Army scouts and deployed to Afghanistan, Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace, 366th Public Affairs superintendent, found himself in harrowing situations many times during his 2010-2011 deployment, and earlier ones.
In an excerpt from his commentary, "To hell and back: The Bala Murghab saga," he details some of those situations.
"Soon we began to take small-arms fire and started to locate where they were attacking from, and returned fire. (Petty Officer 1st Class John Pearl) was documenting the fight with video and I with still photos.
Almost immediately the fighting reached a level of intensity that forced me to lay down my camera and volley rounds back at the insurgents. A few minutes into the firefight, I watched in awe as, while my co-worker Pearl was shooting video, an insurgent hit three rounds near his head, walking each round closer than the next.
I could hear several whizzing bullets passing very near to my face and body, and their sound is unforgettable. At a distance, they sounded like pops; near my position, they sounded more like loud cracks; and when they passed within inches of my ears, they sounded like a high-speed bullet train roaring by. The Taliban were bombarding us with AK-47 and a barrage of heavy machine gun (PKM) fire."
After receiving shrapnel wounds from an RPG later in the firefight, Wallace continued to rely on his fitness, despite being in a career field many mistakenly believe to be non-combative.
His commentary continues:
"Once we made it to a clearing, I saw two M-ATVs waiting for us. Even coming out of the canal was intense as we had to climb up about nine feet, while the roots we grabbed would break away. I had about 200 of the 550 rounds I left with still on me, plus an AT-4 (anti-tank weapon), 9mm handgun, four grenades, camera gear, back-up camera gear, food, water and supplies - it was hard as hell to climb out of that canal."
To many peoples' surprise, Wallace is but one of many battle-tested public affairs personnel.
One of the most combat decorated career fields, since March 5, 2013, PA Airmen have earned one Airman's medal, 98 Bronze Stars, six Purple Hearts, four Air Force Commendation Medals (with valor), two Army Commendation Medals (with valor), one Air Force Achievement Medal (with valor), 51 Air Force Combat Action Medals, five Marine Corps Combat Action Ribbons and seven Army Combat Action Badges.
Every day when I'm working out and my muscles begin to ache and exhaustion takes over, I think of what Wallace and all the other warriors had to go through, and I push on.
I know I have yet to be tested in any such way and can't guarantee I will ever be emotionally or mentally prepared for the horrors of war while working eight hours a day in my climate-controlled office. But what I can guarantee is physical readiness.
Not only could my life depend on it one day, but more importantly, the lives of those next to me. To those who disagree, my only question is - why are you in the military?