RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – What does it truly mean to be fit to fight?
The Air Force has created the Comprehensive Airman Fitness framework that outlines the parameters of the idea of being “Fit to Fight” by focusing on four pillars: physical, mental, social and spiritual fitness.
That all looks good on paper, but for me I had no real idea of how connected each of those pillars were. It wasn’t until I was bound by a boot and crutches, that I realized how important it was to go to the gym, go out with friends, and set time aside to relax, and how it all affects my mental wellness.
For those who are not familiar with these four pillars, let's take a closer look.
Physical fitness refers to the ability to physically accomplish all aspects of the mission while remaining healthy and uninjured.
Mental fitness refers to the ability to effectively cope with the unique mental stressors and challenges needed to ensure mission readiness.
Social fitness refers to the ability to engage in healthy social networks that promote overall well-being and optimal performance.
Then, spiritual fitness refers to the ability to adhere to beliefs, principles or values needed to persevere and prevail in accomplishing missions.
I grew up in a family of athletes, yet my idea of physical fitness included walks around my neighborhood and mandatory physical education in public school.
Honestly, the idea of sweating and maxing out my lung capacity never interested me. I competed in bowling and softball, and took every art class I could in my younger years.
Up until my early 20’s my diet and exercise routine was a cry for help. I was overweight and unmotivated. After reaching my heaviest weight and becoming uncomfortable in my own skin I knew it was time for a change. I started working out at the gym and creating healthier eating habits through meal prepping.
Fitness is now a lifestyle for me and I wouldn’t be the same without it. Then, I left my job as a preschool teacher and entered active duty military service.
I’m a first-term Airmen with only one year on station and a rollercoaster of bad luck injuries.
You ask, where do the other pillars fit into this story? Don’t worry, it’s coming.
As you read, physical fitness was not always easy for me, but I have created a routine and desire for self-improvement, making continuing down this path much easier. But what happens when you are stopped by an injury?
Before joining the military I had never experienced any type of injury that required me to go to the emergency room. As someone who has never broken, sprained or even been to the emergency room for any type of injury, I have now become a frequent flier for ER visits.
Within the first few months of arriving at RAB I was seen for a trauma injury and physical therapy due to over stimulating a muscle during technical training school. Then about three months later I was hit in the face with a softball jeopardizing my ability to continue playing with my team, who provided me with a sense of social stability while being overseas for the first time ever. Only to be followed up by fracturing my foot while participating in a social outing with coworkers four months after the previous injury. Going through each and every one of these situations was annoying to say the least, but piling them on top of one another, and getting progressively worse, made it almost impossible to keep up with my active and high-paced lifestyle.
This is when the other pillars are truly tested and you have to wrestle with the mind games.
How do I ask for help without burdening others? How do I continue to do the activities I love to do? How will I be able to keep up with my friends on weekends? How do I stay mindful and motivated to keep up with life while being stuck in limbo?
All of these questions are valid and heard.
The thing to remember is you are not alone. The Air Force has created a culture where Airmen can rely on one another to get anything accomplished. Even if you think you cannot ask, you should ask.
My current injury, an avulsion fracture in my left foot, has bound me to a knee scooter and crutches for a minimum of six to eight weeks. This type of fracture is caused when you twist or bend your body abruptly and the tendons pull causing a part of the bone they are attached to splinter.
At first I was too afraid to even leave my dorm in fear of further injury or judgment. I sat and stared at the stark white walls, wishing for my foot to magically heal itself so I could get back to my go-go-go lifestyle.
Obviously that didn’t happen and I had to learn how to create a new normal for myself.
I started at the gym – my constant – my comfort place. At first I was embarrassed people would judge me rolling up in a scoot and boot, but to my surprise I only received words of affirmation.
People would commend me for getting into the gym and remind me, “I saw you gettin’ it at the gym! If you can come in there and do something there is no excuse for me!”
Or the occasional smile and “Keep it up!”
This all played into regaining my mental, social and spiritual fitness. Being able to push through a physical injury with so much love and support from strangers makes me feel more confident to lean-in on the things that help to get my mind right again.
Having something as mundane as being able to walk to the bathroom or stand in the shower being taken away can be hard on anyone.
Life can be an overwhelming and complicated thing, but you see, there is always a silver lining.
You have stressors from work, family, friends, relationships and yourself. Then, if your forms of stress relief are taken from away, it can feel like your world is tumbling around you.
But where is this silver lining you ask? How do you pick yourself back up? Refer to the four pillars.
Physical fitness, there is nothing stopping you from moving your body in some way. You just need to figure out what you can do safely.
Mental fitness allows time to focus on goals and aspirations. Life might seem dismal, but it is only temporary and your life will return to normal so be ready for that.
Social fitness can be accomplished by reaching out to your friends. More importantly if you know of someone who is going through something check on them. Don’t just ask the same old “How are you doing?” Take the time to have a conversation with them about what's bothering them.
For spiritual fitness, some might lean on their faith or religion, but I took this time to search inside myself. I worked on being kinder to myself, I wrote in a journal and I evaluated the people, things and places I wanted in my life.
In my short time in the military I have learned the value of being “Fit to Fight” and I now know first-hand how important this concept is.
Just like when the seasons change and the temperatures alter, so do the hats we wear. When life throws a curveball, you make changes to adjust, but who you are remains the same.
No matter the struggle, never stop seeking what provides you the means to meet your physical, mental, social and spiritual fitness.
Always be fit to fight.