Fitness Kept me Alive in Iraq & Afghanistan
How Being Physically Fit Made me More Combat Effective
while on Active Duty in Iraq & Afghanistan
Dan Tatro, NSCA-CPT
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5.Ability to Tolerate Heat
months prior to deployment we did physical training and combat training in the
heat of the summer. Some of us trained in Louisiana, some in Georgia and others
in North Carolina.
As anyone can tell you summer months in any of these states
are extremely stressful on the body’s ability to cool itself. Fortunately, the
more conditioned a body is, the better cooling mechanism it has.
training in the United States in the summer months we trained our bodies to cool
ourselves down through perspiration and this helped us to not over heat in 120
degree March temperatures in Baghdad, or the 1 am temperatures in the mountains
There were some soldiers that suffered heat injuries, but through
physical training in warm environments our fitness levels made us more effective
soldiers. We were able to do foot patrols in Iraq neighborhoods when the sun
was hotter than any temperatures in the US.
Doing raids on the Afghanistan –
Pakistan borders in the heat of summer (when the insurgents are known to fight)
was not as much of a problem for us because through physical fitness and heat
tolerance we trained our bodies to cool down naturally so we could execute or
4. Stress Relief
There are stressful times in the military especially when serving
overseas. Many soldiers would have their “get away” time in the weight room.
This helped with confidence and relieved a lot of stress. It also helped with
sleep as does most workout routines.
If I didn’t have a workout facility in
Afghanistan and Iraq I would have been much more stressed, which could have
easily lead to loss of focus on the missions.
Most of the larger bases in Iraq
and Afghanistan had workout facilities, but when us infantry guys were pushed
out to the more desolate firebases in hostile areas we had to be creative with
our workouts and gyms.
For example we made a pull up bar, we used water pails
full of rocks for our dumbbells , made a triceps dips bar out of some iron
pipes, and even made our own pulley cable system with rope and another bucket
full of rocks.
We all agreed that we were much less stressed and focused when
we had the ability to workout. There was nothing better than going on a night
mission, coming back at 4-5 am getting in a quick workout then going to morning
chow. Mission completed, workout done and a full stomach. It was the small
things like this that kept us sane over there, and without physical fitness in
Iraq or Afghanistan it would be much more stressful on all of us.
3. Muscular Strength
First and for most, soldiers are required to carry their gear, weapons,
ammo, other injured soldiers, re-supply , and whatever they may be tasked out to
Muscular strength saved my overseas. There were many occasions where we
had to climb steep mountains with our gear on.
I would be stepping up on
rocks using my hamstrings, quads, calves, glutes, others people could easily
achieve this in a gym setting performing bench steps ups, lunges and squats.
Many times I would need to assist other soldiers on their way up a ledge while
using primarily my lats and biceps. I was often tasked out because of my
strength to get the re-supply drops by the helicopters while on 20 day
I would carry boxes and boxes of MRE’S and medical supply in the
middle of the desert, and although it looked easy, it was a challenge. I have
loaded casualties into safe areas and without muscular strength to do so, I
would have been more prone to getting shot because of being up on my feet for a
longer period of time.
2. Cardiovascular Endurance
Afghanistan was full of ambushes, patrols, raids, snatch and grab
missions, and the terrain was not ideal. My cardiovascular endurance was
We were on a night patrol climbing up a tall mountain, I looked over
to my battle buddy and said “you know this is like doing the Stairmaster for 90
minutes with a back pack on with 70 pounds of bricks right?”
The terrain was
unforgiving, it was important to get up to our ambush sector points quickly and
minimize time to target. Without cardiovascular endurance it would be
impossible to climb those mountains. They were too big, too steep and there was
no way an unfit soldier could get up there especially with their gear.
there was a lot of room clearing missions, where we would forcefully enter homes
and tactically search room by room at a quick pace. Some instance we would go
up stairs, down stairs, hurdle over fences or barriers. My cardio vascular
system was essential.
A golden rule in combat is to keep moving, never stay
stationary. You never know where snipers were, or if you were in the cross
hairs of an enemy fighter about to ambush you. For this reason, we had to
constantly be moving, and my cardiovascular system assisted me and kept me
When you are physically fit, you are more confident. When you a soldier
in the army and you know when you step outside the wire you have people looking
to kill you, that can be a bit of an intimidator.
Though no one is invincible
regardless of fitness levels, I had more confidence going out on missions and
taking on enemy soldiers because I was physically fit.
You have a sense of
accomplishment and sometime that’s all you need to get you through a mission.
There were many times where I looked at my fitness levels and realized that
despite the fact that the enemy was out there, I was confident enough to put up
a strong enough fight.
The enemy’s goal on many occasions was to put fear into
the locals, and even the soldiers fighting against them, but because of my
fitness levels, I had enough confidence to tell them to take their AK47s or RPKs
RPGs or SAMs and “go **** ****selves". Even at the beginning the enemy soldiers
would flaunt their AK47s, RPKs, RPGs and SAMs, this wouldn’t bother me. I had
better weapons and was more physically fit then any of them.
More about what it Takes to Be Fit for the US Army
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Ways Fitness Kept me Alive in Iraq and Afghanistan
By: Sergeant Dan Tatro
Dan Tatro received his degree in physical education:
exercise from the University of Vermont before he enlisted in the US Army.
In the Army Dan was a paratrooper in the
82nd Airborne Division serving in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
Dan has been involved with exercise and
fitness for 14 years.
Dan is currently an NSCA certified
trainer in Orange County California.
Dan also provides online personal training.
For more information about online personal training with Dan Tatro Visit
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