5 Ways Fitness Kept me Alive in Iraq & Afghanistan

How Being Physically Fit Made me More Combat Effective while on Active Duty in Iraq & Afghanistan

by: Dan Tatro, NSCA-CPT

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5.Ability to Tolerate Heatarmy soldier

For the 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.

With the 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 of Kandahar.

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 mission effectively.  

4. Stress Relief

soldier lifting weightsThere 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

American Army Solider Fully Equipped 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 do.

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 missions. 

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 EnduranceCardiovascular Endurance for Army

 Afghanistan was full of ambushes, patrols, raids, snatch and grab missions, and the terrain was not ideal. My cardiovascular endurance was essential.

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.

In Iraq 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 alive. 


1. Confidencesoldier in sand and heat

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.

Learn More about what it Takes to Be Fit for the US Army

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Dan Tatro Twin Cities Personal Trainer5 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 personal 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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