Tactical Tailor

Corps Strength – Back To Basics

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Way back when I first enlisted in the Marine Corps (1981), AKA the “Days of the Giants.” I worked for some real hard asses. Now for the most part these weren’t spit and polish Marines, though they could clean up when they needed to. The fact was back then, just about every Staff NCO and Officer from Major on up, was a Vietnam Vet. Many were highly decorated and had been wounded. They were some crusty SOB’s for sure. I recall even our company admin chief (a Gunny) had a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts. One time over a few beers at a unit picnic he was asked; Gunny, didn’t you ever learn to duck? He answered, “I got shot three times and I killed the bastard that did it every time.” OOOHH – F’ing – RAAA Gunny. I learned a lot from those Marines, things I used my whole career and even to this day with my international students. Yes, they were different than us, not better than our warfighters of today, just different.

They dam sure were different when it came to PT. These guys weren’t big on running and they never lifted weights, or did anything you could call “Cross-Fit” Most couldn’t give two shits about a PFT either. I remember at one of my first PFT’s holding my Platoon Sgt’s (lit and unfiltered) Pall Mall, so he could do his pull-ups. They tended to think about PT like they did about everything else, no bullshit. I had a Sgt Major (who served as a Capt in Vietnam), tell me the three most important things you need (physically) in combat were: The ability to suffer pain (hunger, thirst, cold, heat, injury and fatigue), the ability to dig a hole (fast), and the ability to hump a heavy pack (and carry gear), up and down hills, through the mud, etc. From my own experience, I think that’s still accurate. I would add to that list from my own experience, the ability to move your ass (with full gear), up and down and over obstacles in a GD hurry, is a good thing also.

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Setting the first two aside for now, the ability to hump (ruck, hike, whatever you want to call it) a pack over varied terrain and for many miles quickly, is still a fundamental physical skill for any combat arms military people. I am also of the opinion however that it is a desired ability in anyone (military or civilian) who wants to achieve and maintain a high level of useful real-world fitness. There is just something about it that toughens and strengthens your entire body. It’s benefit is hard to duplicate by any other single exercise.

Now if you’re not in the military, (or a Wild Land Firefighter) you don’t need to take this to an extreme level to gain some real fitness benefit. I typically do 10 miles, with my 45lb training pack, 2x a month. This, along with my normal PT keeps me in very good condition to easily handle the field training I do with my students and to tackle any outdoor activities my sons and buddies come up with for us to do off duty. In fact, myself and my two sons have signed up to do the Mt. Everest base camp trek next spring. There we will be hiking roughly 100 miles from 4000 – 18,000 ft in elevation, over three weeks. I have no doubt my own (minor) “Force March” training will have me in good stead for that trip.

For general fitness get a good pack and add 20-40lbs of weight. You can get a used ALICE pack with frame at most military surplus stores for less than 50 bucks. Wear good boots (not running shoes) and hike 3-10 miles 2 x a month over varied terrain, the pace is up to you. This is plenty to gain some real fitness benefit. You can wear a weight vest if you like, though I prefer a pack, as I’d rather have all the weight baring on my back vs. my shoulders, but both will work. I like to do this early on Sunday mornings. My wife comes with the dogs and we have a nice couple of hours walking together, (she doesn’t carry a pack however). I think that 2x a month is enough, but you could do it every week if you don’t overdue the weight, distance or pace, but I think that these type of workouts can be tough and you need time to recover. The bottom line is this isn’t a cool, sexy or what you would call “cutting edge” fitness, but it works and if there’s nothing else I learned from my old Vietnam era mentors, it’s to go with what works and skip the bullshit. This works, and it’s no bullshit. Give it a try. Till next month;

“Be safe always, good when you can.”

Semper Fi MGunz

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3 Responses to “Corps Strength – Back To Basics”

  1. Iggy says:

    Totaaly agree. Couple of hrs with a loaded pack on is true base line conditioning.
    You will find EBC literally a tea walk. Kids and retirees do it. Give K2 BC a go if you want the real thing.

  2. Renaissance Marine says:

    this reminds me so much of the vietnam vets that “raised” me in the Corps. i remember one saying you would “be able to run just fine once they start shooting at you…the important thing is being able to hump the ammo”

  3. JKifer says:

    This is absolutely true. Rucking x2 a month, at a good solid 15min a mile pace with a 50lb pack is a great way to maintain combat fitness. on a side note, I found your article on weighted stair runs very beneficial and have added them to my pt plans..

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