It was one of those perfect Southern California winter days; Sunny, warm and crystal clear. Dec of 1981 and I was just another young Marine PVT in the 2nd or 3rd week of Infantry Training School (ITS). My platoon was busy digging into some C Rats after a fast ten mile hump out to one of the many training areas on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Our main instructor was a young Cpl, a sadistic prick (who later retired as a Sgt Major), but at the time was only a year or two older than most of those in his charge. We were there that morning to participate in one of the many live fire exercises that we would do during our month long course. I was just about to break open my own can of “Beef and Rocks” when I heard our Cpl’s familiar bark. “Where’s my Donkeys at?” This was a signal to me, my best friend and a couple of others (that he had singled out early in the training cycle), to come forward and “volunteer”. In most cases this meant we were going to have to carry, or go get something for him; like his folding chair, coffee thermos or ice cooler. In any case it wasn’t something that was going to be fun, but honestly the “Donkeys” were kept off the real shit details and every time we humped his cooler of beer, we always got one.
Anyhow, this was going to be different. In front of us were about 50 new, sealed ammo cans of 5.56. “We got the duty” He laid out, as he spit some tobacco juice on the ground. “We (meaning us) need to get that ammo to the top of that hill.” He pointed to a very steep, sandy and rocky hill that was about 200 yards to the top. When I looked up at the summit, I could see some other instructors up there already. I figured we would be shooting from one hill to another as another platoon ran below us to get to an assault position. In those days our training consisted mainly of just three things: (not counting the nonstop field day of the squad bay), humping, running and shooting, most of the time in combination (it was great). There were four of us assigned this task. We looked at the pile of cans, the steep hill and the rest of the platoon enjoying their chow. Sensing what we were thinking, our fearless leader dropped into his folding chair and added: “Donkeys eat when they get done working, get it done.” We each grabbed two cans and started up. It was hard work and took about 4-5 trips each. I was in outstanding condition having recently maxed the Marine Corps PFT and was pretty well used to those hills at that point, I could hump a heavy pack all day, but I never had to do this particular task before. I didn’t have a real problem, certainly not as hard a time as some of the others. But I never forgot how hard that hour was lugging those heavy ammo cans up that hill. I was also surprised how tired I was afterward and sore the next day? It was a real introduction to what they call now: Functional Fitness. Or should I say a lack of it. It made an lasting impression on me that being in top shape was more than just running, or doing pull-ups.
From that point on I almost always included some type of training with ammo cans. Mostly with two .50 cans. Fill them with sand they are about 30lbs, with rocks almost 40. Funny thing is that now many years later, this is standard training for Marines and part of the Combat Fitness Test, (CFT). However, I’ve been using them for over thirty years and still do. I use them and train my international students with them. They are an inexpensive, versatile and effective training tool. You can get them used for about ten bucks each at any military surplus store and if you don’t dump them on concrete they will last though many years of hard use. In my book Corps Strength, I lay out several ways to use ammo cans in training. They can be used by themselves or in combination with other types of functional training (like with a weight vest) for a real ass kicker. This type of training isn’t bodybuilding, or sports conditioning, but for toughening and conditioning your whole body to handle real world stuff, especially your back, legs, grip and shoulders. Plus, there is just something motivating about throwing around some ammo cans for PT, at least to me. So if you want to add something different and effective to your workout, without spending a lot of money. “Get it done” with a couple of (filled) ammo cans. You’ll find them to be a great training tool and always will be.
Till next month,
“Be safe always, good when you can.”