Staying fit on the frontlines presents unique challenges to soldiers in Iraq. 1st Lt. Matthew Hoff explains how his Panther Recon squadron used ingenuity and the CrossFit Journal to create a special gym near Baghdad.
In the late 1970s, Saddam Hussein purchased a nuclear reactor from France and began to build a power station, which was eventually bombed by the Israeli Air Force. The ruined site sits near the town of Jisr Diyala, southeast of the city of Baghdad. On the other side of one of the 200-foot-tall dirt mounds that separate the ruins from the town is an American combat outpost.
Less than 24 hours after 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment assumed control of the area, the gym facility transformed from a collection of broken cardio equipment and cable machines into a downrange garage gym worthy of those it serves.
The centerpiece of the facility takes the concept of the garage set-up one step further: it’s a rapidly deployable gym. The equipment can be assembled in about the same amount of time as a brand new Swedish living-room set, and the elaborate set of pull-up and dip bars served paratroopers from the squadron at three different bases during our deployment to Iraq.
The garage gym is a CrossFit field of dreams: once it was built, paratroopers flocked to it. While it’s a long way away from qualifying as anything close to an affiliate, it does provide paratroopers with very severe time restraints the means to achieve elite fitness between patrols, meetings and myriad other duties.
The list of CrossFit success stories from the Panther Recon Gym is simply too long for this article. What I can vouch for is that, with a little ingenuity, the line between “austere training environment” and “CrossFit box” can be blurred, making world-class fitness available to everyone—even those living and conducting special combat operations near a blown-up Ba’ath party nuclear reactor.