Commentary: PT - 'you don't know what you've got till it's gone'
May 8, 2009
There was an old Joni Mitchell song that lamented "Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got till it's gone'" That pretty much sums up this old Soldier's view of PT.
Physical training is one of the constants of Army service. No matter what you do, no matter where you are stationed, you will get to earn your daily ration of sweat. Soldiers have to be fit to do their jobs.
I can't say that I really disliked doing PT. But, it wasn't exactly the highlight of my day, either. PT was sort of like the weather - good or bad, you just had to live with it.
Weather had a lot to do with my PT experiences, too. For some reason, I found myself living and working in places with extreme weather. You would think that our exercise routines would have been adapted to those conditions, but that isn't the Army way. PT was PT, no matter where I was.
It started right from the beginning. I went through basic training at Fort Sill - in the coldest winter in Oklahoma history. The post was closed three times due to blizzards, but our PT went on. I can remember Drill Sergeant Moran dropping us for pushups in 12 inches of snow. When, on the count of one, we all lowered ourselves to the icy surface, Moran - an infantryman with a nasty sense of humor, who resented having to spend his time on the trail at the home of the artillery - laughed at us.
"I want those chests on the ground," I can still hear him growl.
That taught me a lesson I would have reinforced many times over the next 24 years: Every weather is PT weather.
My first duty station was Fort Wainwright in Alaska. I wouldn't have thought it possible, but I learned that you could go for a formation run at 50 below zero. The PT uniform in those days was what we always wore, fatigues. In mild weather, you took off your shirt and unbloused your trousers. When it was cold, you kept on your OG wool shirt.
I remember the steam from our bodies condensing on the outside of our shirts and on our wool Balaclava hats. It built up as a thick layer of fluffy frost. After doing five miles over icy roads in the arctic dark, the formation looked like a collection of running snowmen.
For me, the cold of Alaska was followed by the steam of central Texas. And, lucky me, my first summer at Fort Hood was the hottest on record - more than 60 days with highs past the century mark. But guess what' PT went on.
We tried moving our formations earlier and earlier to avoid the worst heat. It didn't work. I recall running past the time and temperature sign at the bank and seeing it report the time as 4:30 a.m. ... and 86 degrees.
The heat that summer seemed to have a beneficial effect on the local cricket population. By September whole parking lots looked like they were covered in a shifting black blanket. Formations sounded like they were running through corn flakes as your feet crushed the bugs. And doing sit ups ....
Over the years, the experiences like those piled up. I did my PT in Germany and Japan, from Puerto Rico to Kuwait. It was hot, it was cold, it rained, it snowed, but we always dragged ourselves out at dawn and extended to the left.
I griped like the others around me. But it was mostly for form's sake. PT in the Army is a ritual that can't really be put off.
Then it stopped. There are no oh-dark-thirty formations for retirees.
Now I can't say that I want to jump out of bed before dawn and go do sit-ups on the wet grass, but there always seems to be a bit of an empty spot in my days now.
I look back at all those early mornings with a certain wistfulness. I loved being a Soldier, and early morning PT, in every sort of weather, was part of the package. I really miss it; honest, I do.
As the song says, "You don't know what you've got till it's gone."
David W. Kuhns Sr. is a retired sergeant major and editor of Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.