1AE NCO Leads by Example, Destroys Stereotypes
August 23, 2011
We all know him.
The guy that does more pushups and situps than is necessary to score the maximum number of points possible for those events. The one who breezes through his two-mile run, drinks a bottle of water, and takes a latrine break before most others cross the finish line.
At First Army Division East's headquarters detachment, Master Sgt. John Harrington is that guy, but there's a catch.
He's 54 years old.
Up close, his short-cropped salt-and-pepper hair, placid demeanor and knowing smile might give his age away, but once the whistle blows signifying the start of yet another brutal, CrossFit®-inspired PT session " many of which are programmed for the group by Harrington " there is only a blur where he once stood.
Harrington has been dedicated to physical fitness since 1983, a year after the former Marine joined the Arizona Army National Guard.
"I started running a lot, and entering a lot of 10Ks. I met some people who were into bodybuilding, so I got into that for a while, and entered some powerlifting contests," Harrington explained.
His thirst for gains in his conditioning led to increased wisdom, which in turn led to some not-so shocking realizations.
"I started getting into detail about the concepts behind everything " learning more about running, learning more about lifting properly; about size and body fat, and dieting. I started reading magazines, and getting into all that stuff thinking there was some kind of secret out there. Later as I got older, I found out that everybody's saying the same thing!"
All of his research brought Harrington to the conclusion that there are no shortcuts to fitness " and anyone saying otherwise has an agenda.
"These magazines put big pictures on the cover to get you to buy it, but the context is all the same. What I've found in the long run is that each person has to find what works for them. What works for one guy doesn't work for the next guy. What works for a female doesn't work for a male," he said.
Clearly Harrington has long since found what works for him, with a two-mile personal record of 11:05 set about a quarter century ago, and a current run time just shy of 13 minutes.
Harrington, who is a mobilized Army Reserve Soldier currently serving as noncommissioned officer in charge of 1AE's G-3 Plans section, maintains high fitness principles for himself for a number of reasons " and excelling at physical fitness tests is no exception.
"Everybody shies away from the PT test, but from day one, we all knew that was part of the standard. Just like your MOS and your job that you have to do, this is also part of your job and the standard you have to maintain throughout your career. You could tell me right now, or any day, that we have to do a PT test, and I'll be ready. I know I'll score a 300," he said, referring to the highest possible number of points attainable on the Army Physical Fitness test.
Even though he often outperforms many twenty-somethings, his priorities aren't necessarily in
line with theirs.
"Now that I'm getting older, and I don't want to keep size on " when you're young you wanna be buffed and big, and have a lot of muscles " I just want to stay lean and healthy."
Harrington has found great success in recent years using CrossFit®, the high-intensity, multi-faceted system of exercise that is touted to improve a number of physical characteristics at once.
"What works best for me is constant movement. It helps with agility, your core, and fat burning by having your metabolism constantly sped up," he said.
Between his personal fitness routine and three days a week of physical readiness training with 1AE, Harrington has no problem maintaining ideal body composition.
"I'm able to maintain my weight a lot more easily. I can pretty much eat almost anything I want, although I still stick to a pretty strict regimen for food. I don't have to worry if I go out and have pizza or a burger, fries and a shake, because my metabolism is so high. They say that as you get older that it usually slows down, but by exercising, it keeps your metabolism going and your body guessing," he said.
As a senior NCO and leader of Soldiers, being in good shape goes a long way in earning the respect of your subordinates. Harrington understands this, and applies it to his leadership style.
"As a leader, I'm not gonna ask you to do anything that I wouldn't do. So if ask you to fill sandbags, I'm gonna be there filling sandbags with you " no matter your rank!"
"If they see that you have a good appearance; that you carry yourself well; that you're fit, you set the example for the younger ones, and some of the older ones. I feel that it's important to them to be led by example. I shoot for those standards to help motivate other people in our unit, to show that you can still be in good shape at any age."
Besides career-related goals, Harrington has personal motives for keeping in top form. Seven of them.
"I have four grown children and seven grandchildren. I want to be able to do things with them, and lift them up and play with them. I remember as a young kid, that when you were around your grandparents you had to be careful because they were older and couldn't do as much," he explained.
"I always made a commitment to be there as much as possible for my kids and my grandkids, and be healthy."
Nearly 30 years of exemplifying wellness has and will continue to pay off for the Iraq War veteran.
"Turning 50 was the most exciting time of my life " I couldn't wait to hit 50! It's kinda like when you turn 21 or something. It was really exciting to be 50, and feel good about it. I feel every bit as good as I did when I was in my mid-20's."