Thursday, December 14, 2006

Pumping Iron in Ramadi Iraq

There is no lycra and no women, no one is fat or overweight, there are no rows of pristine treadmills and elliptical machines with multi channel TV’s attached, there is no reception area where your membership card is swiped. There is no membership fees or promotions, no changing room, showers, toilets, lockers or sauna bath. You are more likely to hear heavy metal or rap than you are to It is open 24 hours a day 7 days a week, and your membership is valid for four years. (*1)

There is no natural light, in fact any windows, the entrance way is sandbagged and you walk past the drop off point for dirty laundry (Laundry is picked up at 6:30am Tuesdays and Fridays by a seven ton armored truck, back on the next run). Eight fluorescent lights strung up and the rumble of the heater that manages to warm the air in front of three machines enhances the atmosphere in the gym.

Most benches and surfaces have some duct tape holding them together. There is dust and cobwebs in corners, in fact most surfaces have dust, it should be noted that almost everything in this part of the country has dust on it if left for more than 30 minutes.

And yet for all its faults, its negatives the Gym here on the Marine Base at Hurricane Point, Ramadi, Iraq has what any gym in the world wants close to 100% of the community belong. Virtually every Marine works out, and they work out hard, heavy and tough. In a realm where the Alpha male rises to the top, he who bench presses the most per body weight is held aloft.

I use the gym here everyday, one because I like going to the gym, two because it is far too dusty to run my usual trail, inches of dust does not make for conducive times let alone ruining a pair of good running shoes, three it is too cold to run here in the morning with the running clothes I bought, and lastly I had an operation on my big toe last night. (More on that later, the big toe that is.)

In the Corps, discipline and respect are the cornerstones of their world. You do not see Marines walking around the Camp here endlessly saluting or standing to attention. But you do see respect and honor.

In the Gym every Marine is equal, because they all want to be the best, no one wears any insignia of rank in the Gym everyone has the same sweats, everyone has the same haircut and everyone wants to be better.

The gym here will never win any trendy award, the old broken treadmill in the corner will still be gathering dust in six months. However today, tomorrow and for every day there after, the Hurricane Point Gym will have close to 100% of the population walk past the sandbags and push open the door.

(*1) When you enlist in the Marines it is for four years.

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