Six U.S. Soldiers; 18 months from home; one war to fight; one common goal: To get massive by any means necessary!
In July of 2004, Staff Sgt James Mace, Staff Sgt Don LaMott, Sergeant Nic Fischer, Specialist Justin Cole, Specialist Jamie Echeverria, and Specialist Kevin McFarland embarked on their journey.
As Infantrymen serving with Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 116th Brigade Combat Team (Idaho Army National Guard), their mission was to defeat the rebels threatening the stability of the Kirkuk region in Iraq, and to train the Iraqi Police and army to take over the sector.
This was a daunting and dangerous mission in and of itself. Yet in spite of the hardships faced, there was the hunger inside each of them that refused to die; the desire for pumping iron!
They're journey would begin in Ft Bliss, Texas in July 2004, where they would spend three months training. From there they would move on to Ft Polk, Louisiana, and the Army's Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC). After an all-too short leave back home, they embarked for Camp Udari, Kuwait.
In December of 2004, they crossed the border into hostile territory, heading first to Firebase Scunion, near Baqubah, Iraq. Here they served along side the 1st Infantry Division, better known as "The Big Red One," before heading north to Kirkuk to link up with the rest of the 116th Brigade in February. From there it would be another nine months before the long road home...
Fort Bliss, Texas:
The Journey Begins
Bravo Company shipped out for Ft Bliss on 1 July 2004. After lengthy in-processing they were sent out to a remote site known as Camp Dona Ana. There the Company would meld itself together. They were a conglomeration of Soldiers from various units and military specialties. Though the majority had been a M1A1 Tank Crewmen, there were a number of Cavalry Scouts, Mortar-men, Artillery and Military Police; all coming together to be retrained as Infantrymen for this campaign.
SSG Mace and SGT Fischer had worked together before, and had been workout partners during the training for the Bosnia campaign of 2002. Both are full-time technicians with the Idaho Army Guard. Just before deploying, they were joined by SPC Cole, a Sergeant with the Department of Corrections back home, and a force to be reckoned with in the gym. All three fed off each other for knowledge, motivation, and training techniques.
Workout facilities were practically non-existent during the time in Texas. SPC Cole's ingenuity led to the formation of a makeshift gym, using rocks and sandbags out on a concrete pad. After a while they gained access to the antiquated gym at Camp Dona Ana.
Finding time for working out proved to be a nightmare, but they persevered. They saw this time as simply building a foundation, keeping the muscles used to working out and not allowing them to grow cold.
One thing they had to get used to right away was all the extra weight they'd be carrying on a day-to-day basis. Such items included: M4 Carbine with 7-12 magazines, Interceptor Body Armor, Kevlar Helmet, and Camelback Hydration System.
And if you were one of those specially selected, like SPC Cole, you got to carry the M249 SAW Machine Gun, with spare barrel instead of the M4. Another option was to carry an M203 Grenade Launcher in addition to the M4; plus you could also end up being one of the lucky ones required to carry a Combat Lifesaver Bag.
Actual weight carried varied from one individual to the next, dependant on duty position and size of body armor worn. Suffice it to say, all were carrying an additional 60-80 pounds every single day from the time they touched down in Ft Bliss.
Fort Polk, Louisiana:
Return To JRTC
Bravo Company left Ft Bliss in September 2004. SSG Mace and SGT Fischer were no strangers to the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC), located at Ft Polk, Louisiana. Much had changed since their last time there two years before. The only thing similar to the last time was the wet weather.
It was rather ironic that training for Iraq took place in a swamp! The actual urban-combat training was pretty intense. Many of the scenarios took place in the Shugart/Gordon Village; so named in honor of Master Sgt Gary Gordon and Sgt First Class Randy Shugart, who were posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for their actions in the Battle of Mogadishu, October 1993.
Workout facilities were non-existent at Ft Polk, at least where 2nd Battalion was located. Not willing to give up in their quest for bigger, stronger bodies, they made a makeshift gym using MRE boxes, a towel, cot, and an M2 Caliber .50 Machine Gun.
Not wanting to go without a shower, they even made one of those out of a couple of poncho liners, water bottles, a pallet, and a pile of Camel Back hydration systems.
Once training was complete, the 116th Brigade was sent to a staging area located in Alexandria, Louisiana. They were told that they would be living in chicken coops. At first they thought this was meant figuratively, however they were wrong. The good news was that finally they were able to gain access to a real gym!
An old Air Force facility had been converted into a YMCA, with free access given to all Soldiers getting ready to deploy. This was the first time they were able to focus on gaining size and power, at least on a limited scale. They still lacked ready access to protein, creatine, and other supplements.
During the stay in Alexandria, all took some time to go home and say goodbye to families and loved ones before heading for the Middle East.