AL DHAFRA AIR BASE, United Arab Emirates --
Three Airmen assigned to the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing placed in the top three positions in the Strongest in the Area of Responsibility competition at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, Jan. 4.
The Airmen – Staff Sgt. Janet Soto, 380th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron container control officer; Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Roark, 380th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter; and Master Sgt. Megan Bender, 727th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron weapons director – advanced from ADAB’s competition up to the AOR-level competition. They competed against 143 others from bases such as Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, and Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait.
Leading up to the competition, the ADAB Airmen started their fitness journeys from diverse backgrounds.
“I began my fitness journey as a college freshman in 2011,” said Soto, who placed 3rd in the women’s squat division. “My institution was advertising an annual pageant and I wanted to be a part of it. At the time I was 200 pounds and in no shape to be of competition to anyone. In 11 months, I lost 70 pounds and was on stage in a bikini. I began by trying the fad diets at the time and exercising to Zumba. I soon hit a plateau and that’s when I learned about bodybuilding. I fell in love with this new lifestyle and began to feel great in my skin.”
Besides improving physical results that being fit can provide, Airmen also use physical training to better themselves mentally.
“For the most part the gym is a way for me to relieve some stress in a healthy way,” said Roark, who placed third in the men’s overall-winners division. “It’s where I go to think out and solve my problems. So I would say lifting to get into a better mood is my motivation.”
Inside the gym, these Airmen are in the zone and navigate their own ways in and around the gym almost every day.
“I limit myself to 90 minutes at the gym but every day is different,” said Bender, who placed first in the women’s squat division. “I spend the first half-hour to 45 minutes on either squat, deadlift, or bench, then I do isolated muscle group workouts the rest of the time. I will also do some light stretching and core in there, time permitting. Two days a week I will do cardio and core for 60 minutes.”
For others, they have a strict regimen that keeps them in balance.
“I’m trying to do everything,” said Soto. “So at the moment, I’m incorporating some CrossFit into my new routine. I like being challenged and CrossFit challenges me on the daily.”
Since the competition, the Airmen are challenging themselves to even bigger targets to conquer on their own.
“It was a good feeling but I wish I’d had more time before the competition to get my bench numbers up,” said Bender. “I had only been in theater a little over a month and I know I have a lot more weight that I can put up. My overall goal is to hit the 800-pound club by the end of this deployment.”
Through the power of fitness, the Airmen have bettered themselves, their bodies, and even their Air Force experiences.
“Fitness helped me build new relationships with people that I may have never ran into outside the gym,” said Roark. “I feel like being in the gym at a military installation gives you a unique opportunity to learn from a multitude of people and also gives you the chance to share your knowledge with others.”