News: The Walli Olympics: Marines build fitness and camaraderie through weekly games
Story by Cpl. Colby Brown
PATROL BASE WALLI, Helmand province, Afghanistan — It may not be the real Olympics, but the Walli Olympics are the next best thing in southern Helmand. For a squad of Marines with 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, the competition is something to look forward to every week at Patrol Base Walli.
“I didn’t make the Walli Olympics to lose weight,” said Sgt. Nathan Foersch, squad leader for 3rd Squad, 4th Platoon, Alpha Company. “I made it to challenge myself and to challenge my Marines.”
The idea came to Foersch after the first couple months of his deployment. In early July he put the finishing touches on what would become a rallying point for his squad. Instead of a weekly, mandatory exercise program, the Walli Olympics became a way for the Marines in his squad to challenge themselves and each other. The shared competition has brought the Marines together, building camaraderie among a squad who had not worked together prior to this deployment.
“Before we did this, everyone was in a bad mood,” said Lance Cpl. Dakota Cash, an assistant patrol leader with 3rd Squad. “We started doing the Olympics and everybody’s mood improved. We’re replacing fat with muscle, we’re closer from competing with each other and we have something to look forward to each week.”
From the first Walli Olympics to the most recent competition, the exercises featured in the weekly event keep evolving. Even with three months experience at the weekly games, the Marines of 3rd Squad are still exhausted by the end of the competition.
“This is the hardest work out I’ve ever done,” said Cash, a native of Jasper, Tenn. “When you do it the first couple of times you’re broke off completely… After you do it a couple of times it becomes like second nature, but it still breaks you off.”
The exercises featured in the Walli Olympics include pull-ups, sit-ups, ammo-can lifts, sprints and tire flips. Though the exercises appear basic in nature, they are by no means easy.
Pull-ups are completed as a group. The first Marine does two pull-ups and the rest of the squad follows and performs the same number of pull-ups. The number of pull-ups increases by two each time the whole squad completes a set. When a Marine cannot complete the required number of pull-ups in a given round, he is eliminated and the squad starts over at two again. This exercise usually requires the winner to complete an average of over 250 pull-ups in half an hour.
The sit-up and ammo-can lift portions of the Walli Olympics are timed just as they would be during the Marine Corps Physical and Combat Fitness Tests. Marines work for two minutes straight, completing as many sit-ups or ammo-can lifts as they can in the time allotted.
Although PB Walli isn’t much bigger than the typical suburban backyard, Foersch still finds a way to test his Marines’ cardio-vascular strength. Members of 3rd squad sprint back and forth, dashing from one side of the PB to the other. Each week Foesrch has increased the number of sprints, reaching the current total of eight run at the most recent Walli Olympics.
Last is an exercise known as the ‘show.’ Flipping a 300-pound tire normally found on armored vehicles is not what most people envision when they think about exercise. Then again, Foersch and his Marines aren’t most people. Each squad member flips the massive tire from one side of the patrol base to the other for time, with the current record set at 21 seconds.
When it’s all said and done, the Marine who has the most first place finishes is named the winner. The weekly competition is so tight that there has yet to be a reigning champion.
“You’re competing against everyone else in the squad and any visitors that show up to compete,” said Foersch, a native of San Diego. “But at the same time you’re battling yourself to beat your record from the previous week.”
The Walli Olympics brings a positive, competitive atmosphere to the 3rd squad patrol base. Marines have motivated each other to continually improve their scores on each event over the course of their deployment.
“I can’t lose. I’m not allowed to lose,” added Foersch. “I am the squad leader here. That pushes me to go harder and faster and it, in turn, pushes my Marines harder.”
This competitive mindset perfectly suits the Marines at PB Walli, giving them a bit of relief from the tedium of life at a small patrol base.
“And that’s what the Olympics are for us,” added Foersch. “It’s something we can look forward to each week — and we get in shape doing it.”
Each week PB Walli becomes an arena for Marines of 3rd squad to showcase their athletic ability. The days leading up to the Walli Olympics are filled with the constant threat of improvised explosive devices, miles of Afghan terrain waiting to be patrolled and other unrelenting stressors of being in combat.
For about two hours every week, this athletic competition provides the Marines of 3rd Squad with an ‘escape’ from the world outside their PB.
“It’s probably one of the best things that I’ve done during deployment,” said Cash. “It gets everybody together for something where they compete and enjoy themselves, which is good because we don’t get to do a whole lot other than patrol out here.”
Editor’s note: First Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5, 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghanistan National Security Forces and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling the ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.