PAKTIKA PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN
PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – At 5 a.m. in Afghanistan, the small physical fitness center on the Task Force Dragon Compound was filled with Proud Americans, Wolverines, Sky Soldiers, and Dragons, all gathered to witness and participate in a competition known for its bragging rights.
For the first time, the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, conducted their famous Iron Dragon Competition on Forward Operating Base Sharana, Afghanistan, Oct. 19.
The Iron Dragon Competition is a test that challenges a Soldiers mental and physical toughness. For years, many soldiers throughout the ranks have competed, but only the top 25 percent can actually call themselves Iron Dragons.
“You have to do the standard, and keep your head held high,” said Master Sgt. Brian Starns, the senior medical non-commissioned officer and lead planner for the Iron Dragon.
“We don’t just give this trophy out. If we did, you would’ve gotten it during in-processing,” he added.
The push-up, sit-up, pull-up and dip events were stringently graded during the competition. To qualify and move forward to the next event, each Soldier had to complete the correct amount of repetitions based on the gender guidelines.
“The Iron Dragon consisted of 80 push-ups, 80 sit-ups, 20 dips and 10 pull-ups, back to back and graded pretty strictly,” explained 2nd Lt. Shawn Dolan, from Tulsa, Okla., the executive officer of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery, about the male qualification standards.
The female Soldiers have to complete 50 push-ups, 75 sit-ups, 10 dips, and 5 pull-ups to qualify as an Iron Dragon.
At the compound, 46 Soldiers stood ready and anxious for the opportunity to excel over their peers as they were tested on their physical and mental endurance.
After the Soldiers received their instructions, the competition was on. Over the counting of repetitions, the chants of encouragement and the on-the-spot corrections made by the command teams, the sounds of bodies hitting the mats and grunts filled the air as the competing Soldiers pushed for excellence.
Sadly, one by the one, Soldiers were disqualified and could not continue the competition. At the break of daylight, 11 Soldiers stood proudly, heads held high, as they were named the newest Iron Dragons.
Unlike previous Iron Dragon competitions, one thing was not counted as an event – the dreaded three-mile run. Due to the uneven terrain and altitude, it was considered a hazard.
“It’s definitely more challenging out here with the elevation. It’s definitely different,” said Spc. Terrence Jackson, a native Alexandria, La., and unit supply specialist, assigned to HHB, 2-32.
“Out here I felt light-headed after the push-ups, but if the three mile run was in it I don’t know how I would’ve made it,” he added.
The Iron Dragon, originally created by Col. Henry Arnold, who was the previous commander of the ‘Dragon’ Brigade, promotes physical excellence and encourages soldiers to push themselves, and each other, to maintain a high level of fitness.
As a battalion commander deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Arnold was injured in combat. Due to his high level of fitness, he was able to recover in half the time anticipated by his physical therapist.
“My philosophy on physical fitness is that it is directly tied to leadership, discipline, and survivability on the battlefield. It takes a great deal of dedication, commitment, initiative, self-motivation, maturity, and self-discipline to maintain a high level of physical fitness,” said Arnold.
“These same attributes are resident in good leaders and disciplined formations,” he added.
To keep up the good sportsmanship and morale for the Soldiers, the brigade command team decided to take the Iron Dragon on the road. In the near future, the Iron Dragon will travel to most of the operating bases and combat outposts in the task force’s area of operations.
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This work, Iron Dragon competition comes to Afghanistan, by SSG Gene Arnold, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.