In what was an unusually warm and rain-free Washington morning, I Corps command sergeant major and 21 command sergeants major from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, assembled for a physical training session April 29, dubbed the Physically Mentally Emotionally Hard Gauntlet.
The concept for PME Hard Gauntlet was developed while Command Sgt. Maj. John Troxell was the command sergeant major of 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, during their 15-month deployment to Iraq in 2007.
Troxell said within the first week of having his soldiers out patrolling the streets and palm groves in Baghdad, through the uneven terrain of the desert, his brigade sustained 100 casualties and seven soldiers were killed.
“We had 60 to 80 pounds of kit on, going long distances, and I needed my guys to be physically fit, to be hard,” he said. “Hard in the sense that they need to be physically, mentally and emotionally strong to make it.”
Before the PT session, Troxell explained to the command sergeants major that having their soldiers strictly train for the Army Physical Fitness Test wasn’t enough because the APFT wasn’t designed for the rigors of combat.
“They (the soldiers) knock out pushups, sit ups and a run but that’s not for combat, and that’s why we have injuries,” said Troxell. “We have a training deficit that this type of program can address."
The program is designed to work more than those muscles used on an APFT; it forces the body to work its core, back, hips and upper thighs. These key components of overall physical strength were put to use at 21 different stations set up by Troxell and his command team. The stations consisted of various non-standard equipment items like wrecker chains, logs and tires.
“This isn’t about testing your strength against me or anyone else out here. I’m too busy smoking the dog crap out of myself to pay attention to anyone else,” Troxell said. “It’s you against you, and only you will know if you’ve cheated yourself or not.”
After the first iteration of stations, the grunting and sighs of relief from the command sergeants major during station-change grew louder. With the sun shining down on their beet-red faces, their saturated PT shirts were a tell-tale sign their bodies were reaching a breaking point. That is where, Troxell said, the mental and emotional part comes into play and encompasses comprehensive solder fitness.
“You need something to compensate for your physical deficiencies. Your mind, soul and spirit are what will keep you going,” he said. “We are tactical athletes. We face dynamic things on the battlefield, and we need to be prepared for that.”
For some, it isn’t about relying on God or a higher being to push through, but about relying on the mental strength that’s developed from continually pushing your body and mind to its limits.
“Being in the Army, over the years, you build a mental toughness that allows you to block things out. You find ways to work around your pain in order to accomplish the mission,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Pumphrey, 56th Multi-functional Medical Battalion, 62nd Medical Brigade.
And work around the pain is exactly what Pumphrey did during the PME Hard Gauntlet. For two months, Pumphrey has been going to physical therapy where he has scar tissue, that’s accumulated in his thigh from years of running, shaved off. But he wasn’t going to use his injury as an excuse.
“Some of the exercises were hard because I’m just a wuss,” Pumphrey joked, “but really the exercises that required me to lift from my lower body, like the lifting log carry, were definitely a bit of a challenge.”
Troxell called the group in after 63 minutes of PME Hard. As they sluggishly gathered in a circle, the clouds making way as the sun continued rising over their exhausted bodies, the command sergeants major acknowledged and shared in each other’s pain and perseverance.
“If this is how our most senior leaders are reacting to this type of training, imagine the team building it could do for their junior Soldiers,” Troxell said.
Troxell plans to make the PME Hard Gauntlet an enduring program at JBLM and hopes his senior leaders will incorporate the same physically and mentally strengthening exercises into their unit’s daily PT sessions.