AT SEA --
Red-faced Marines and Sailors guzzle water and dry their faces with towels in the muggy bowels of the ship – the first of her class, the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) – surrounded by light armored vehicles and humvees, trying to quickly catch their breath before the dreaded timer goes off once again.
“3..2..1..Go!,” Lt. Cmdr. Jay Weatherwax, chaplain with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit exclaims, as the Marines and Sailors begin doing pushups on cue.
Such is the scene every afternoon at “Chap’s Fit”, a daily workout that Weatherwax runs for the Marines and Sailors of the 31st MEU aboard the USS Wasp. With the motto “Right inside, right outside”, Weatherwax helps Marines stay in shape physically and spiritually amidst the hustle and bustle of life deployed on ship. With most days spent busily planning and executing simulated amphibious operations and preparing for contingencies in the Indo-Pacific region, Chap’s Fit gives Marines and Sailors a daily respite from the strain of deployment.
"The first time I attended Chap’s Fit was out of curiosity. I was immediately hooked by the great workout and camaraderie among the group. No matter how challenging the PT [physical training] session was, I always had the spiritual discussion group to look forward to afterward,” said HN1 Vincent Fernandez, a corpsman with Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st MEU.
A Chap’s Fit session typically runs for about an hour, consisting of a warmup followed by a high-intensity workout. By the end of the workout, Marines are usually exhausted as they wearily put away their kettlebells and wipe down the mats. But Chaps’ Fit isn’t over just yet.
“What do you do when you’re lost?” Weatherwax asks the circle of Marines and Sailors as they stretch and sip water after finishing a particularly grueling workout. Answers abound from the half-joking officer referencing his copious experience with being lost as a lieutenant, to the sincere lance corporal suggesting that he puts on some music to help himself relax and clear his mind. Weatherwax however takes it in a different direction.
“We all get lost at some point. We might lose our sense of purpose and not know where to turn. It’s important to have a connection – I call it your spiritual WiFi – it’s the connection to something bigger than yourself, whatever that may be. It’s the connection to our values and those we value. And it’s our connection to what is right,” explains Weatherwax to the group of Marines and Sailors.
It’s a simple but needed message. On a ship full of young Marines and Sailors, many of them away from their families for the first time, Chap’s Fit offers a daily dose of physical and spiritual toughness that helps sustain everyone from the most junior lance corporal to the 31st MEU commanding officer himself, who regularly attends the workout.
“Chap’s Fit is a means of talking about spiritual toughness, thinking about our ‘why’ and how it impacts our daily decisions. For the MEU, we are busy. It’s challenging to throw in one more class. So by combining a workout with a conversation, the Marines and Sailors can work on being right inside and outside,” explains Weatherwax.
While the days are long and the work fast-paced on ship, Marines and Sailors can always count on a brief escape in the most unlikely places: down in the scorching well deck of the ship, surrounded by a hodgepodge of kettlebells and barbells, and Chaplain Weatherwax: standing by with his daily workouts and wisdom.