USS BONHOMME RICHARD, At Sea -- “Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity,” said President John F. Kennedy.
The words of the Nation’s 35th president summarize the mindset of Marines and Sailors with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, currently underway on a regularly scheduled patrol of the Asia-Pacific region.
Living and working aboard a naval vessel provides unique challenges to maintain the level of physical fitness that is considered the foundation of a Marine’s readiness.
“Being physically fit, and maintaining that fitness, allows our body to work at the higher levels of performance that are required of a Marine,” said Sgt. Maj. Gonzalo “Butch” Vasquez, sergeant major of the 31st MEU. “It promotes alertness, and helps us deal with challenges and stress.”
Strict schedules for access and overcrowding make the gym a hot commodity for Marines and Sailors. The flight deck is excellent for runners, but constant flight operations make opportunities topside infrequent.
The amount of exercise required to maintain acceptable levels of strength, endurance and speed requires a daily commitment. In order to ensure physical training is conducted daily in the restrictive environment aboard ship, time management and dedication is a must.
“Sometimes you have to stay up late, wake up early, or give up some chow time in order to make sure you do what’s needed,” said Lance Cpl. Danielle M. Teetor, an armory custodian for the Command Element, 31st MEU.
While life on ship presents challenges to physical readiness, the isolation of the deployment encourages mental development. Limitations to leisure activities at sea help service members focus on more educational and professional goals.
“Being on ship is more conducive to education,” said Lance Cpl. Justin L. Morrow, a fire direction controlman with Echo Battery, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 31st MEU, and a native of St. Augustine, Fla. “We don’t have the opportunity to go out (in town) when we’re done working, so we better ourselves by learning during the down time we have.”
A library, computer lab, and unit-provided materials allow Marines and Sailors to choose from a variety of subjects in professional military education. From reading books recommended by the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ to completing courses reinforcing battle skills from the Marine Corps Institute, motivated service members can advance their educational goals and better their chances for promotion.
“In our profession of arms, it is not enough to just know your job,” said Vasquez, a native of Belize, Central America. “By studying and being continuously engaged with PME, a Marine ensures his or her mental fitness serves to compliment physical fitness, in order to form the smart, tough warrior our country expects.”
The 31st MEU deployed less than two months ago, and in that time, Morrow and Teetor have completed a combined 13 MCI courses, read five books from the Commandant’s reading list and maintained an elite level of fitness.
The two Marines serve as an example of the professional development expected of all service members, at home or deployed.
“Every Marine is told, ‘know yourself and seek self improvement,’” said Teetor, a native of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. “It is one of the key principles of leadership in the Marine Corps.”
The 31st MEU is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness for the Asia-Pacific region and the only continuously forward-deployed MEU.