Being a trainer I hear a lot about having a hard time staying motivated to come in and workout and stay fit. I often get asked what is my goal or motivation for why I train so hard and to be honest my answer changes every day almost. One day it will be zombie survival. Another day it will be to be like Batman and after that it might be just because I had nothing better to do. Now I can give all the suggestions in the world on why you should stay fit but sometimes it is just not enough to know that exercise will benefit your health and longevity or help you get to the size of pants you want to fit into. For me, a good amount of motivation did come from myself albeit most of it was to just look better. However it wasn’t until I joined the Air Force when I found what real motivation for me really was.
I joined the Air Force to be part of an elite search and rescue team called Pararescue. There was a 3 month selection course that everyone must go thru called Indoc. We would start off our day by waking up at 4am every morning. From there we would eat chow from 4am-5am. Get ready and in inspection order from 5am-6am. Run non-stop from 6am-7:30am. 7:30am-9:00am we would spend practicing team building with a log above our head or in full camo doing Grass and Guerilla drills (a workout consisting of buddy carries, tactical insertions, exfiltration, and enemy evasion). 9am-9:15am take a nap on the bus ride to the pool on the other side of base, if we had time. 9:15am-11:30am we would spend doing fin training (swimming with fins and basic dive gear on). 11:30am-1pm LUNCH!!!! 1pm-about 4pm, most of the time we stayed till 6pm, water confidence training. Water confidence training was by far the worst part of the day every single day we were there. It mainly consisted of different pool exercises that were meant to get your heart rate up and then force you to lower it really fast so you don’t pass out from lack of oxygen and someone is usually trying to drown you thru the whole thing. 4pm-6pm was debriefing and gear exchange. Our briefing room was in the center of our school house. The thermostat in the room was consistently set to 55 degrees and they had put in a special industrial air conditioner so it could be 55 degrees all the time. 6pm-7pm DINNER!!! 7pm-9pm Free time. 9pm Sleep, unless it was extended training day.
Every time we would run thru the school house to our briefing room you would pass a wall of Air Force Crosses. An Air Force Cross is the highest medal you can achieve in the Air Force and the second highest medal of honor you can receive in the nation. Most of the men who actually got them died in combat. Each Air Force Cross had a story of how it was earned. One story in particular stood out to me and to one of our Cadre members, Mr. Oldchild (not his real name). That was the story of William H. Pitsenbarger.
“Pits”, as he was known to his friends, was nearing his 300th combat mission on that fateful day when some men of the U.S. Army’s 1st Division were ambushed and pinned down in an area about 45 miles east of Saigon. Two HH-43 “Huskie” helicopters of the USAF’s 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron were rushed to the scene to lift out the wounded. Pits was on one of them. Upon reaching the site of the ambush, Pits was lowered through the trees to the ground where he attended to the wounded before having them lifted to the helicopter by cable. After six wounded men had been flown to an aid station, the two USAF helicopters returned for their second loads. As one of them lowered its litter basket to Pitsenbarger, who had remained on the ground with the 20 infantrymen still alive, it was hit by a burst of enemy small-arms fire. When its engine began to lose power, the pilot realized he had to get the Huskie away from the area as soon as possible. Instead of climbing into the litter basket so he could leave with the helicopter, Pits elected to remain with the Army troops under enemy attack and he gave a “wave-off” to the helicopter which flew away to safety.
Pits continued to treat the wounded and, when the others began running low on ammunition, he gathered ammo clips from the dead and distributed them to those still alive. Then, he joined the others with a rifle to hold off the Viet Cong. In the morning, after a night of intense fire fights another Huskie returns to a now quiet battle site. A1C Harry O’Beirne is lowered by hoist to evacuate the few remaining survivors. He finds Pitts lying across a deceased soldier to whom he had been administering medical aid. In his hand was his weapon, aiming out into the now silent jungle. Airman Pitsenbarger is awarded the Air Force Cross posthumously. He became the first publicly announced enlisted recipient of the AF Cross in its history.
Little did I know that Mr. Oldchild had actually served with William Pitsenbarger and was friends with him as well. Mr. Oldchild told us that if we had been thinking about finding motivation to keep ourselves going that we were wrong (Mr. Oldchild was awarded the Air Force Cross as well in Vietnam). It wasn’t about suffering thru hellish training to say, “Look at me I’m tough.” It was about going thru all this training to make sure that when the time came we could really save all those people on the battlefield or die trying to get every single last person to safety and that is was kept me going. Even out of the service I look at myself and ask, “If I really needed to, could I still save someone?” and every time I feel motivated to run farther, lift more, or move faster because when life hits me hard one day I want to be able to knock it out.
Pararescue Motto: “It is my duty as a Pararescueman to save life and aid the injured. I will be prepared at all times to perform my assigned duties quickly and efficiently, putting these duties before personal desires and comforts. These things I do, so that others may live.”Back to Blog