WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, OH — While boot camp aerobics has been popular in health clubs across the country, the Air Force is learning it's more than just a good workout — it can save lives.

A boot camp aerobics class has been offered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio for about five years and adds a new emphasis to workouts. The class incorporates scenarios airmen could face while deployed along with exercises that test endurance and resistance, similar to what airmen would experience at an actual boot camp.

Since implementing a mandatory fitness program in 2003, many units at the base are lined up to take the class. The 40-minute class begins with participants putting on 14-pound flak vests, similar to those that airmen would wear if deployed. The class starts with a 10-minute warm-up, which includes pushups, jumping jacks and aerobic stepping. This is followed by elbow and knee strikes with pads.

In a recent class, Kirk Links, the boot camp instructor, led the 18 participants outside for more in-depth exercises. The first exercise involved a sprint with two airmen carrying a stretcher filled with sand bags about 100 yards to simulate carrying an injured comrade to a helicopter. The next exercise involved carrying 90- to 120-pound pipes the same distance.

Links encouraged those not doing their sets to stay active between sets, working out with 18- to 24-pound rods. The rods simulated rifles and weigh about twice as much as an M-16 rifle.

While easily the smallest and lightest attendee of the session, Staff Sgt. Deveney Drown, a paralegal at the base legal office, did not shy from jumping right into the exercises.

“As long as you try, it gets easier,” she said. “(Links) has made it harder, but more interesting. He's trying to protect us. It's made me a lot stronger and will most likely help me out.”

The final outdoor exercise was running about one-third of a mile with the rods, an exercise designed to have the class move as a unit. The class ended with stretching.

Capt. Frank Gonzalez of the 88th Air Base Wing command staff was physically drained by the end of the class, but he said he was glad the Air Force fitness training was available.

“People forget we're an Air Force at war, and the days of sitting around playing basketball are over,” he said. “The enemy isn't going to play basketball with us; he's going to come running at us, lobbing mortars and shooting. We need to be able to shoot back, run back and take our injured comrades with us. This is important stuff.”