WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, OHIO – 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.

The boot camp aerobics class (see photo of Chief Master Sgt. Clint Allen at front and Airman 1st Class Shawn Bishop during 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 actually incorporates scenarios Airmen could face while deployed along with several 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. Kirk Links, the boot camp instructor, recently decided the class could do more.

The 40-minute class begins with participants putting on 14-pound flak vests, similar to what they would wear if deployed. The class starts with a 10-minute warm-up, which includes push-ups, jumping jacks and aerobic stepping. This is followed by elbow and knee strikes with pads.

In a recent class, Mr. Links led the 18 participants outside for more in-depth exercises. The first exercise was a sprint with two Airmen carrying a litter filled with sand bags about 100 yards to simulate carrying an injured comrade to a helicopter. The next was carrying 90- to 120-pound pipes the same distance. Mr. Links encouraged those not doing their sets to stay active between sets, working out with 18- to 24-pound rods. The rods simulate 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. "(Mr. 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 a third of a mile with the rods. He said this was one of the newest additions and was designed to have the class move as a unit. In one case, a couple of people stayed back with a classmate who was slowed down because of injury or fatigue, which Mr. Links said he was glad to see.

"One of the big keys I'm trying to get (across to them) is to think as a unit so they move together," he said. "If one person gets tired, another jumps in to help out. They may have a mission to get that litter or those poles to or from a place to get the mission done."

The class ended with some stretching, followed by the class putting its own equipment away. Like real boot camp, no shortcuts are allowed.

Capt. Frank Gonzalez, of the 88th Air Base Wing command staff, was physically drained by the end of the class but said he was glad to have it.

"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." (Courtesy of Air Force Materiel Command News Service and U.S. Air Force photo by Spencer P. Lane)