BALAD AIR BASE, IRAQ -- Three hundred and thirty-two thousand. That's a lot. Of anything. How would you like to do that many push-ups? The approximately 100 members deployed at Balad Air Base in Iraq with the 332nd Expeditionary Communications Squadron have collectively committed to accomplishing that goal within the next four months to help meet a new fitness initiative announced at the end of September. They are calling it the 332nd 332K Push-Up Challenge.

The push-up initiative also will "refocus some of our peoples' attention" on fitness for deployment, according to Senior Master Sgt. Bill McCune, 332nd ECS superintendent.

Why not "try something imaginative?" Sergeant McCune says. "A few minutes a day can put you in better shape."

For 100 people to knock out 332,000 push-ups equates to roughly 3,320 each, or about 875 a month. Spread over a four-month deployment, that is about 30 a day—a good number to help keep troops fit.

"Think about it. Fitness is even more important in theater than it is at home," says Senior Master Sgt. Bert Francois, the 332nd ECS first sergeant. "You don't want to deploy to the desert if you're not in good shape."

Another reason for the challenge is morale, says Craig Wilcox, the 332nd ECS commander, who thought the challenge would be fun and bring the unit together.

"We got the numbers. Did the math," Wilcox says. "It's attainable."

Push-ups were chosen because they were "easier to do than sit-ups in the workplace," he says.

The squadron reacted to the proposal with an eagerness to hit the floor that surprised him.

"We did more than 20,000 in the first five days alone," he says. "At the rate we're going, we'll blow this thing out of the water by Thanksgiving."

An additional motivator is the weekly prize for the most push-ups by section. Offices within the communications squadron compete for bragging rights and possession of what Sergeant McCune jokingly called "the commander's 'love me' bear," a teddy bear in a suit and hat that remains the property of the winning shop when the weekly totals are added up.

First-bear honors went to the plans and program implementation office, a five-person shop that contributed 2,734 push-ups to the total during the first week. It is the smallest of the work centers, but it is now the one to beat, thanks in part to the efforts of Senior Airman Michelle Klosinski, whose personal best is 310 in one day alone.

On her first deployment, she is enjoying "lots of new experiences" and lots of exercise, she says.

Capt. Greg Goins, plans shop commander, is confident they will hang onto the bear next week but admitted that competition is fierce between offices, with spies tracking the numbers and trying to out-do each other.

However, that won't be hard. Any time of the day, the count can be heard echoing through the halls of the 332nd ECS building as another group hits the deck and counts them out one at a time.
Airmen from the 332nd Expeditionary Communications Squadron at Balad Air Base, Iraq, perform push-ups in front of their building. The squadron plans to do 332,000 push-ups collectively before their deployment here ends. Squadron airmen call it the "332nd 332K Push-Up Challenge." U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Chad Kellum.