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MILITARY MUSCLE: M&F GOES TO SEA WITH THE U.S. NAVY

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MILITARY MUSCLE: M&F GOES TO SEA WITH THE U.S. NAVY

THE BATTLE FOR MOTIVATION

Each crewmember on the Reagan takes his/her fitness level seriously, but some jobs are just more physical and require greater diligence with exercise and nutrition. Pilots endure a tremendous amount of force in the cockpit -- up to 4-5 Gs on most sorties -- and physical conditioning has everything to do with how well they tolerate it. "The more conditioning you have, the better you're able to withstand G-forces," says 18-year Navy vet Cmdr. Darryl Walker, 45. "You can end up suffering G-loc [G-loss of consciousness]."

But Walker, who pilots the radar-jamming EA-6B Prowler, doesn't need any extra incentive to keep in shape. He prides himself on staying fit and because of it, he's able to keep up with men half his age in the sky and in the hangar bay. Walker keeps his bodyweight around 175 and is a big fan of pull-ups, once completing 263 of the dead-hang variety in 30 minutes. He thinks he can still beat that mark.

To help fend off lulls in motivation, the fit boss fosters a competitive environment by staging friendly contests. Just a few weeks before we arrived, 17 sailors completed as many bench-press reps as possible over three rounds using their bodyweight plus 10%. Petty Officer Eric Olmstead, at a bodyweight of 166, hoisted 180 pounds with perfect form for 79 reps.

"Well, my job is very physical," says Olmstead, 21, who works in aircraft launch and recovery and holds four powerlifting records in his home state of Michigan. "I have to help move around heavy equipment wires, which weigh about 500 pounds. But I have a daily routine in here. When I don't lift, I feel groggy."

Chief Petty Officer Taylor, who began powerlifting at age 12 before segueing into bodybuilding, speaks fondly of proper exercise. He no longer busies himself with detail work, instead choosing to build his 3-4-days-per-week program around benches, deads and squats. "I don't lift for size, necessarily. Not anymore. Now I lift for strength and power."

The explosive ordnance disposal unit is full of guys you hope never have to work during deployment. But disarming mines and IEDs (improvised explosive devices) is the job, and Lt. Zach Scheetz, 26, who heads the team, expects his sailors to be in top form. "In our job, being busy isn't always a good thing," he says, taking a break between sets of kettlebell swings. "But we train together about six days per week, doing a lot of stuff that keeps us athletic. Personally, I've gotten away from more traditional training; I do a lot of CrossFit-type stuff, bodyweight exercises and kettlebell work."

Senior Chief Petty Officer Tracy Johnson, 35, whose muscularity seems to contradict his reported weight of 173 pounds, also works aircraft launch and recovery. Between sets of 80-pound curls, he admits that the stress of participating in "controlled crashes" all day long requires an outlet. He finds it in the weight room, as does nuclear engineer Lt. Justin Braune. "There's so much stress in my job," says Braune, who used to wrestle competitively. "By the end of my shift, I'm wiped out, so finding motivation is the hardest part."

No one needs to convince the ship's ordnancemen to be regulars in the gym. Storing, moving, loading and unloading 500-pound guided bombs and other aerial munitions is done by hand, and it requires both strength and precision. Fixing a 500-pound bomb to the wing of a Hornet takes the combined efforts of four sailors doing what resembles a Zercher squat in perfect synchronization. Safeties are in place, of course, but none of them are interested in chancing a slip.

STRONG AT SEA

Though the crew favors the "peace" part of the ship's motto, today it's the Reagan's strength that's on showcase. As we prepare to depart on our COD ride back to the mainland, Ian and I watch one final cycle of flight ops from the tower. Even from behind the thick pane of shatterproof glass, each launch of an F/A-18 is a visceral experience as 10,000 pounds of dry thrust rattle your organs and confound your senses. The power of the scene is evocative and humbling.

To put it in perspective, the USS Ronald Reagan holds 61 military aircraft on its 4.5-acre flight deck, 44 of them capable of placing a bunker-buster on a postage stamp from 30,000 feet. It features NATO Sea Sparrow missiles, Rolling Airframe Missiles, various radar-guided guns and state-of-the-art torpedo countermeasures. The Reagan can run for 20 years without refueling. It's the longest and most advanced of all the Nimitz-class supercarriers, the world's most feared naval vessels, and its range is virtually unlimited. With its unrivaled destructive potential, the Reagan doesn't hide from anyone or shrink from any challenge. The ship and its dedicated crew represent the very definition of modern military muscle.

Peace Through Strength. We have the former because they exercise the latter. M&F

>> For exclusive video of M&F's visit to the Reagan, click here.

>> For more photos of M&F's visit to the Reagan, click here.

Check out the full story in the February issue of M&F, on newsstands now!

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