Comprehensive Airman Fitness: A time to ‘slow down’

  • Published
  • By Col. Thomas Roshetko
  • 92nd Medical Group Commander
Chaplain Jeffrey Solheim, concluded the Fairchild Air Force Base Lazy F retreat by thanking God for providing attendees an opportunity to "slow down."

I know, camping with 127 people, including 25 families, and 56 children may not seem to equate to "slowing down." Likewise, partaking in three self-reflective group sessions, four physically challenging outdoor activities, and assuring safety of 30 kids while simultaneously roasting marshmallows is not normally described as "slowing down."

Furthermore, having five buffet meals in 40 hours topped off with all-you-can eat smores and candy just before sleeping is not likely Webster's definition of "slowing down." That said, the Lazy F retreat, provided a perfect place to "slow down" from life's normal business and busyness.

Recessed deep in the natural beauty of Ellensburg, Wash., the Lazy F campgrounds immediately transitioned attendees to tranquility. Kids left cars and began running around grassy plains. Parents left cars and began gazing at surrounding mountain tops and abundant evergreens. Everyone breathed deeply, absorbing nature's scent. For three days, we all repeated the same many times.

The entire weekend deserved an A+ rating, yet like all retreats, there were the 'best of' highlights. Clearly, watching people tackle the climbing events provided entertainment and awe. One young Survival Evasion Resistance Escape Airman, Airman 1st Class Brittney Mack, triumphed over the 50-foot vertical challenge that included rope ladders, swinging tires, thin cables and dangling platforms. Several times her strength and courage ebbed, but each time her peers shouted encouragement and suggestions from below. "Yes Mac; Go Mac; You can do it Mac" reverberated the area. Thirty minutes after starting, our young Airman sprawled across the summit's platform and broke into a smile of relief and accomplishment. Below the growing crowd burst into cheer.

During this time, my own 9-year-old ascended the same challenge. Soon Mac's cheerleaders became Trenton's support group. Shout outs of "Awesome Trent; Keep going Trent; Don't quit," bolstered his tentative ambition. Twenty minutes later, to his and his father's amazement, Trent laid across the platform with only a few 2x4s between him and a 50-foot drop.

The 60-foot vertical tree climb also challenged many. The ascent started by scaling a 9-foot ladder before reaching the lowest branch. Forthwith an adult climber began a serious high stepping, dual branch straddles and trunk hugging to reach the zenith. One mother of five children, set the standard by quickly traversing the branches in a blur of speed and agility. More impressive were the little ones who had to forgo straight vertical climbs, because they were unable to reach the next branch near the trunk. Several found themselves crawling the length of a branch until the higher branch dipped low enough to reach. They swung themselves to the branch, then crawled back toward the trunk before again deciding their next step. I sat in wonder as children combined problem solving with intestinal fortitude to clamber upward. My 6-year-old Brennan took 25 minutes to do what adults conquered in 10 minutes, but he never gave up. His parents often cringed as he leaped between branches, but Brennan put total trust in the belay master who held the rope tied to his harness. He looked like a speck when he reached the top, but his raised arms gave clear indication of triumph

The Zipline and climbing wall also brought fear, thrill and exhilaration. Even those who didn't reach the summits deserved ardent applause for competing. Several people contemplated for hours before aligning their thrill and fear. How impressive to watch people challenge themselves to new experiences and bravery.

The group sessions, orchestrated to share concerns on family challenges, deployments, and coping mechanisms, proved to be a fun and reassuring discussion. No completely new territories were revealed, but after each session attendees walked away with shared compassion, community and commonality. What a great reminder of the value and power of our extended Air Force family.

The final Lazy F review champions the weekend's incredible ability to accommodate all comers. Single Airman and dating couples mixed easily amongst deployed, blended and traditional families. Infants snuggled with mommies. Toddlers moved in close-by circles. Grade school kids played in rivers, made crafts, and ran and ran, and ran. The teen agers found balance between family time and peer time. One dad told me, "Our five kids are all getting older. We won't be able to this many more times. I am so grateful we had this weekend."