All-Round Weightlifting in Egypt

by Bill Cookson

Picture left to right: Major General Ludvigsen, First Lieutenant Kevin Farrell, SSG Jared Allen, and Bill "Doc" Cookson

My newest military journey started in December of 2007 and after prayer and consideration with my family I swore an oath to God and Country on January 24, 2008 and was again a proud member of The Kansas Army National Guard at the tender age of 43. During training in Ft. Riley about 60 days later I learned our Battalion would be deployed to Egypt. The mission here is a peace keeping mission between Egypt and Israel started by President Jimmy Carter and employs several different militaries from around the world to operate it. You can learn more at mfo.org.

I had some work to do before getting back in. At 5’9” I weighed around 240. The Army’s max weight for my height and age is 186 lbs. Fortunately the Army recognizes that we’re all built different and therefore has a body fat calculation test. We call it the tape test. I was too thick in the middle so I worked my way down to 222 with lots of stair running at the hospital parking garage, made tape, and passed my over 40 physical. Why is it that the skinniest doctors have fingers as big as bananas? The older guys can explain that one to the younger generation. Anyhow I got the green light and started again.

Bill training One Arm Dumbbell Bench Presses in Egypt.

I joined Charlie Battery out of Abilene and became a member of the Fire Direction Center for Multiple Launch Rocket Systems. In January 2009 my Operations Sergeant told me we needed a Medic for the deployment and asked if I was interested. So I went to school and became a medic. I continued to work full time for our unit when I returned from medic school. So I’ve been active duty since January 2009. Training balance is tough to manage. I’ve been back in the Guard for a little over 2 years and have had to modify the way I train. Fitness training for the Army and maximum strength training do not go hand in hand, so you sacrifice a little of each to be better in both. However weight training is and always will be a staple in any program I use. The iron always pays great wages for the toil the lifter endures. That’s a fact not an opinion.

This journey started back at the end of June when we had 3 weeks of pre-mobilization training at Salina. Most of it was combat occupation oriented. We left for Ft. Lewis, WA on 23 July for mission specific training. At Ft. Lewis we had shots, health screenings, and death by PowerPoint because we had more briefings than we care to remember. We were quartered at North Ft. Lewis which is where the old fort is situated. The post there is mostly WWII vintage but is all still fully functional. They really need new beds though. I thought my back was broke a couple of times. They have a real nice fitness center though with plenty of weight and a couple of power racks. The worst thing is those silly octagon plates. They aren’t deadlifter friendly. We moved to the neighboring McChord Air Force Base on 9 September where we were welcomed by the USO and some staff well wishers before our departure. I really appreciated the Chaplain. He shared Eph. 5:15-16 with us. He cautioned us to walk circumspectly for the days are evil. In other words, be careful and watchful because there are things and people around that can cause us harm. We boarded a DC-10, and flew from there straight to Bangor, Maine refueled then to Shannon Ireland refueled then on to Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

A remote training facility in Egypt

The people who drive here make aggressive drivers back home look like school girls. There’s no traffic enforcement here like at home either, really frustrating for an old cop. Driving is the most dangerous activity here. The locals are like kamikaze pilots on the road.

With this mission being in effect for about 30 years there are decent accommodations here at our main camp with a fully functional training facility known as, “Herbs Gym”. Herb is a local gentleman that adopted the MFO (Multi National Force and Observers) and it adopted him. He welcomed every new rotation of soldiers coming here prior to our arrival. He was forced to retire before we arrived. The beach where we do combat water survival training is also named after Herb.

Bill training the deadlift with 550 pounds at Herb's Gym.

We rotate out to remote sites and they have a gym as well. It’s a pole shed with weights, benches, a rack, stationary bike, and concept 2 rower. Inside the fence of the sites is usually a makeshift running track which is basically a dirt road we run on. Nothing is state of the art, except those old rusty York plates we have at the remote site I’m deadlifting in the picture. They have those silly octagon plates here at Herbs gym. I generally train 6 days per week with two days devoted to weight training, two days of conditioning which usually consists of 1 or 2 dumbbell movements like swings, snatches or C&P and bodyweight work such as burpees, mountain climbers, rope skipping, pull-ups, push-ups, and dips. The other two days are usually just aerobic. I usually do something other than running. I like to run but my knees don’t agree.

After damaging my rotator cuff benching for the Andy Goddard memorial I have to concentrate on rehab so I can get back to it. In the meantime I’m relegated to lots of aerobics. We’ll see what the Physical Therapist says. Until then I wish all the membership well in life and lifting.

God Bless.

Bill Cookson

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