Physical fitness motivates, bonds Afghan and American women

  • Published
  • By Capt. Jamie Humphries
  • 438th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Over the last few years, physical fitness has become a focal point for Airmen readiness across the U.S. Air Force. Here, at the Afghan air force compound, nine female AAF members and one American advisor are also making it a point of emphasis in their military training and daily lives.

What began as an idea, quickly turned into reality after the group of female AAF members noticed a lack of programs geared towards women at the base fitness center. After making several inquiries, the group and U.S. Air Force Capt. Vanessa Vanden Bout, a Force Support Squadron advisor belonging to the 439th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron, began collaborating on how to start a regimented fitness program with an emphasis on changing their lives both physically and mentally.

Kicking off in early January, the fitness class was initiated with a focus on learning how to work out properly and safely with an ultimate goal of educating the women about the benefits of a daily workout regimen.

Now the group, from units around the base, are training three days weekly with an option of attending the specific fitness program geared toward their individual needs.

"Thus far, we have been teaching proper warm up techniques, calisthenics, running and basic weightlifting," said the captain. "Generally, we do a warm up, teach them a few movements and then do some circuit training with them. We start very slowly as many of the girls have never worked out before."

Initially, one of the challenges facing Vanden Bout, a 29-year-old from Vermilion, Ohio, was having adequate access to a location to conduct physical training. Her goal was to find a clean, private area in which the women could conduct the training without fear for their safety or injury.

Located on the compound, the AAF has a gymnasium complete with a basketball court and a weight room, with regular classes offered during the duty day. After shifting some schedules to accommodate a class, regular meeting times were established and classes began with maximum attendance.

"Communication with the ladies is obviously a huge challenge as I don't' have an interpreter in the room when I'm teaching," explained Vanden Bout. "The ladies prefer to not have a male around when they are participating in physical training, but they are motivated and eager to learn. I know it [physical training] can be a little intimidating to them, as they haven't done most of the stuff I'm teaching before, but they do get excited to try new movements and seem proud of themselves when they tell me they're sore!"

Staying physically fit for the captain is nothing new as she has been playing sports since she was 12 years old, but adapting to new and emerging functionally based fitness programs has resulted in a better outcome with, as she explains "better results" and she hopes to pass that knowledge on to the students.

"I think this training first helps the ladies to develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle and to pass a fitness test, which is important to their future careers in the AAF," said Vanden Bout, who is deployed from Ramstein Air Base, Germany. "Second, the training helps to build camaraderie amongst the females on base, hopefully increasing retention and the likelihood that they'll enjoy their time in the military and encourage others to join."

Vanden Bout said she has already see change in the women both physically and emotionally and has also added information to her classes about their daily diets including hydration and minimizing sugar intake. She went on to say the women are motivated and in turn it motivates her to provide them the best training possible.

"I really enjoy doing this program, it is making my muscles feel strong," said AAF member Avezzo Azizi of the regional and cultural affairs office. "It is so kind that the captain is helping out. I feel it is important to do this."