JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND –
At approximately 3:45 p.m. three days a week for the past month, 47 senior airmen in the current Joint Base San Antonio Airman Leadership School begin the jog to their destination for physical training.
Most are perspiring after the jog from the new ALS schoolhouse to an asphalt pad inside the far end of the Medina running track on the Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Training Annex.
The Airmen carry towels or mats, workout gloves and water bottles to help combat the heat during PT. For the past month, the temperature has been near or over 100 degrees with the heat index even higher most days.
The Airmen, ALS instructors and ALS leaders have a reason for PT in the heat of the day. It's their way to honor military members who died in Iraq and Afghanistan combat operations.
"We couldn't PT in the mornings because it's not part of our curriculum. We have to PT in the afternoon," said Master Sgt. John Chacon, ALS commandant. "I don't know how many times these Airmen have heard we've got military members in Iraq and Afghanistan wearing full body armor in this kind of heat who push on."
To give the refrain more meaning, the ALS Warrior performance workout to honor fallen service members was created by Staff Sgt. Thomas McKerlie, an ALS instructor and the school's PT NCO.
"The workout helps their physical performance, their resiliency and their ability to bounce back," Chacon said. "After ALS, (we hope) they'll know how to portray it to their Airmen once they become supervisors."
Chacon, a 17-year veteran with 16 deployments, said before each PT session a citation is read about the service member being honored that day.
"They now have a picture in their mind of that person while we're working out for about 40 minutes," he said. "We read it again when we're done, then have a moment of silence.
"We took a survey about PT after the first two weeks," the commandant added. "It was all positive feedback. Most said honoring those warriors this way was worth being in the heat. They also better understood the sacrifice."
McKerlie said the joint service school is designed to challenge students academically. He said incorporating the physical training at ALS helps create a warrior mindset and breeds a "Fit to Fight, Not Fit to Test" attitude.
"We want to instill a warrior mentality with warrior values so when they leave here they can think to be warriors first," said McKerlie, a seven-year veteran who has deployed four times.
"The program is something tangible to motivate them, to not only push themselves but to see what we do every day is in defense of our freedom," he said. "Others have paid the ultimate sacrifice that any of us could pay. Sometimes we forget about those who have gone before us, who laid down their lives, and it's very important to remember them."
McKerlie added that military members need to maintain outstanding physical fitness.
"I believe very deeply in 'Stay Ready, Don't Get Ready,'" he said, "not just in physical fitness, but in all aspects of a military member's life."
The PT NCO was then off to lead that day's Warrior performance workout.
As he called cadence during exercises, McKerlie would occasionally break rhythm to pose a question.
"How easy?" he'd shout as the sweat dripped off the participants.
"Too easy!" was the response in unison.
When the exercises and 400-meter run were complete, the group gathered around Chacon and McKerlie to hear about Air Force Staff Sgt. John Self, who died near Baghdad in 2007 as a result of enemy action. McKerlie was deployed with Self at the time.
"We served with a lot of the people we're honoring," Chacon said. "This is personal for Sgt. McKerlie and me."
Following a moment of silence, the Airmen trekked back to the ALS building tired and perspiring. However, they were also fulfilled after honoring a fellow service member who