When Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Hess, a native of Lancaster, Ohio, left Fort Campbell, Ky., for Baghdad with the 101st Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, he weighed 229 pounds.
“I was in the office during (physical training) hours about as often or more as I was outside doing PT during those hours,” said Hess, the brigade’s paralegal noncommissioned officer in charge. “More than that though, my diet was terrible.”
However, soon after arriving in Baghdad, Hess took it upon himself to increase his physical fitness level and lose the weight that was holding him back.
“There were several factors, like overall health and wanting to look and feel better,” he said, but the biggest factor to him was being flagged as overweight while under consideration for promotion to sergeant first class.
“I wanted the flag gone before the board convened, and I wanted to be underweight by a solid margin and not just making it,” Hess said.
He went online to find the calorie counts for common foods and began to log everything he ate daily to check his calorie count.
Initially, Hess said, he wanted to lower his weight to 185 pounds. “I started with a diet that was high protein, low fat, low carb and eating six to eight times a day,” he said.
He lifted weights four to six times a week and ran two to three times a week in the evening, but no more than three or four miles at a time, he said. To his surprise, he gained three pounds, mostly muscle, and decided to step up his routine.
Now his current PT program focuses more on running.
“I run four days per week and do a combination of abs and muscular strength training three days per week on the days I don’t run,” Hess said.
His running consists of two speed and endurance runs, one easy run and one long run. Weekly, he increases the number of miles he runs. This week, he ran 33.53 miles. By mid-September, he said, he plans to be doing 42 miles per week.
Hess includes half-marathons into his schedule as well, with his best run being 1 hour, 54 minutes, 15 seconds. He said he wants to run the half-marathon in less than an hour and 45 minutes. Once the unit redeploys back to Kentucky, he added, he will run 18 to 24 miles on his long-day runs and keep the other runs under 10 miles to prepare for his goal of completing a marathon.
“In the next month or so, I will register for the Country Music Marathon in Nashville,” Hess said. “As it turns out, this race will be on my birthday in April 2009. That will almost certainly be my first official marathon. At this point, I can’t possibly imagine it will be my last.”
Hess said his wife has joined his pursuit of fitness too.
“My wife and I are both trying to alter our lifestyles to be much more aware of our health,” he said. “It isn’t quite time for my over-40 physical, but I’m not getting any younger, either.”
When he went home on environmental leave a few months ago, Hess said, his family noticed the changed.
“My teenage girls kept saying ‘Dad got hot,’ and ‘I can’t believe you are wearing teenager clothes,’” Hess said. “Of course, my wife said, ‘We need to go shopping!’”
Hess said he feels much better about himself every day as he works off the energy he has gained from dropping 50 pounds and exercising daily. It’s also beneficial to his mission in Iraq, where it may seem hard to perform at the top of one’s game daily, he said.
“It shows his true dedication to improving his overall physical fitness level and his desire to lead by example,” said Army 1st Sgt. William Plummer, a native of McGregor, Minn., assigned to Multinational Division Baghdad with the 101st Airborne Division’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Brigade Combat Team.
As the chief paralegal for the Strike brigade, Hess oversees all legal actions produced through the battalion paralegals and functions as the pay agent for claims. His day-to-day battle rhythm fluctuates often, he said.
“My (job) is such that much of what I do is reactive to whatever is going on,” he explained. “A soldier comes in the office and needs a power of attorney, we do that. A first sergeant or commander comes in with a packet for an Article 15, we do that. Unless I’m going out on a claims mission, it’s really difficult for me to say what I will be doing from one day to the next.”
At the Iraqi Assistance Center in Baghdad, Hess pays out claims for compensation to Iraqi local nationals who were injured or whose homes or property were damaged by coalition forces.
“Hess has always been a dedicated NCO, putting 100 percent into his work and taking care of both his technical and tactical responsibilities,” Plummer said.
Hess’ determination is evident in his daily activities as he continues to strive to become a healthier, strong-bodied individual.
As Hess put it, “If you want to test a man’s body, make him run two miles; if you want to test his mind, make him run 20.”