For Marines in Iraq, Workouts Prove a Vital Pastime The Marines at Camp Fallujah don't have a whole lot of free time, and when they do get an hour or two to themselves, most of them opt not to watch DVDs or surf the Internet. They work out — all the time. Whether it's a Friday night jujitsu martial arts class or a run around camp in 100-plus degree heat, everyone — from the top brass to the grunts — says exercise is what keeps them sane.
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For Marines in Iraq, Workouts Prove a Vital Pastime

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For Marines in Iraq, Workouts Prove a Vital Pastime

For Marines in Iraq, Workouts Prove a Vital Pastime

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

U.S. troops deployed in Iraq don't have a lot of free time, maybe an hour or two a day at the most. There are the usual distractions, DVDs, e-mail, music. But at Camp Fallujah in Anbar province, most of the Marines use that precious free time to work up a sweat.

NPR's Rachel Martin was recently at Camp Fallujah, and sent this report.

RACHEL MARTIN: There's a flag that flies over Camp Fallujah. It's not the stars and stripes you might expect, it's a temperature gauge. Green flag means the weather is nice and mild. Red, it's getting pretty hot, but if you're set on running outside, go for it. And black? It's probably over 120 degrees outside. And if you're running in this, well, you're either incredibly committed or you're a glutton for punishment. These guys are probably both.

Lieutenant ROGER HOLLENBECK (U.S. Marine): I'm just waiting for it to get so hot that I'd step out of my trailer and I'd fall down and I can't get up.

MARTIN: That's Lieutenant Roger Hollenbeck from California. His running partners today are 1st Lieutenant Marc Quesenberry and Major Scott Cooper. They run at least five times a week around the eight-mile perimeter of the camp to stay in shape, sure, but it's more about staying sane. Thrity-six-year-old Cooper is a native of Casper, Wyoming, and he's on his third tour in Iraq.

Major SCOTT COOPER (U.S. Marine): You spend all day sitting in front of a computer and coordinating and doing what you do, you're going to burn out. You see guys that do. Don't ever exercise and they're the ones that are smoking a pack of cigarettes a day that are just frustrated at the entire world.

MARTIN: It's a red flag day, but it's still well over 100 degrees. So Major Cooper and his running buddies decide to take a quick two-mile sprint out to the detention facility on base and back. Most Marines here use nearly every minute of free time for PT or physical training. Along with a 24-hour fully equipped gym, there are aerobics classes here and yoga and occasional marathons and 10Ks around the base. Until recently, al Anbar province was a hotbed of insurgent operations and Marines here had to put on bulletproof vest and helmets if they wanted to take a quick jog around camp.

But Anbar is a quieter place now. Restrictions have been relaxed at camp Fallujah, and you can find people running up and down the main road of the base at any hour. And while some choose to unwind with a run, others choose a more aggressive kind of release.

Lieutenant Colonel DAVID STANFORD(ph) (U.S. Marine): He's going to isolate this arm, he throws, it comes around, he raises his hips and it breaks his arm, right here.

MARTIN: At least three times a week, Lieutenant Colonel David Stanford turns a dusty canvas tent on the edge of Camp Fallujah into a makeshift dojo. This is where he teaches jujitsu to Marines who want to blow off some steam.

Some are just learning; others, like Lieutenant Lee Stuckey(ph) have been practicing the martial art for years. The Alabama native is a convoy commander, and on this day, he's just finished an eight and a half hour drive from Taqaddum to Fallujah through some very dangerous territory.

Stuckey should be sleeping right now so he can wake up for his night shift, but he says he needs this class.

Lieutenant LEE STUCKEY (U.S. Marine): PTSD and stress and everything else can build up if you don't, you know, allow yourself to get away and do something besides the Marine Corps every once in a while.

MARTIN: Stuckey says he hasn't lost any of his men in the convoys, yet. Living with that pressure is tough. And while working out is essentially just what Marines do, here in Iraq it also becomes an invaluable coping mechanism.

Is a run around base camp or an hour of jujitsu enough to make these Marines forget where they are and why they're here? No. But it is enough to keep them fit and focused. And for many, it's enough to keep them going.

Rachel Martin, NPR News, Baghdad.

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