As U.S. military personnel around the country began to step-up training early this year for the possibility of a war with Iraq, fitness equipment companies with government contracts were shipping to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and other army bases, Navy ships and submarines.
"Staying fit is a part of the job," representatives of several companies told SNEWS when asked about government contracts and sales to military bases and ships, known to be a competitive market.
Unless military personnel are on the front line, they are lifting Iron Grip or Nautilus weights, pumping iron on Hoist gyms, training on Precor ellipticals, running on Life Fitness trainers, or climbing to the heavens on StairMaster climbers.
"I have been told that 'fitness' and 'MRE' are at the top of most of the lists when they do surveys as to what is important to the troops," Mike Schopp, director of government sales for The Nautilus Group, told SNEWS. (MRE is military jargon for 'Meals Ready to Eat.')
Schopp says the last few orders from his company went to Bahrain Navy Base and Riyadh Army Base in Saudi Arabia, and Camp Doha Marine Base in Kuwait, and is used "24 hours a day." He also said that the company saw a slight increase in sales the first quarter of this year in contrast to steady sales in previous years. Iron Grip concurred with sales increases to the military, showing nearly a 100-percent increase in that category over first quarter last year.
Life Fitness equipment is also scattered at bases around the Middle East, said Bruce Wicks, a company military sales representative who is a retired colonel and member of the Green Berets after 29 years in the U.S. Army.
The army's Camp Doha, the air force's Ali Ali Salem and the Al Jaber air base, all in Kuwait, have the company's equipment, including treadmills, cross-trainers, bikes, stairclimbers and "a great deal of Hammer Strength equipment," Wicks said. Others with equipment include Camp As Sayliyah and Camp Snoopy in Qatar, the U.S. naval base in Bahrain, and many air bases in Afghanistan.
"The bases are interested in fitness in general," said Wicks, who was the former director of the U.S. Army Physical Fitness School at Fort Ben Harrison in Indiana. "When the troops are back at the base, they are often confined to the base and have little to do but work out in their spare time.
"In the hot desert in the summertime, they especially enjoy working out in the air conditioning on our treadmills," he said. "It is a great morale booster for the troops to use new, workable equipment."
Iron Grip, which sells its equipment through Life Fitness' government contract, is particularly popular on ships and submarines since its urethane plates "don't rust and don't roll," said Marketing Director Liz Bianchi, naming the Kitty Hawk, Shreveport and Dubuque as three ships with its equipment.
Not all equipment can fit down hatches of ships and submarines as easily as bars and weights. Precor modified the design on its elliptical trainer for a military version so the piece could fit through the hatches.
Hoist sends its equipment to the ships at the yard in San Diego -- its headquarters city -- with a team from Hoist, which then dissembles the pieces on site, takes the pieces through the hatches, and reassembles them onboard, said spokesman David Salisbury. The company also altered the design on its selectorized equipment slightly so it could mount to the ships better.
"If there's an established base or facility or ship," said one company spokesman, "it's likely to include a fitness center."