Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
Despite social distancing requirements because of COVID-19, 44 Command and General Staff Officer Course students have spent four weeks — April 27 through May 24 —competing virtually for the 2020 CGSOC Iron Major Award.
“The Iron Major Award was established in 2005 to recognize exceptional physical fitness,” according to the official Command and General Staff College Foundation website. “The award is presented to the U.S. and international students who finish first in a grueling series of events designed to test endurance and strength.”
Every Monday, participants — 37 males and seven females — received instructions for the week’s event and had one week to videotape their completion of the event and submit it.
The first event was a track-based workout called The Murph — named after Navy SEAL Lt. Michael Murphy, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2005 — that had to be completed at the Unified School District 207 track. The full workout, which had some variations for males and females, included a series of one-mile runs, pull-ups, push-ups and air squats.
The second event was a bodyweight workout that included a round of 10 different sets of exercises. Competitors had 20 minutes to complete as many rounds as they could.
The third event was a 5.85-mile ruck march. Male competitors had to carry a 42-pound pack and females had to carry a 32-pound pack.
The fourth event offered competitors three options.
The first option was a barbell-based workout where competitors had to complete a series of burpees, bench presses, deadlifts, squats and ground-to-overhead lifts.
The second option was a single dumbbell-based workout where competitors had to complete a series of goblet squats, single dumbbell alternating ground-to-overhead lifts, single dumbbell alternating lunges and single arm dumbbell shoulder-to-overhead raises.
The last option was a body-weight-based workout combining five rounds of runs, burpees, push-ups, alternating lunges and sit-ups.
Participants had varying opinions on which event was most challenging.
“Murph … is especially challenging because the volume of body weight movements is high,” said participant Maj. Kyle Payne, CGSOC student. “You combine that with elevated heart rate from the run and you’re keeping a highly elevated heart rate for 30 to 40 minutes of all-out effort.”
Participant Maj. Jennifer Purser, CGSOC student, said she found the ruck march to be the most difficult.
“I didn’t have a target time to go after, which made it difficult,” Purser said. “I just went as hard as I could.”
Each week, after participants completed his or her workout, the submissions were reviewed by Maj. Chris Mattos, CGSOC student, who led the effort to make sure the tradition of the Iron Major competition continued. He got the idea while helping the Army Wellness Center release workouts of the day.
“I was helping (Army Wellness Center) design the concept and make it user friendly for students and, during one of our conversations, thought that we could use something similar to still keep the Iron Major competition alive,” Mattos said. “I thought it was really important that we not let the COVID crisis destroy this event as so many other things were being lost because of it.”
Once a plan was formulated, Mattos had to get approval from Col. Scott Green, Command and General Staff School director.
“Keeping things as close to home as possible is important in times like this,” Green said. “Once it was brought to me, it seemed like a no-brainer.”
Mattos said he has received good feedback from students.
“People were excited for the opportunity and thankful that this was still going on,” Mattos said. “We felt like graduation was gone, (multiple competitions) were gone, so we wanted to keep this alive, to give people something to work toward, to keep up their fitness, to compete and to be part of something.”
Students said they’ve appreciated Mattos’ efforts to make the competition possible.
“The opportunity to be here and take a deep breath and focus on physical fitness is something I had looked forward to coming to CGSC. …This has been a really big highlight since COVID happened,” Purser said. “I wake up every Monday morning excited saying, ‘What’s next? What’s the new workout?’
“It’s given me something to look forward to, and, those of us in competition, we’ve been able to be more interactive with each other,” she said. “It’s giving me perspective. Every event has been different, so being flexible and going into something not really knowing how it’s going to go gives me more confidence in my own abilities, and I hope it’s the same for everybody else.”
Payne said the virtual format has worked out well.
“I think people want social interaction right now despite all the constraints on how close we should be, so this was a good way to stay connected and emphasize physical fitness and interaction amongst peers despite the pandemic,” Payne said. “It’s been a really good time and shows that the spirit of competition and camaraderie is still prevalent.
“It is critical to our profession to maintain our physical fitness and this is a good opportunity to do that,” he said. “Competition is a good way to maintain our edge.”
All events were performed in isolation and a deliberate risk assessment was conducted by CGSC leaders before the competition started.
The official winners of the Iron Major Award will be announced during the virtual CGSOC graduation at 6 p.m. June 12 on the Army University Facebook page.