Iron Major competitor Maj. Jennifer Purser, Command and General Staff Officer Course student, demonstrates a portion of the second week's workout in the four-week Iron Major competition May 16 at Normandy Field. Each week of the competition, a new workout was revealed for competitors to complete and record on their own. In the second event, the challenge was to complete as many rounds of 100 air squats, 90 sit-ups, 80 alternating lunges, 70 push-ups, 60 mountain climbers, 50 flutter kicks, 40 burpees, 30 hand-release push-ups, 20 jump squats and 10 toe touches as possible in 20 minutes. Purser finished in first place in the first three workouts, with the fourth and final workout in the competition being revealed and completed by May 24. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

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.

Iron Major competitor Maj. Jake Grob, Command and General Staff Officer Course student, carries a 42-pound ruck sack along a six-mile route for the third of four workouts in the Iron Major competition May 16 on Sheridan Drive. Grob placed first in the ruck march portion of the competition. Each week over the course of a month a new workout was revealed for competitors to complete and record on their own. The annual competition was modified because of COVID-19 precautions. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp


“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.

Iron Major competitor Maj. Daniel Marshall, Command and General Staff Officer Course student, carries a 42-pound ruck sack along a six-mile route for the third of four workouts in the Iron Major competition May 16 on Sheridan Drive. Each week a new workout was revealed for competitors to complete and record on their own. The annual competition was modified because of COVID-19 precautions. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp


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.

Iron Major competitors Majors Scott Wilson and Daniel Marshall, Command and General Staff Officer Course students, carry 42-pound ruck sacks along a six-mile route for the third of four workouts in the Iron Major competition May 16 on Sheridan Drive. Each week a new workout was revealed for competitors to complete and record on their own. The annual competition was modified because of COVID-19 precautions. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp


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.”

Iron Major competitor Maj. Kyle Payne, Command and General Staff Officer Course student, carries a 42-pound ruck sack along a six-mile route for the third of four workouts in the Iron Major competition May 16 on Sheridan Drive. Payne finished the first two workouts in first place and the ruck portion just behind Maj. Jake Grob. Each week a new workout was revealed for competitors to complete and record on their own. The annual competition, vying for the Iron Major Award for exceptional physical fitness, was modified because of COVID-19 precautions. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp


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.

Iron Major competitor Maj. Kyle Payne, Command and General Staff Officer Course student, carries a 42-pound ruck sack along a six-mile route for the third of four workouts in the Iron Major competition May 16 on Sheridan Drive. Payne finished the first two workouts in first place and the ruck portion just behind Maj. Jake Grob. Each week a new workout was revealed for competitors to complete and record on their own. The annual competition, vying for the Iron Major Award for exceptional physical fitness, was modified because of COVID-19 precautions. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp


“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.

Iron Major competitor Maj. Jennifer Purser, Command and General Staff Officer Course student, demonstrates a portion of the first week’s workout in the four-week Iron Major competition May 16 at Normandy Field. Each week of the competition, a new workout was revealed for competitors to complete and record on their own. In the second event, the challenge was to complete as many rounds of 100 air squats, 90 sit-ups, 80 alternating lunges, 70 push-ups, 60 mountain climbers, 50 flutter kicks, 40 burpees, 30 hand-release push-ups, 20 jump squats and 10 toe touches as possible in 20 minutes. Purser finished in first place in the first three workouts, with the fourth and final workout in the competition being revealed and completed by May 24. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp


“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.

Iron Major competitor Maj. Jennifer Purser, Command and General Staff Officer Course student, demonstrates a portion of the first week’s workout in the four-week Iron Major competition May 16 at Normandy Field. Each week of the competition, a new workout was revealed for competitors to complete and record on their own. In the second event, the challenge was to complete as many rounds of 100 air squats, 90 sit-ups, 80 alternating lunges, 70 push-ups, 60 mountain climbers, 50 flutter kicks, 40 burpees, 30 hand-release push-ups, 20 jump squats and 10 toe touches as possible in 20 minutes. Purser finished in first place in the first three workouts, with the fourth and final workout in the competition being revealed and completed by May 24. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp


“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.

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