Fitness Program saves Airman’s career

by Tech. Sgt. Craig Lifton
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
US Air force, Joint Base Balad, Iraq

10/29/2008 - JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq -- A personnel journeyman with the 332nd Expeditionary Security Forces Group turned her career around thanks to a fitness regimen she now teaches at the Red Tail Fitness Center here.

Faced with a possible medical discharge from the Air Force, Staff Sgt. Monica France discovered a program called CrossFit, which not only saved her career but improved her overall health.

"I had a lot of back problems after having my baby boy," said France, who is deployed from the 820th Security Forces Group at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. "They started to send me to physical therapy for about a year." In addition to therapy, her doctors placed her on a medical profile, barring her from any physical training.

Shortly before meeting a medical evaluation board, France learned about CrossFit from her husband, Master Sgt. Jason France, who is also assigned to the 820th SFG. He learned about the fitness program while deployed and encouraged her to try it out. After some research, she found a gym that offered the training and got to work.

When she meet the board, they recommended that she be allowed to go back to duty. However doctors kept her on a medical profile and she would not be able to deploy with her unit.

"Knowing that I couldn't deploy really bugged me," said France, a Brooklyn, N.Y. native. "I had to do something to get my fitness level up so I could deploy."

France continued the program and started to notice improvements.

Eventually, France's doctors took her off her profile, and less than two months later she took a physical fitness test and passed. A month after that, she took another fitness test and earned a rating of "excellent," the top category for the test.

"I went from almost failing to excellent in a matter of three to four months," France said. "I now have a lot more energy during the day. Before the program, I was tired, sluggish and cranky."

After experiencing the benefits of CrossFit, France became a certified instructor. On her own time, she teaches the course at the Red Tail Fitness Center five times a week, with classes averaging 15 service members, civilians and contractors.

The program is a combination of gymnastics, weightlifting and cardiovascular fitness. France tailors the training to each of her students' capabilities.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Thaddeus Benton, an imagery analyst with the 224th Military Intelligence Battalion, is one of France's students. A reservist with the 301st MI Battalion from Phoenix, Benton serves as a civilian police officer. Several years ago, he was hurt on the job, and the CrossFit program got him back to work.

"It's a more realistic training than weightlifting or running on a treadmill," said Benton. "It's absolutely fantastic. If people haven't tried it, they should."

Tech. Sgt. Melissa Reynolds, a material management journeyman with the 732nd Logistics Readiness Squadron, is also a student in France's early-morning training group.

"This has been the most challenging workout I have ever done," said Scranton, Pa., native Reynolds, who is deployed from the 314th Logistics Readiness Squadron at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. "This has helped me with weightlifting. France is tiny, but she definitely inspires us. She is really motivating; she is really encouraging. She strives to push you harder."