Fort Bragg soldiers tackle early mornings with long days ahead
It's before 6 a.m. Tuesday, and Dog Company is starting a 24-hour day.
Paratroopers wearing gray T-shirts, black shorts and yellow reflector belts stand in formation as a sergeant in uniform and wearing a maroon beret reads standards for doing correct sit-ups.
It's a typical weekday on the early-rising Army post where physical fitness comes first.
After midnight, some of the same soldiers will be parachuting into a Fort Bragg drop zone as the rest wait for them below. They will ruck-march out of the drop zone.
The soldiers of Company D of the 1st Battalion of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division are getting back into the garrison routine of physical training after returning from Afghanistan in August and September. A large-scale exercise is coming up in February. As a heavy weapons company, its specialty is shooting anti-tank missiles, grenade launchers and machine guns.
Venus and a crescent moon peep over the top of the pine trees in the blue-black eastern sky as soldiers with clipboards scrutinize soldiers' sit-ups and push-ups to make sure they meet the standard. Stadium lights from the adjacent ball field turn night into day. Horizontal bodies go up and down like pistons during push-ups, and soldiers strain to squeeze out the last sit-up.
In the Army, physical fitness is a job requirement. Soldiers must be able to do a certain number of sit-ups and pushups in two minutes and run two miles according to their age. Their weight has to be within limits for their age group.
Physical training is a rain-or-shine business in the 82nd Airborne Division, but skies were clear on Tuesday and temperatures were in the high 50s.
Someone yells for a soldier standing on the street corner to take his hands out of his jacket pockets. Fort Bragg standards call for soldiers to keep their hands out of their pockets unless they are reaching for something.
At 6:30 a.m., reveille sounds over the loudspeaker, and soldiers stop and salute in the direction of the flag. The smell of eggs and bacon wafts through the early-morning air. A sergeant whistles the tune reveille as he walks down Ardennes Road to time the soldiers on a two-minute run.
The sky is turning a lighter shade of blue as 7 o'clock nears. Road guards wearing orange reflector vests ensure no cars come onto the street during physical training. Sneakers shuffle on the pavement.
"Pick it up, soldier," a sergeant shouts. "Pick it up."
The soldiers were in for a long day, but they had the holiday break, which began Friday, to look forward to.
"Much needed," said Spc. Nathan Snyder, 27, of Lakeville, Minn. "Hit it hard with another intensive training cycle when we get back."
Military editor Henry Cuningham can be reached at email@example.com.