How USS Bush’s crews fight flab and stress while battling Islamic State
ABOARD THE USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH — The gym in this ship’s hangar bay is dark, cramped and crowded, with sailors clanging weights, punching heavy bags and bantering with each other.
It’s one of the most popular spots on the USS George H.W. Bush, which was deployed about three months ago to launch airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.
Life on a deployed aircraft carrier can be stressful: 5,000 sailors are crammed into confined spaces with almost no privacy, working 12-hour days and often waiting in long lines for laundry and chow. Exercise is a way to relieve stress, but even that has its challenges because of limited space and equipment.
Earlier this month, Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Gardner, an aviation machinist’s mate, said he wished the Bush had more weights and other equipment. This is his third carrier, and he has seen better weight rooms on other ships, but they make the best of what they have.
“Working out is the only release from day-to-day stress,” Gardner said.
Sailors often must wait to use the weight and aerobic machines. And they can only use aerobic equipment for a half-hour if there are others waiting to jump on.
“The biggest thing is space — 11,000 sailors a month go through that space,” said civilian trainer Justin Vigil, motioning to the gym.
Vigil is known as a “fit boss.” The U.S. Navy’s Morale, Wellness and Recreation departments try to hire fit bosses for most big ships to keep sailors from going to seed at sea. Sailors who are on long deployments like the Bush’s must still pass the twice-yearly fitness and body-fat tests.
Vigil teaches exercise classes that offer alternatives to gym workouts, such as yoga, jiujitsu, boxing and CrossFit. Because the Bush launches sorties most hours of the day and night, the flight deck is usually unavailable for running and other fitness activities. But there is “no-fly Friday,” during which the deck is open for two hours to run, Vigil said.
Petty Officer 1st Class Rosemary Carter, an information technician, leads group aerobics to supplement Vigil’s classes. She said she welcomes the brief weekly opportunities to run in the open air.
One time when the deck was scheduled to be open longer, Vigil organized a marathon that required contestants to run more than 30 laps around a 1,000-foot area.
Occasionally, a portable basketball court can be set up, Vigil said. The ship must be at sea for 45 days with no port stop scheduled for at least five more days before the court can be assembled, he said, adding that for this reason playing hoops, a popular pickup sport, is rare on board.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Skyle Closearzon, who was pumping weights one afternoon, said he finds a way to work around time and space constraints to maintain physical readiness.
“Obesity is a big problem in America,” Closearzon said. “As sailors, we are ambassadors for America, so we need to be fit and look the part.”