The words of the platoon sergeant ring sharply into the cold, morning air and ten, cleanly shaven, barely-awake young men obediently snap to the position of attention. Every cadet’s eyes stare blankly ahead as the leader of each squad, one by one, renders his salute and squad’s accountability status.
Every morning at 0600, under a silhouetted canopy of trees set against the slowly, lightening hue of a navy blue-painted sky, the cadets meet for one hour of intense cardiovascular and muscular-strength and endurance Physical Training to condition their bodies to successfully pass the Army’s Physical Training Test.
The Army PT Test contains three timed events: two minutes of pushups, two minutes of sit-ups, and a two-mile run.
For conditioning, the ROTC platoon follows a CrossFit regimen that incorporates high-intensity, low-rest elements of these exercises, among others.
It is the “among others” that often induce vomiting and dry heaving on a daily basis.
On this morning, it took only twenty minutes for the first cadet to “fall out,” and as he leaned against a small tree—his head hunched between his knees—the first splatter was expelled from between his lips like the frothy head of the too many beers he had the night before.
A shuffled deck of cards, with a given exercise per suit, and a number of repetitions according to the card, was rigged for a repeated drawing of the Joker.
And Joker’s are funny like that. Instead of a number of “Squat Thrusts,” or a 200-meter sprint, the Joker represented thirty “Burpees,” a modified pushup-plus-jumping-jack-like explosion that really shows the world how happy you are.
By the end, every hollow-eyed, sweat-drenched forehead and breathless, gaping mouth gasped in agreement—they were happy—happy that 0700 had finally come.