Staff Sgt. Joel Pena
10th Mountain Division Journalist
Living in the North Country poses a unique challenge when training Fort Drum’s “Mountain Warriors.”
Regardless of weather conditions, Soldiers must be able to complete physical training, face harsh conditions and deploy to any contingency around the world.
“Fitness is very important,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Rick Merritt, 10th Mountain Division (LI) senior enlisted adviser. “It should be the most important thing you do every day.”
When Merritt arrived at Fort Drum in February with his wife Elizabeth and their two children, he noticed the need for a functional fitness facility and a combatives center.
“You have to have the vision to see what you need and where you want to be,” he said.
“I made it a priority in conjunction with the whole chain of command to make this happen,” Merritt added. “If we give our Soldiers the same emphasis that’s given to a professional athlete, we must also provide them with the facilities.
“This is why we’ve made upgrades and improvements to the Monti Physical Fitness Center and the Magrath Sports Complex, as well as the addition of the Mountain Functional Fitness Facility,” Merritt said, along with “redeveloping one of our pools to have it for our athletic warriors.”
Some of the improvements include, for example, new rubberized flooring at Magraph Sports Complex, an indoor and outdoor urban obstacle course and a specialized area for conducting combatives training.
The Monti Physical Fitness Center will have an indoor pool upgraded into a combat survival pool, with special effects to provide a more realistic training environment.
Magrath and Monti Physical Fitness Center also will include spouses-only training times, physical trainers, improved equipment and aquatic training, such as combat water safety and survival swimming courses.
In addition to the physical fitness center upgrades, battalions and companies across the installation are receiving additional gym equipment and new facilities to provide an easily accessible area for Soldiers throughout the day.
“We as Soldiers and athletic warriors need these systems, so we may develop the all-warrior concept of functional fitness,” Merritt said.
The division is receiving some expert help to make that happen.
"Command Sgt. Maj. Merritt was my regimental command sergeant major at the 75th Ranger Battalion at Fort Benning, (Ga.)," said Maj. Robert Montz, subject-matter expert on human performance for the 10th Mountain Division and instructor of the installation's Mountain Athlete Warrior Course, a 40-hour course that incorporates functional fitness.
"We took the lessons learned from the Rangers and have adapted it to meet the unique missions sets required of the 10th Mountain (Division) here at Fort Drum," he continued.
Soldiers, like athletes, need strength for lifting, carrying, fighting, lunging, climbing and jumping. The benefits of strength training will allow athletic warriors to be able to perform in full gear while navigating through rough terrain and controlling their weapon system.
A U.S. Soldier is required to have a high level of fitness, capable of performing a multitude of tasks, involving power, strength, speed and agility. Functional training incorporates all of these fitness components to train Soldiers as tactical athletes, both aerobically and anaerobically.
This is why functional training focuses primarily on the development of core muscles as stabilizers, reducing injury and increasing muscular balance and joint stability, thereby positively affecting a Soldier’s performance in the demands of combat.
Functional exercises also use training that emphasize the body’s natural ability to move forward and backward, side to side, up and down, and rotationally to mimic the movements that a Soldier is required to make in combat situations.
For a tactical Soldier, these movements must replicate an unbalanced movement pattern due to a heavy rucksack, while maintaining explosive agile movements required in urban environments.
“We’re very excited about opening the Mountain Functional Fitness Facility (on Friday),” Merritt said. “The facility and all of the upgrades done on post will help us reach our goal of making sure all of our Soldiers are in the best possible physical conditions.”
The 10,000-square-feet facility includes a combatives training room for 50 Soldiers. It has mirrored and matted walls, heavy hanging and speed bags, mats and a room for training videos. The facility also has 25-meter indoor Astro Turf sprint lanes for up to six users. There is also cardio and strength training equipment, such as kettlebells, treadmills, climbers, ladder, rowing, and skiing and endless rope machines.
“We’ll provide our 10th Mountain Soldiers, Families and civilians with the best possible opportunities to receive physical training throughout the seasons,” he said.
“This division is unique,” Merritt noted. “To this day, it is a highly disciplined and agile division that has the mobility to deploy in a moment’s notice. It can deploy quicker than that any other division in the Army to any contingency in support of the XVIIIth Airborne Corps.
“We are the only division in the Northeast; being up here with the weather and the geographical location hardens Soldiers and makes them tough,” he added.
To go through a long winter in a place that receives more snow more than Alaska and other places combined has really helped Soldiers in places like the mountains of Afghanistan, he noted.
“We’ve been known as a division that fights on mountainous terrain; it’s our legacy,” Merritt said. “We have been the most deployed division on the global war on terrorism. It takes the discipline of a light infantry Soldier to accomplish the mission.
“The spirit of the 10th Mountain is alive today,” he said. “I know what that spirit looks like, and you can see that spirit in every man and woman of the 10th Mountain Division.”