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Early Morning in Kandahar

Afghanistan and region

Afghanistan and region

Sedona AZ (January 23, 2013) – Six days a week, her smartphone alarm – a soothing instrumental melody – goes off at 4:10 a.m.

Air Force Capt. Lesley Lilly leads her class in stretching before a January 14, 2013, workout at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. Lilly, deployed from Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, coaches a 5 a.m. CrossFit class six days a week. She puts on her physical training uniform, stops by her office to check email, then drives across base to the outdoor CrossFit pad, where this time of year it is cold and dark.

That’s how Air Force Captain Lesley Lilly, 451st Expeditionary Force Support Flight commander and a volunteer CrossFit coach, has spent the past month. For two months before that, she attended the 5 a.m. class as an athlete, then she stepped up as a coach when the previous coaches redeployed home.

Lilly, deployed here from Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, has been doing CrossFit for about a year, but fitness and health education is nothing new to her. She earned her bachelor’s degree in community health education from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and during college she had an internship at a nonprofit organization, Church Health Center in Memphis, Tennessee, where she taught classes on health and fitness.

She’s currently working on her master’s degree in health and kinesiology from the University of Texas at San Antonio.

“A key philosophy I live by is, ‘Your health is your greatest wealth,'” Lilly said. “You can’t buy good health in the sense that you can go out and buy a nice home. You have to invest in good choices to really be healthy throughout your life.”

Air Force airplaneThe CrossFit workouts consist of a warm-up routine, stretching, a skill — such as a particular lifting movement — and the workout of the day, or “WOD” in the parlance of the athletes.

Most workouts include strength training movements such as snatches, deadlifts, hang cleans, push jerks or squats. There are kettle-bell swings, handstand push-ups, sprints and box jumps. There are exercises with names like burpees, thrusters, kipping pullups, double-unders and the Sumo deadlift high pull.

“CrossFit is really good in developing well-rounded athletes, because it incorporates so many different types of physical activity,” Lilly said. “The workouts are intended to be constantly varied, high-intensity, functional movements.”

Lilly is one of two coaches for the 5 a.m. class. The other is Joey Wisniewski, a General Dynamics contractor who is a mechanic on the Stryker armored combat vehicle.

Wisniewski, from Renton, Washington, has been at KAF since June 2011 and has been a CrossFit coach here for the past two months, including the past month with Lilly.

“Lesley is very positive, encouraging, and always brings everybody up,” he said. “She’s a really hard worker, and I appreciate her positive feedback and motivation to all the athletes.”

Lilly said when she returns home to Texas she hopes to get her CrossFit Level 1 certification and to be able to coach part time.

“Coaching here has been a great experience,” she said. “Trying to figure out what you need to do individually to improve as an athlete is very different than observing someone else’s form and technique and trying to articulate to them how they should improve.”

One of the most rewarding things about coaching is watching people develop and improve, she said.

“When you see an athlete that couldn’t do a certain exercise a month ago and now you see them able to do that because you are giving them the instruction they need, that’s been really rewarding,” Lilly said.

Her passion for fitness, it seems, is matched only by her enthusiasm for nutrition.

“When you’re thinking about nutrition, it’s so important to incorporate it with physical activity,” she said. “They really do work hand in hand.”

The overall principle to keep in mind, she said, is that food is fuel.

“What you eat fuels your body throughout the day,” Lilly said. “So you want to focus on eating a lot of natural, healthy fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats such as poultry and fish or lean cuts of red meat. Fuel your body for success.”

When she’s not teaching CrossFit or picking out healthy food at the dining facility, Lilly leads 20 airmen in the 451st EFSF. The flight is responsible for manpower, personnel and services functions for the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing.

Lilly said one of the highlights of her deployment so far was arranging activities as part of a “12 Days of Christmas” campaign.

“It was very rewarding to be able to provide a venue for our airmen to enjoy the holidays while they were deployed and away from their families,” she said.

Despite a very demanding work schedule, Lilly said she tries to get at least seven hours of sleep a night in order to have the energy to keep up her workout routine. After all, 4:10 a.m. comes early.

This article is authored by Capt. Tristan Hinderliter, 451st Air Expeditionary Wing, Kandahar, Health.mil. Of interest to readers may be that the Taliban movement arose from Kandahar in the 1990s and is home to many of its leaders. The now well-known military saying, “As goes Kandahar, so goes Afghanistan…” was expressed by a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, in 2011.
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    “Our goal is 100 percent accessibility for women Veterans who need our care,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “These new projects will improve access and quality of critical health care services for women.”

    This is the largest number of one-year grants VA has ever awarded for enhancing women’s health services. The complete list of grant recipients is given below. VHA’s national Women’s Health Program Office, Office of Rural Health, and Office of Healthcare Transformation are jointly supporting the winning proposals.

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    “We are committed to providing individualized, sensitive care to women Veterans,” said VA Undersecretary for Health Robert A. Petzel. “These grant-funded projects enable VA to continue to enhance care for women Veterans and exceed patient expectations.”

    Education grants will expand mini-residency training for VA providers and nurses in primary care and emergency services to include topics such as gynecology and early obstetrics emergencies, military sexual trauma, and performing breast and pelvic examinations. Grants will also be used to upgrade emergency services for women Veterans in several VA health care facilities through the purchase of new gender-specific equipment and supplies and the development of protocols to aid in the management of common conditions in women.

    Women serve in every branch of the military, representing 15 percent of today’s active duty military and nearly 18 percent of National Guard and Reserve forces. By 2020, VA estimates women Veterans will constitute 10 percent of the Veteran population.

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    Grant Recipients by Topic/Location: Innovations in Emergency Services for Women

    VA New York Harbor HCS/VISN 3
    New Jersey HCS/VISN 3
    Durham VAMC/VISN 6
    Atlanta VAMC/VISN 7
    New Mexico VAHCS/VISN 18
    Salt Lake City VAHCS/VISN 19
    Puget Sound VA HCS/VISN 20
    Greater Los Angeles HCS/VISN 22

    Women’s Health and Specialty Care Mini-Residencies:

    VA New England HCS/VISN 1
    New Jersey HCS/VISN 3
    New Jersey HCS/VISN 3
    Pittsburgh HCS/VISN 4
    Maryland HCS/VISN 5
    Atlanta/VISN 7
    Tampa/VISN 8
    VA Great Lakes HCS/ VISN 12
    VA Heartland/VISN 15
    South Texas Veterans HCS/VISN 17
    VA Southwest Health Care Network/VISN 18
    Greater Los Angeles HCS/VISN 22
    Minneapolis/VISN 23

    Telehealth for Women Veterans:

    VA New Jersey HCS/VISN 3
    VA Maryland HCS/VISN 5
    VA Health Care System of Ohio/VISN 10
    VA Illiana HCS/VISN 11
    St. Louis VAMC/VISN 15
    VA Eastern Kansas HCS/VISN 15
    El Paso VA HCS/VISN 18
    Northern Arizona VA Healthcare/VISN 18
    Greater Los Angeles HCS/VISN 22
    Minneapolis/VISN 23

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