Syracuse Online

USAF MAJ Antonio Eppolito

Letter from Kuwait

Published April 14, 2003 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

Antonio Eppolito ran for Liverpool and Le Moyne in the eighties, and competed on the roads throughout the nineties. Today, US Air Force Major Eppolito is a flight surgeon at Al-Jaber Air Base in Kuwait. He shared with me life in Kuwait in a recent email.

"I'm with the 332 Air Expeditionary Wing (AEW) at Al Jaber Air Base in Kuwait. I'm one of several flight surgeons assigned to the hospital here. There is a great deal of idle down time on deployments and one of the most popular pastimes is physical training. We have a fully equipped gym with all manner of machines for working out.

As you know, the military encourages physical fitness and many of the service members are hard core exercise fanatics. Almost universally, the military men and women have a high level of motivation when it comes to working out. We have quite a few serious runners here among all ranks and services. Some Army, Navy, and Marine units even run in formation singing and chanting cadence as part of the 'espirit de corp.'

Although these formal exercises have been suspended during the active war phase, prior to the war they were a regular dawn ritual. During the past 3 weeks of war all physical exercise has been limited to the gym and I've been forced to run on a treadmill for the first time in my life. Treadmill sessions are limited to 45 minutes given the great demand for limited machines.

The outdoor running consists of running a 7 mile loop around the perimeter of the flight line. I alternate days doing one or two loops. I have to get the run in early because by two hours after sunrise it's already over 100 degrees here in the desert. The blowing sand and oppressive heat make for difficult running. We also must run with our gas mask with us at all times. I strap it tightly to my back so that it doesn't bounce but it restricts chest wall expansion so I can't ever take a full deep breath.

We had a 3.3 mile race before the war started. It was no big deal, just a fun run really. We mapped out a 1.1 mile loop in the sand and low scrub grass. The race was 3 laps. I ran even 5:30 mile pace but I wasn't challenged. We had about 200 participants. Again, it wasn't a real road race with serious competition like at home. The interservice rivalries are friendly albeit spirited.

More interesting than my victory actually were some Marines that ran in full combat uniform including combat boots, kevlar vests and helmuts, 60 pound ruck sacs, and rifles. That was on their first lap, then they put their gas masks on their face for the second lap. For the third lap they were draging old jeep tires on chains behind them in the sand! That's the US Marine Corp...tough as nails!

On the run the scenery never changes. The air is thick with smog and haze and blowing sand. There is a permanent black cloud of smoke on the horizon spewing out of the oil well heads whose natural gas vents are eternally ablaze, like a field of giant roman candles lighting the night sky. Overhead is the constant deafening roar of jet engines as fighter planes take off by the hundreds around the clock. I count and try to identify the planes on take off and landing to break up the monotony of the run.

The only interesting site was a caravan of dromedaries marching across the desert sands. I've seen this group of eight camels on two occassions now. The post run shower is limited to 2 minutes and if you're not the first one in the morning then the water may not be hot.

They do provide a high carb diet's potatoes every meal at the mess tent! We have a Security Forces Marine from San Diego with us here who is an eleven time Ironman triathlete. He spends 3 hours every morning on the exercise bike. We thought about hooking him up to one of the generators, like Lance Armstrong in the ESPN commercial."

Stateside trails and evergreens faithfully await your return home.

© 2003 The Post-Standard.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. Dr.J. created, webcasting live Every Lap of Every Race. He receives email at