George Washington was "the action hero of his time," a historian said. A skilled horseman, a vigorous outdoorsman, and a man renowned for his physical strength, he was also, of course, the leader of the first incarnation of the American military. Hundreds of military/sports heroes followed Washington--most notably George Patton, who competed in the 1912 Olympics, finishing fifth in the pentathlon; and Pat Tillman, a star defensive safety who refused a lucrative NFL contract in order to become an Army Ranger--then lost his life this year in Afghanistan.
These men embody the emphasis the four branches of the service place on physical fitness, a prerequisite for successful soldiering. Some warriors enter the military hard and get harder; others transform themselves from softies into lean, lethal machines. We embarked on a search for the fittest of the fit, one from each branch of the Armed Forces. These four men even maintained their conditioning during tours of duty in Iraq. Each of them survived and succeeded in part because of their core principles: discipline, goal-setting, and motivation. They are role models. They are patriots. We salute them.
Peter Hamilton, 23
Rank: Petty Officer Third Class
Service: U.S. Navy
Height/Weight: 5'9"/185 lbs
Hometown: Dallas, Texas
In the early morning hours of March 20, 2003--the day Operation Iraqi Freedom began--Peter Hamilton was working as a gunner and chief engineer on the small boats that deploy Navy SEALs into hot zones. "We were there first," says Hamilton. "When we finished, we could hear the bombs dropping in the distance."
Though Hamilton trains and fights like a SEAL, he's actually a "SWCC": a Special Warfare Combatant Crewman. Perhaps because no SWCC has been elected governor of Minnesota or been played by Charlie Sheen, these elite warriors don't get nearly as much attention as their SEAL brethren.
The officer and his mates spent a month in Iraq--securing oil platforms, clearing waterways, and sweeping for mines. It was hard, dangerous work made even more difficult by the body armor, specialty gear, and weapons they had to shoulder. But for that, Hamilton was prepared: The sailor's shoulders are profoundly broad from years of weight training. And that strength helped him in combat, he says, "because I was so used to putting my body to the test."
Hamilton's testing began months earlier at the Navy's mandatory, grueling three-month SWCC-training program, complete with swimming and running. "You're miserable, cold, and tired," he recalls. "But it really helped give me confidence."
Hamilton's regimen continues on his Coronado Island base in San Diego. There he runs, swims, and lifts daily. Called Command PT (physical training), it culminates Fridays with "Monster Mash"--a mile-swim/five-mile-run/mile-swim biathlon that leaves him cold, wet, and ready to kick ass.
Marching Orders: Hamilton's six-day-a-week regimen includes legs twice weekly (he squats 405 lbs), calves three times, arms, chest (he benches 330), and traps once, and abs every other day.
Mess Tent: Daily, Hamilton ingests 50% carbs, 30% to 40% protein, and 10% fat.