“Army Strong” is the slogan of today’s United States Army and if you look around nothing can be so true with the many fine examples of those in the military that choose a career of serving their country.
Recently I had the pleasure of sitting next to Colonel James Hess on an interisland flight between Hilo and Honolulu.
Hess, who joined the Army in June, 1987 looks every bit the stereo type of a combat ready military soldier.
Born in Detroit and raised in Dayton, Ohio, Hess started playing sports while in middle school learning self discipline and sportsmanship through his involvement in football, baseball and basketball.
Interestingly Hess moved from team sports in middle school to hard work and manual labor in high school.
“In high school I boarded at a mission seminary and our focus was not in organized sports,” he said. “My small group of twelve seminarians did have ample time to stay active through chores as we maintained the seminary’s 72 acre property and 100 room complex.”
After high school Hess became involved in a regular physical fitness routine through his University’s Reserve Officer Training Corps program.
“I eventually chose to become an infantry lieutenant upon my graduation ROTC,” Hess said.
With a natural running stride and good endurance, Hess began to push the limits of his physical fitness and decided upon one of the more physically demanding Military Occupational Specialties, the Infantry.
“I searched out challenging military programs and joined airborne and the ranger training which eventually lead me to leading a rifle platoon through deserts, mountains and jungles early in my career,” Hess said.
Today, at age 44, Hess is a full Colonel in the Army’s Logistics Corps.
“Since my fifth year in the Army I’ve been a logistician with a background in supply and distribution operations,” he said.
Through his many years of development his expertise has broadened to include global supply chain management, inventory control, acquisition and transportation management. He now serves as the director of operational sustainment for the US Army Pacific’s Contingency Command Post.
Hess first came to Hawaii as a Major when he was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks in June 2000.
“My wife, Makamaka, is a graduate of UH-Manoa and she had lived in Mountain View for several years before I met her,” Hess said.
A few years ago the couple bought some land in Hawaiian Paradise Park and a house in Hilo.
“Returning my wife to Hawaii was like putting a fish back into water,” Hess said. “Living on the Big Island works out well because they are in a wonderful hanai ohana and live a relatively slow-paced life in an exceptionally beautiful place.”
To stay fit and combat ready Hess will do some sort of physical exercise every day, mixing aerobic and strength training.
Hess has deployed three times to combat, his first time as a rifle platoon leader to Panama in 1990. The second was to Iraq as a support battalion commander in an infantry brigade. His latest deployment was last year as the senior logistics advisor to Iraq’s Ministry of Interior.
“To put fitness in context, my platoon leader deployment was the most physically demanding while my battalion command deployment during the Surge in Iraq was more emotionally demanding,” Hess said.
His latest deployment to Iraq as an advisor was the most mentally demanding of his military career.
“To truly be fit and combat ready soldiers need to shore up their weaknesses and develop a spectrum of strengths to be effective in a prolonged conflict or even just through their career,” he said.
After 23 years in the Army, Hess has become more aware of his aging body’s capabilities and limitations.
“I’m only occasionally able to bench press my body weight and run over five miles, he said. “I train my core and stretch more often, due to my age. My usual regimen includes five one-hour fitness sessions per week, alternating between running (7 minute miles) for three miles and elliptical, 30 minutes with resistance.
Hess will not overlook the importance of nutrition as he takes a multivitamin every day and will eat lots of ruffage and protein, while controlling his portions.
“I get plenty of sleep,” he said. “If either sleep or intake is neglected I have found that it jeopardizes my other elements of fitness.
Hess serves as a fine example of what many of our men and women do to help this democratic country remain free.
With all that he has done in his 23 year in the Army, Hess still wants to parlay his military service to give back to the community.
“The community has opened their hearts to my wife and my daughter, who has Down Syndrome, and I’d like to teach or work in some sort of social service when I retire to the Big Island.”
Elmer Davis wrote, “This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.”
And someday should you happen to see a former Army vet jogging around Hilo Bayfront remember to smile, say “woof” and never shy away from “Running with the Big Dog.”