Soldiers with the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) at Imjin Barracks in Innsworth had an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete with three Olympic athletes from Malawi last week.
Currently training at the University of Gloucestershire’s Oxstalls Campus, the three Olympic runners arrived at Imjin Barracks last Thursday morning and participated in a basic personal fitness assessment (BPFA) with over 100 soldiers, civilians and family members stationed at the elite NATO headquarters just outside of Gloucester.
Consisting of two minutes of press-ups and two minutes of sit-ups followed by a one-and-a-half-mile (2.4km) run, the BPFA is an annual requirement for all British soldiers. Participating soldiers are graded according to their level of performance and effort, and are encouraged to complete all the elements to the best of their ability.
The Malawian Olympic athletes participating were marathon runner Mike Tebulo, marathon pace-setter John Kayange, 400-metre runner Ambwene Simukonda, and coach Francis Munthali. Tebulo, Kayange and Munthali all competed in the one-and-a-half-mile run, with pace-setter John Kayange completing the run in the fastest time (7.36 minutes).
Following the run, Malawian coach Francis Munthali discovered that he and a member of the ARRC shared a common acquaintance.
Lance Corporal Francis Okumu, a native of Kenya and currently serving as the chief clerk for the ARRC’s Combat Service Support directorate, finished third in the run, just behind Mike Tebulo.
Lance Corporal Okumu, who has been in the British Army for 13 years, related to the Malawian athletes that his aunt, Kenyan track-and-field champion Elizabeth Olaba, used to coach running in Malawi in 2001/02.
And it turned out that Francis Munthali was one of the runners that Lance Corporal Olaba coached in Malawi nearly a decade ago:
When my aunt went to Malawi, her job was to begin building their country’s [Olympic] team,” said Lance Corporal Okumu. “It’s good to see that their team is doing so well, and now competing in the Olympics. My aunt will be very happy to hear this.
Many of the soldiers who participated in the assessment are assigned to the ARRC’s Support Battalion. The unit’s second-in-command, Major Fiona Walker, was highly complementary of the event:
It was a real honour for the ARRC Support Battalion to host the Malawian Olympic athletes, who really put our soldiers to the test by completing the Army personal fitness assessment in near record time,” said Major Walker.
Hosting these athletes is even more significant as the Support Battalion has contributed soldiers to support the London Olympics,” continued Major Walker.
Racing against these athletes really showed the soldiers of the Support Battalion exactly what it takes to be a truly world class sportsman.
Following the fitness test, Imjin Barracks Gymnasium Chief, Warrant Officer Class 2 Doug Herbert, presented the Malawian Olympic athletes with the ARRC’s ‘300 Club’ T-shirt, an honour traditionally awarded to those soldiers who complete all three events in the fitness test to the highest standard.
HQ ARRC is a NATO rapid deployment corps headquarters which was founded in 1992 in Germany and has been headquartered in Gloucestershire since August 2010.
ARRC is scheduled to play a key role in the NATO Response Force in 2013.
Although HQ ARRC’s ‘framework nation’ is the United Kingdom and British personnel make up 60 per cent of the overall staff, the ARRC is fully multinational in nature and organisation, with 15 partner nations contributing to the remaining complement of personnel (Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Turkey and the United States).
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