Building fitness with a Danish tradition

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Flight Lieutenant Karl Woodward, Lieutenant Tyson Nicolas and Flight Lieutenant Nelson Liston near the end of a heavy session as part of the DANCON challenge.
 (photo: UNKNOWN)
Flight Lieutenant Karl Woodward, Lieutenant Tyson Nicolas and Flight Lieutenant Nelson Liston near the end of a heavy session as part of the DANCON challenge.

Ever wondered how Defence personnel keep fit once deployed? Well militaries have been coming up with challenging and interesting ways to keep mind and body ready for combat, for centuries.

Some Australian Military personnel from all three services currently serving within the United Nations Mission in the South Sudan recently took up a Danish tradition to put themselves to the test.

Blistering heat, stifling humidity, dust and poor air quality - the perfect combination of environmental factors to test the mind, body and spirit while carrying military equipment in uniform over distances of between 25 km to 100 km. 

Prevailing weather and atmospheric conditions are never favourable in South Sudan. 

Welcome to the DANCON. DANCON is short for 'Danish Contingent' and refers specifically to the DANCON march, a tradition with the Danish military since 1972. 

DANCON was first held by the Royal Danish Army deployed to Cyprus and has since become an institution within the Danish military. 

The march welcomes foreign troops, allied with Denmark, with the idea that dishing out doses of simple yet painful military forced marching solidifies esprit de corps. Apart from Cyprus, DANCON has been held in Kosovo, Lebanon, Eritrea, Croatia, Bosnia, the Gulf of Aden, Iraq, Afghanistan and this year in South Sudan.

DANCON 2015 was held in the capital of South Sudan, Juba, and involved 350 participants from more than contributing nations serving within the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. 

The event was a 25km course over undulating terrain and rocky outcrops that was held at UN House, the major headquarters for the mission situated on the south-western outskirts of the city. 

Lieutenant Tyson Nicolas, one of the Australian contingent described the challenge. 

“DANCON is a test of physical fitness, courage and mental toughness," he said.

"All of which are virtues demanded of a professional military officer in our modern Defence Force. To lead troops into combat requires not only professional excellence, but strength of character and physical presence.”

Due to the unique working environment in the United Nations, close friendships between Australians, New Zealanders, Americans, and Swedes provided the nucleus of a DANCON training group in the six weeks leading up to the event. 

This training focused around both the ability to carry a heavy load over ever increasing distances and the requirement to maintain a high level of military fitness, as well as the need to build muscular endurance. 

Training sessions inevitably turned competitive and each carried weighted packs of up to 25kg each and 10kg of body armour - a total weight of 35kg over extended marches of between 15 – 20km. 

Additionally personnel wore 10kg body armour during military fitness style sessions held at a rudimentary outdoor prison gym known as the 'house of gain'.

The purpose of a mixed training regimen approach is that it challenges the body to cover long distances with heavy loads, but it also maintains an all-round approach to fitness to ensure that muscular you will have the endurance and strength to carry increasingly heavy loads.

After following the training program the Australian Military personnel finished the 25km course achieving between 7min 20sec and 8min 45 sec per km, carrying approximately 20 kgs of weight in a vest or backpack combination.

For those looking interested in taking on a similar challenge they should check out the International Four Days Marches Nijmegen, held annually in the Netherlands each July. The event challenges participants to cover up to 50 km per day over a four day period and welcomes both military personnel and civilians.   See http://www.4daagse.nl/en/