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103rd Airman earns award sharing passion for fitness

Master Sgt. Mitchell Smardz (left), 103rd Airlift Wing loadmaster, receives the Army Commendation Medal from Capt. Ryan Michalak, Connecticut Army National Guard Fitness Improvement Manager, May 28, 2019 Bradley Air National Guard Base, Conn. Smardz was recognized for his hard work after becoming a Master Fitness Trainer and working with the Fitness Improvement Program. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Steven Tucker)

Master Sgt. Mitchell Smardz (left), 103rd Airlift Wing loadmaster, receives the Army Commendation Medal from Capt. Ryan Michalak, Connecticut Army National Guard Fitness Improvement Manager, May 28, 2019 Bradley Air National Guard Base, Conn. Smardz was recognized for his hard work after becoming a Master Fitness Trainer and working with the Fitness Improvement Program. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Steven Tucker)

BRADLEY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Conn. --

Master Sgt. Mitchell Smardz, 103rd Airlift Wing loadmaster, is no stranger to living a healthy lifestyle; working out is just one of the reasons why he wakes up every morning. When he had the opportunity to become a Master Fitness Trainer for the Connecticut National Guard’s Fitness Improvement Program, he earned his certification and put his knowledge and experience to use helping Soldiers and Airmen through several iterations of the program. He was awarded for his efforts with his first Army Commendation Medal May 28, 2019 at Bradley Air National Guard Base, Conn.

“Ever since he came on to help out with the Fitness Improvement Program, he’s just hit the ground running,” said Capt. Ryan Michalak, Connecticut Army National Guard Fitness Improvement Manager.  “He’s provided structure, guidance, good resources to keep Soldiers on track…created all the metrics used so we can track data. He’s made my job easier with his insight and vision. When you have somebody that’s not just qualified, but goes above just what they’re supposed to do, we want to recognize that.”

The Fitness Improvement Program is a 12-day course for fitness improvement candidates held at Camp Nett in Niantic, Conn. The program is designed to provide resources and training to Soldiers and Airmen in the Connecticut National Guard who may be struggling with their physical fitness requirements.

“Any Soldier or Airmen that’s having challenges with fitness or health; the program is designed to give them the tools necessary to deal with fitness and nutrition issues or barriers,” said Machalak. “We all have something in life that we could use as an excuse to not do whatever it is we are supposed to, so how do we overcome that? This program encompasses all of those things and gives Soldiers and Airmen the tools to deal with any one of those areas appropriately. It’s easy to train when on an IDT weekend, but 28 days a month when they are wearing civilian clothes, doing civilian things, they have to take the information we give them and put it to use on their time. That’s ultimately what the program is designed for.”

Smardz is now sharing his passion for health in a significant way, especially after witnessing first-hand the lives that have changed for candidates going through the program.

“I can’t say [fitness] has always been a passion, because I’ve been in many different shapes in my life, but it’s definitely one of the things I wake up for every day,” said Smardz. “Fitness, just a general healthy lifestyle, has completely turned my life around. The things I’ve learned and places that it’s gotten me, both personally and professionally, is something I’ve always wanted to share with others.”

“It’s hands down one of the most rewarding things,” said Smardz. “To see someone at the Fitness Improvement Program, that for lack of a better term, is just completely ignorant to basics of fitness and nutrition, and to have them walk out with a meal and exercise plan, then more importantly, showing that drive to execute gives me chills. They are some of the most inspiring people; when you see that spark in their eye and that they’re going to go and change their lives. One of the things the Captain [Machalak] said during the first class, expanding upon the impact we provide, he said, ‘We have to realize we aren’t just affecting these Soldiers, we are affecting everyone else in their lives.’ It’s 100% true because they all went home and weren’t able to just look at their family and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to do all these things differently now, so you guys just keep doing what you’re doing.’ It changes everything; how they grocery shop, how they live their lives, their daily schedule. We give them the information to completely turn their life around. We even have a Facebook group associated with the class. There are daily posts from the candidates posting their newest run time, or their newest PR [personal record] at the gym. They’ve really taken what we’ve taught them and ran with it, and it’s just great. It keeps them engaged, and if all it takes to keep a candidate inspired is to see one of their other classmates having ran that morning, we’ve done what we’ve sought out to do.”