DUKE FIELD, Fla. --
She has the tireless, dedication of an Ironman, thrives on the competitive spirit and camaraderie of athletic competitions and, as a Citizen Air Commando, brings readiness to a whole new level.
Maj. Mandy Kannapel, 919th Special Operations Wing executive officer, has competed in triathlons since high school. In college, she found new challenges in fitness competitions at the national level. Her resilient mindset and athletic endurance have not only served her well for leading a healthy lifestyle but also has kept her “Ready now” one of the strategic priorities of the Air Force Reserve Command. These warrior qualities prepared her to meet her fitness goals for 2022 and to achieve a rare feat only a small number of Reservists lay claim to, illustrating her commitment to a fit and healthy lifestyle.
How do you view fitness and the benefits of living a healthy and active lifestyle?
“Fitness to me used to be about pushing myself to my max to score personal best times, but now at this point in my career it is about having a strong physical base to support my personal resiliency,” said Kannapel. “Also, from a readiness standpoint, being physically ready to take on what my military position requires and endure however long the mission requires—and then be able to bounce back quickly. Maintaining a level of fitness is so crucial to our profession beyond taking a fitness test.”
What are your fitness and health goals you have set for yourself both, military/personal?
“I would love to be able to compete again at MILCOMP and also attempt another long-distance triathlon in the near future,” said Kannapel. “I have been wanting to score a 100 on my fitness test and came close this fall, but still more room for improvement.”
You were one of two Air Force Reservists to compete in the Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers Military Competition. This three-day international pentathlon has some very demanding obstacles, requiring strength, stamina, coordination, flexibility, and leadership tactics. What did it take for you to prepare?
“It was definitely one of the more challenging endeavors I have taken on personally and professionally,” said Kannapel. “It was fun and rewarding to be working towards a common goal with a whole team of competitive, supportive, and committed Reservists. I focused on distance running and rucking, swimming two-times a week, strength and high intensity interval training, and pistol and rifle shooting.”
The varied terrain, the hot temperatures, fending off injuries, and executing newly learned skill sets were just some of the challenges Kannapel endured in the military competition.
The military competition challenges and tests key infantry skills, what challenges did you face?
“I have never competed in orienteering before and it is a thinking while running sport,” said Kannapel. “Another interesting challenge was learning the different types of weapons and ensuring you follow instructions, get the timing right to maximize opportunities. Then the swimming obstacles and timing of the’ 50-meter course took a ton of practice to get the techniques right, and while we did not swim in utilities [Operational Camouflage Pattern] for the competition we did in training, so that was incredibly harder than a slick swimsuit.”
What is it you are most proud about accomplishing in the contest?
“I would say the progress made from the beginning of team selection to hitting a level of performance in three weeks with team members and that we all competed safely throughout the competition,” said Kannapel. “Also, it is just awesome to know I was representing the United States side by side with our NATO allies.”
The competition requires both, teamwork, and leadership under physical stress. What did you learn about yourself and what you can overcome if you find yourself in stressful situations?
“I learned that if you prepare yourself physically and mentally you know that you did the best you could in preparation, that will carry you through—your body will follow your mind if you can tell yourself to keep going and not give up,” said Kannapel. “There is a lot of apprehension going into something new, different, or challenging but the task ahead of you is never as great as the power behind you. For me, leaning on my teammates to carry me through and not give up pushed me to do my best.”
It's also not just about competition, but about camaraderie. Would you talk about some of those tight-knit bonds you established?
“From the start, we are surrounded by our fellow teammates—staying in the barracks at Camp Ethan Allen, then joining our German counterparts as guests at their training base and facilities and then meeting our NATO partners,” said Kannapel. “You bond quickly and create memories only those who were there can recall. Plus, the tasks required in selection and the competition create an adversity with others in that common shared struggle to keep going.”
Kannapel and her team had a tight-knit bond. Each helped each other overcome the hurdles of the intense competition. One of her teammates was Maj. James Fink, 94th Aerial Port Squadron commander.
“She’s got a fantastic no-quit attitude,” said Fink. “She pushed through a few physical setbacks and came into the competition strong.”
What is it that blew away your expectations most in the competition?
“I walked away with a much larger perspective of what readiness looks like to me,” said Kannapel. “Having the ability to go out the door to meet up with a group of individuals that maybe you have never worked with before is invaluable. Once you go through it you get why others commit so much time and energy to the program and keep coming back—it’s a rush to be a part of it.”
We had a saying while in training that iron sharpens iron and that’s what we embodied pushing each other to do our best and represent our nation together.”
Over 250 U.S. soldiers and airmen participate each year in the military competition and the Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers represents the interests of more than 1.3 million reservists from 34 NATO and Partnership for Peace nations.
“The journey of 1000 miles begins with one step,” said Kannapel. “You can't do it without your team. Well, you literally can't finish the events until the last person crosses the line.”