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Blessed by wingmanship: Airman pays it forward with fitness motivation

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Senior Airman Garth Salmon, 21st Force Support Squadron fitness specialist, works out with free weights at the Fitness Center on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Feb. 15, 2017. As a skinny child, Salmon grew up in Jamaica where he endured years of bullying and fights. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Senior Airman Garth Salmon, 21st Force Support Squadron fitness specialist, works out with free weights at the Fitness Center on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Feb. 15, 2017. As a skinny child, Salmon grew up in Jamaica where he endured years of bullying and fights. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Senior Airman Garth Salmon, 21st Force Support Squadron fitness specialist, lifts weights on the incline bench at the Fitness Center on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Feb. 15, 2017. Salmon began his journey into the world of physical fitness when he arrived at Peterson AFB. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Senior Airman Garth Salmon, 21st Force Support Squadron fitness specialist, lifts weights on the incline bench at the Fitness Center on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Feb. 15, 2017. Salmon began his journey into the world of physical fitness when he arrived at Peterson AFB. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Senior Airman Garth Salmon, 21st Force Support Squadron fitness specialist, finishes his workout session with leg lifts at the Fitness Center on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Feb. 15, 2017. Salmon credits his passion for working out to the wingmanship one Airman showed him when he arrived at Peterson AFB. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Senior Airman Garth Salmon, 21st Force Support Squadron fitness specialist, finishes his workout session with leg lifts at the Fitness Center on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Feb. 15, 2017. Salmon credits his passion for working out to the wingmanship one Airman showed him when he arrived at Peterson AFB. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Senior Airman Garth Salmon, 21st Force Support Squadron fitness specialist, leads his Total Body Sculpting class at the Fitness Center on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Feb. 15, 2017. The free class is open to all Team Pete service members and their family. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Senior Airman Garth Salmon, 21st Force Support Squadron fitness specialist, leads his Total Body Sculpting class at the Fitness Center on Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Feb. 15, 2017. The free class is open to all Team Pete service members and their family. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Through persistence and wingmanship, Senior Airman Garth Salmon, 21st Force Support Squadron fitness specialist, transformed himself both physically and mentally from being a shy and lanky kid from Jamaica, who endured years of bullying. Salmon pays it forward to Team Pete by teaching a Total Body Sculpting class because he was motivated to change his fitness lifestyle, by another Airman. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Through persistence and wingmanship, Senior Airman Garth Salmon, 21st Force Support Squadron fitness specialist, transformed himself both physically and mentally from being a shy and lanky kid from Jamaica, who endured years of bullying. Salmon pays it forward to Team Pete by teaching a Total Body Sculpting class because he was motivated to change his fitness lifestyle, by another Airman. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Service before self, integrity first and excellence in all we do are the core values burned into the souls of United States Airmen. There is a clear and obvious expectation to put the mission first, above all else, while committing to doing the right thing, and doing it the best one can or know how to.

Those core values, though realistic, are not easy to uphold day in and day out. There are moments where Airmen have to be stewards of those values, helping along any Airmen that find themselves struggling in any of those areas.

Through persistence and wingmanship, one Airman, Senior Airman Garth Salmon, 21st Force Support Squadron fitness specialist, transformed himself both physically and mentally from being a shy and lanky kid from Jamaica, who endured years of bullying, to an Airman carved straight out of stone with an even more rock-solid confidence while also bringing other Airmen along on his journey.

Salmon’s story begins in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Being an only child, Salmon said he looked for brotherhood amongst the other children in his school, however, a majority of all the boys in the school he attended weren’t so keen to his friendship.

“In my all-male high school, there was a lot of testosterone,” said Salmon. “I was singled out because I looked like an easy target and got into fights all the time. I would never start them, but for a solid three years I would end up in a fight at least every other day – and I hate fighting.”

Back then, Salmon said he was fairly tall for his age but he was mostly skin and bones. He admits his size, his reputation for participating in class and Jamaica’s surprisingly high crime rate added to his bullying. Bloody cuts and swollen bruises were a common sight on Salmon’s body, but they wouldn’t be for long because Salmon’s father received news that would change their family from there on out.

“My dad applied for a green card,” said Salmon. “That process took years. For him to start the process up until we were accepted was six years. It had taken so long that my family and I forgot about it and moved passed it thinking it was never going to happen. They eventually called my dad and he rushed to the states to finish all the paperwork.”

Salmon was ready to take advantage of all the opportunities he knew existed in the United States. Upon entry into the country at the Jamaican embassy, Salmon said he was confronted with an idea that would linger in his mind and would later become a part of his life.

“Because I was over 18, I had to sign this paper,” he said. “It basically said that if everything hit the fan, I would be eligible to be drafted into the military. I never thought about it until that point but the military seemed like a great option.”

Salmon said his parents were naturally over protective of their only child, but he felt he needed to spread his wings, see the world and begin writing his own chapters in life. Along with the education benefits the military provides, enlisting quickly became the focus of Salmon’s life while in the U.S.

Salmon said he made it through Basic Military Training with no problems except having some of his citizenship paperwork fall through. He had to wait until arriving at Peterson Air Force Base, his first duty station, to officially become a U.S. citizen. He remembers a realization that come over him on that day.

“The biggest difference between Jamaica and the U.S. is that I don’t have to be as scared anymore,” said Salmon. “I grew up with burglar bars over my bedroom windows and wasn’t allowed outside after sunset. Bad things could have happened to me and my family while in Jamaica but since moving to the states, and I know bad things can happen anywhere -- but I worry about that less now.”

With this restored well-being, Salmon ran full steam ahead in his duties as an Airman. He met many of friends while at Peterson, but one Airman had a lifelong effect on him, mostly because he exploited a weakness in Salmon’s kindness.

“I always left my room door open when I was in the dorms,” said Salmon. “I never had a problem, an issue or a reason to have it closed, except having a buddy in the dorms who would always message me to work out, and I didn’t always want to work out. That didn’t matter to him though because he would run to my room and drag me to the gym.”

Regardless of Salmon’s excuses or his lack of mobility after a heavy leg day, a wingman held him accountable and pushed him to be the Airman Salmon knew he could be. Salmon said the biggest hurdle he had to face was to fight the sore muscles. A feeling he would soon be hooked on.

“The biggest challenge for someone who is starting to work out are the body aches,” Salmon said. “When you feel like death and you don’t want to move but you make it past that – that’s when you’ll start to love it. When I work out and I’m not sore the next day, I’m disappointed in myself. I feel like I wasted my time.”

After his wingman’s deployment, Salmon said he began to ramp up his workouts. He wanted to show his friend the progress he could make from when he left, partly because he wanted to be on the same level as him.

“When he was deployed is when I put on the bulk of my muscle,” said Salmon. “It was a competition to me. Unfortunately, he didn’t work out as often when he was deployed so when he got back, just as he had to strip weights off for me when we use to work out, I, now, had to do that for him.”

After Salmon’s wingman PCS’d to another base, Salmon said he stuck to his routine and pushed himself to get a certification in personal training.

“I am passionate about fitness,” he said. “People would always ask me to train them or workout with them. It was also at that point when I was transitioning from the dining facility to the fitness center so I felt it was complementary to my duties so I pursued the classes and received my personal training certification.”

As the only member of the Peterson Fitness Center with certification in personal training, Salmon has taken on another role: instructing the Total Body Sculpting class. Meeting every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 5 p.m., Salmon encounters moments when the class he teaches falls on a day when he is not working. However, he is not mad nor will he find a replacement to teach his class. Just like Salmon had a wingman through his fitness lifestyle change, he will be a wingman to his class and their progress.

“I love working out and I love helping those who could use the help,” he said. “I had someone for me when I needed them and it transformed my life for the better. I want to be that for my Air Force and my Airmen.”

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