MCGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. --
Two active duty Air Force enlisted professional military education instructors serving at the Air National Guard’s training and education center in East Tennessee are building future leaders as well as their bodies during their assignments.
Tech. Sgt. Ebonie S. Hills, an Airman Leadership School instructor, and Tech. Sgt. Isaac M. Dobson, an NCO Academy instructor, did not know each other before coming to the Chief Master Sergeant Paul H. Lankford EPME Center; however, both compete in bodybuilding.
Sergeant Hills arrived on campus in June 2017 and began training for her first bodybuilding competition last August. Sergeant Dobson started his assignment three months after Hills and had placed fourth, first, and second in three shows since 2016.
Like all Air Force EPME instructors, Hills and Dobson underwent nearly 200 hours of instructor training to teach. They certified through the Thomas M. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education in Alabama and got evaluated in the classroom.
After nearly 10 years in logistics fleet management, Sergeant Hills now prepares junior Airmen for the rank of NCO and the responsibility that comes with being a supervisor. “This was something I wanted to do,” Hills said.
Her lessons to ALS students are considered the first rung in the professional military education ladder. She manages and teaches student flights of about 15 students. “I like to see Airmen develop, from how they started, to how they change in just over five weeks,” Hills said. “That’s an exciting thing to me.”
For Sergeant Dobson, he served 12 years in security forces, including law enforcement duties, Phoenix Raven duties, and maritime security duties. He now prepares technical sergeants for their promotions as Senior NCOs.
His lessons to NCOA students are the middle rung of PME. The six-week academy teaches students from the regular Air Force, the Air Guard, and the Reserve. There are also Coast Guard and international students in his classroom. He can teach 10 flights in a year.
“Teaching has caused me to step outside of my box,” Dobson said. “It’s a good experience and assignment.”
Sergeants Hills and Dobson may see each other at the base fitness center, but they don't train together. For the most part, bodybuilding is a solo sport that requires years of self-dedication, they said.
Sergeant Hills, 31, first played basketball for her small-town high school and began running after enlisting in 2008 as a means of staying fit. She finished the Air Force Half Marathon as well as “Tough Mudder” and “Spartan” obstacle course races. “Those were cool experiences,” Hills said. Some required teamwork and others tested her endurance and strength.
As a single mom, she challenged herself to get six-pack abs after having after her son, to see if it was possible. In her success, she ended up helping others as a fitness coach and researched new routines.
“My muscle tone started developing,” Hills said. With the encouragement of those around her to try bodybuilding, she thought, “Why not. Everyone thinks I’m doing it anyway.” It seemed a natural progression to her, even though she never took an interest in the sport.
An online coach prepared her through the process, and she relied on her discipline during a year’s training. “Through my mom, I learned what a strong woman is, one who perseveres and loves her children,” Hills said. “That carried over to me, I look back, and it makes me want to go stronger and harder.”
Hills competed August 4 at the NPC Knox Classic and placed 1st in the True Novice and Open classes, making her qualified for national competition. The experience has been good for her, as well as for others, she said.
“My 6-year-old son now flexes all day and talks with his friends about eating healthy, that’s what I love about fitness, it carries over, it ties us together no matter what level you are at,” Sergeant Hills said.
Sergeant Dobson, 30, decided two years ago to concentrate on bodybuilding after 11 years of daily weight training. He was on his Florida high school’s weightlifting team. “But I was very frail,” Dobson recalled. He is the youngest of 13 brothers and sisters, and his six older brothers influenced his childhood perspective on being physically strong. “They were jacked; they were big guys,” he said. His mom and dad were also into fitness.
Dobson joined the Air Force at 17; influenced again by his brothers who had served in the military. He first deployed around the world with the 820th Base Defense Group. The group provides high-risk force protection and integrated base defense for expeditionary air forces. His favorite assignment, later on, was with the Raven fly-away security teams because he liked the travel.
Although fitness is an essential part of Dobson’s military profession, he had no particular goal besides getting stronger, until a new division opened in bodybuilding – Classic Physique. It's a middle-ground, mostly athletic-body style category, among the other groups, which are judged by different body poses, heights, and weight classes, among other points.
“I decided to give it a shot, and I ended up placing 4th in the Open Division, which was pretty good for a first show,” Dobson said. He placed 1st at an April 2017 competition, which allowed him to enter a national contest - the NPC Junior USA's in North Charleston, S.C. That awarded him Professional status as runner-up.
Thousands of workouts in, and with his wife and two kids supporting him, Dobson hopes to make his professional debut in a year or more. It all depends on how well his body grows to a point where he feels competitive; especially his legs.
Sergeant Dobson said that bodybuilding remains a hobby to him. “Maybe I’ll take it far, maybe I won’t, I don’t know, but we’ll see,” he said.
When discussing bodybuilding and fitness, Sergeant Dobson said that it is always good to know what your goal is.
"My current goals determine what my diet and workout regimen looks like," he said. "When I am not competing and have no shows in sight, typically called the 'offseason,' I eat a lot of every food. Be mindful that I am 6'3", with an ectomorph body type, with a blazing fast metabolism. What this means is that I can eat loads of food (fats, carbohydrates, proteins) and not become overweight."
Sergeant Dobson said that learning your body type helps you know what you can and cannot eat to achieve your goals.
"The only foods I typically stray away from are sodas, desserts, and fast foods -- I eat maybe a couple of desserts a month and have a few fast food visits a month," Dobson said. "Besides that, I eat everything and lots of it. On average, I eat five meals a day with a few snacks mixed in."
Sergeant Dobson's routine in the gym varies, from only working out five days a week, with one session for each of those days, to six days a week with three of those days having two workout sessions when he is preparing for a show.
Right now his workout regimen is, Monday - Quadriceps/Hamstrings; Tuesday - Chest; Wednesday - Back; Thursday - Biceps/Triceps; Friday - Shoulders; and Saturday and Sunday - Rest; 3-4X Per Week- Calves and Abs. "Each day I shoot for 6-10 exercises per muscle group with each exercise being 4-6 sets of 8-12 repetitions," Dobson said.
"Typically, the more repetitions you do (12-15 reps), the more you will work those slow-twitch muscle fibers," Dobson said. "However, if you want to put on mass, you should lift heavier weights for fewer reps (3-6 reps) to work the fast-twitch muscle fibers. That is why I like to do 8-10 reps because it allows me to go heavy, but it also is a decent amount of reps for working the slow-twitch muscle fibers."
No matter when Sergeant Dobson competes, passing his Air Force fitness test seems the least of his worries. Last year, he knocked out 92 push-ups in under 60 seconds, which is well beyond the requirements. “I’m a pretty good runner too, but I normally don’t run,” he said. Instead, he maintains his aerobic health from the intense weightlifting sessions. (He ran his fitness test 1.5 miles in 10:18 this year.)
Building a journey
Sergeant Hills considers fitness and bodybuilding a journey: “There will be natural hiccups along the way, with life -- I have to be willing to adapt, and, most importantly, stay consistent,” she said.
“In the offseason, I use an approach called ‘flexible dieting,’ where I can eat a lot of different food types; more than what people realize. The assumption is that I only eat rabbit food, but that is far from the case,” Sergeant Hills said.
Sergeant Hills suggests to new bodybuilders to learn their body type, as well as their goals, to determine what to eat, including blood type.
“My body type is a mix between ectomorph and mesomorph, with O-positive-blood; therefore, my body responds well to a high-protein diet, heavy on lean meats, poultry, fish, and vegetables, and light on grains, beans, and dairy,” Sergeant Hills said. “I spread six meals evenly throughout my day, and I stay away from fast foods. I’m huge on cooking at home, so I know what goes into my body.”
Sergeant Hills allows “cheat meals” in her plan. (“Yet, with the flexible regimen that allows me to have the ‘good stuff’ made in a cleaner, healthier way, I don’t crave much,” she said.)
Currently, her workout regimen is, Monday - Chest/Biceps; Tuesday - Legs; Wednesday - Back/Biceps; Thursday - Shoulder/Triceps; Friday - Legs; Saturday - Chest/Shoulder/Triceps, hitting all three to “thrash” the muscle fibers; and Sunday - Rest. Every day - Cardio. (“Off-season cardio is less frequent than competition-prep cardio and should always go according to your heart rate, dependent upon your age, for maximum results,” she said.)
“Each day I shoot for 5-7 exercises combining the two muscle groups, with each exercise being 4-6 sets of 8-12 repetitions,” Sergeant Hills said. “I also do warm-up sets, sometimes 3-4 before starting my working set, to get the blood flowing. I also incorporate a technique called ‘drop sets,’ which helps recruit my muscle fibers. I can do a common exercise or routine, but switching the technique makes all the difference in maximizing my results.”
Her favorite muscle group is back. “My current regimen, I do Arm Dumbbell Rows; TBAR Rows; Chest Supported Bench Rows; Close Grip Pulldowns; Deadlifts. For Legs, I do Adductors; Lying Leg Curls; Leg Press; Hack Squats; Front Squats; Ham Killers,” Sergeant Hills said.
“I never work abs solo, which commonly surprises people,” Sergeant Hills said. “My lifts, but most importantly, my nutrition, keeps my abs exposed. We all have them, they are just hidden under fat, and abs are truly made in the kitchen.”
Last year, Sergeant Hills didn’t prepare for her Air Force physical fitness test, and she hadn’t run 1.5 miles since the year prior. Despite that, she made her highest fitness score: 99 percent. “I’ll have to add making 100 percent to my bucket list,” Sergeant Hills said.