The Incredible Story of Lt. Col. William M. Hoge and the Army's First Obstacle Course
Written by Dwight Jon Zimmerman for the Defense Media Network
When World War II started in Europe in September 1939, the United States was the 17th largest military power. Its army, containing just 190,000 troops, was effectively a constabulary force. By February 1941, all that had changed. Thanks to the recently passed conscription law, the number of recruits had ballooned almost ten-fold, with millions more to come.
Before they could be shipped out to the new and expanding training centers being prepared for them, they had to be shaped up. While all base and camp commanders had that problem, it was particularly acute for Lt. Col. William M. Hoge.
Hoge’s most vexing problem was how to provide proper military outdoor physical exercise training. Because he was located on a peninsula, he couldn’t expand. Space was at a premium.
. . . one of his subordinates, Paul W. Thompson, had spent a year in Germany as an attaché. Calling Thompson into his office, Hoge asked him, “What in the hell do the Germans do to get exercise for their men? They have much less area than we have.” Thompson told him about specially designed fields filled with a variety of trenches and constructions that the men had to overcome through climbing, crawling, swinging, hopping, and jumping.
Hoge brought in the officer responsible for physical training and the three drew up a blueprint for the Army’s first obstacle course.
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