TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – If you have biceps the size of grapefruits, you’re going to want to find a good tailor.
So was the case for Master Sgt. Shane Stewart, 60th Maintenance Squadron production superintendent. As the reigning champion of the Mr. USA light heavyweight division, Stewart has to buy his uniforms four sizes too big to fit his hulking frame.
“They technically don’t have to be tailored, but they look like huge tarps if I don’t,” he said.
Though a brick wall of a man, Stewart’s grandeur lies less in his physical size and more in how he leverages the qualities and skills it takes in becoming an effective bodybuilder to that of being an effective leader.
Enlisting in the Air Force in 1998 at just 126 pounds, Stewart’s time in basic military training led him to put on nearly 30 pounds. At 155 pounds, Stewart was still a far cry from his current weight of about 220 pounds. Even so, it was these initial gains that inspired Stewart to make his foray into bodybuilding.
“After that weight gain, I decided to start lifting weights to see if I could turn it into muscle,” said Stewart. “In 2001, I met a bodybuilder at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, and he told me I should do the upcoming bodybuilding competition. At the time, I was just lifting weights and had no idea about bodybuilding.”
Despite his hesitance towards participating in a sport he still at that time knew very little about, Stewart committed himself to training for the competition, eventually placing second in a six-man field.
“After that, I was hooked,” he said. “I competed at least one time per year after that.”
Once a year. Seventeen competitions. Countless hours spent in the gym, running, lifting and sweating. For Stewart, this simple hobby turned into a way to infuse Comprehensive Airman Fitness with athletic competition.
There’s a difference between being an Airman and being a leader, he said.
“Bodybuilding is a sport where your preparation is devoted to perfecting your symmetry and proportion,” he said. “As far as airmanship goes, it’s that same principle of balance and care toward the four domains of CAF that can elevate an Airman who otherwise just skates by to an Airman who inspires and lifts up their peers.”
He made it clear that even though bodybuilding is his own brand of motivation, the body of methods that help contribute to CAF is multi-faceted.
“Any sport that inspires people to get into shape or just live a healthier lifestyle will impact all tenets in a positive way,” he said. “A strong Airman who is ready to deploy at a moment’s notice and has the self-confidence to lead a team or be a productive member of a team is a win in my book.”
Witness to the most recent chapter in Stewart’s odyssey is one of his Airmen, Airman 1st Class Zachary Trafelet, 60th MXS fuel systems technician.
The 60th MXS has, over the years, developed and promoted brilliant leaders whose “lead from the front” philosophy have had an almost osmotic effect on its Airmen, whereby the example made by such leaders becomes a readily absorbed reference of what it is to be exceptional maintainers.
Of all the Airmen to have experienced this process, Trafelet is perhaps one of the finest testaments to it.
“Master Sgt. Stewart inspires his troops to live by the core values of the Air Force on and off the flight line,” said Trafelet. “He’s the leader that every early Airman expects to see when they get to their first base. His actions definitely play a part in how efficient and dedicated the Airmen under him are.”
Trafelet went on to parallel Stewart’s success in his Air Force career with that of his bodybuilding career.
“It’s apparent that Stewart brings as much of himself to the squadron as he does to his bodybuilding meets,” he said. “You figure if he’s Mr. USA of bodybuilding, he’s Mr. USA of Air Force maintaining, and that is a huge uniform to fill, but one he works every day to inspire his Airmen to fit.”