Friday, August 8, 2014

Purple Heart Day 2014: Wounded not Broken

The Purple Heart is awarded to any member of the U.S. Armed Forces that has been wounded or died as a result of a wound in battle, and yesterday August 7th was  Purple Heart Day. ( Click here for background). For those of you who did not know, Gen. George Washington established the Badge of Military Merit, known today as the Purple Heart on August 7th, 1782.

I am a wounded warrior myself (Click here for story) and similar to my “Alive Day” celebration, I chose to observe the day properly and celebrate life with a challenging workout. Nothing makes me feel more alive than throwing a 70LB slam ball. : )  At 0530 in the morning I was out CRUSHING IT with my teammates from Team Red, White, and Blue, which recognized its wounded members with this Purple Heart Day post on Facebook.

I encourage all wounded Veterans to get active and healthy if they are not already, and to get involved with Team Red, White, and Blue.

You never know the people you will meet, or stories you will hear from the person on your left and right working out with you. 


Friday, July 11, 2014

"The edge of uncomfortable is where you start to grow"

"The edge of uncomfortable is where you start to grow"

-Trent Dilfer, head quarterback coach for the Nike Elite 11 program

Last weekend I had the opportunity with several of my Team Red, White, and Blue teammates to take part in a leader development experience for the 18 top high school quarterbacks in the nation as part of the Nike Elite 11 program at Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, OR.

The quarterbacks were broken down into 6 teams and we served as small unit advisors, coaching them and giving advice during the days events. My team members were Sam Darnold, Deondre Francois, Ryan Brand, Davis Webb, and Dennis Gile.

All of the Team RWB small unit advisors were combat veterans and experienced leaders. They understood that leaders are developed through hard, challenging experiences, and that leaders have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. The experience was designed to take the quarterbacks to  the "edge of uncomfortable" so they could grow and develop as a result of it. It was planned as a series of military style missions that would last approximately 7 hours. The missions included an unknown distance ruck march and flag run, building a bunker, a waterborne mission with a raft with no paddles, and finally the "21 Guns" WOD.

There was also time set aside for us to share our leadership stories with our groups. As I thought about what stories to share with theses young leaders who are the future of America, I reflected back to my combat experiences thinking about the similarities to the role of a frontline leader in combat and the role of the quarterback. Frontline leaders lead by example in complex, dynamic, and dangerous situations. Football is not as hazardous, but quarterbacks lead their teams in fluid and dynamic conditions during the game. As I shared my experiences with them I pointed out the similarities to help make the connection between this experience and what they do on the football field.

The stories I shared had these themes weaved into them:

Trust: Cohesive teams have a foundation of trust. I told them they had to build trust  amongst their respective teams and show them they care care and are competent.

Developing Future Leaders: I explained third generation leadership to them which is  the concept that the investment they make in the younger players will influence successive generations of players on the team.

Energy: Leaders are a major source  of energy in any organization. They are expected to fuel the fire that inspires others to take action

Overcoming Adversity:
I had the chance to review all the bios of my team and everyone of them had faced adverse conditions, some more adverse than others. That was one of several things we all had in common. One of my favorite sayings is "CRUSH IT" , which is for overcoming and crushing adversity.  I told them the true test of their character was how they lead when confronted by adversity.  I shared how I had faced adversity in combat and as a wounded warrior (Read about Vulnerability& Courage), and how I overcame it.

Prior to the execution of "21 Guns" we conducted a peer evaluation. The team rated each other from worst to best. One of my quarterbacks was ranked last by a majority of the team. Part of the peer evaluation process was each person who ranked him last had to come up and "own" their comments and tell the player why they ranked him last. I facilitated this session to make sure the feedback was professional. This  was uncomfortable to all parties, but taught the value of brutally honest feedback designed to give the recipient takeaways on how they could learn and improve. That is exactly what happened after the peer evaluation session was over and where vulnerability and courage came into play.

 Deondre Francois was the recipient of the feedback and this was a crucible experience for him (More on crucibles here). His peers had told him that they thought he was holding back, not giving 100 %. It took courage for him to acknowledge the feedback and then overcome it. The peer evaluation session lit a fire in him. He confronted the adverse feedback by absolutely CRUSHING the 21 Guns WOD which was as many rounds as a possible (AMRAP) in the time period specified. He and his partner completed more than any other team (Read the story here).

With my team after the bunker mission. L to R Davis Webb (Texas Tech), QB Coach Dennis Gile, Ryan Brand, Sam Darnold, and Deondre Francois.

Overall it was an incredible experience. Most importantly the quarterbacks learned that Leadership Counts!

Monday, May 26, 2014

CRUSHING IT in Honor of the Fallen

This Memorial Day weekend I had the Honor of conducting a modified WOD with Warriors with Team RWB on the set of Fox and Friends. Watch the broadcast here.



The “21 Guns” Memorial Day WOD with Warriors is meant to replicate the 21 Gun salute which is reserved for the Nations fallen on Memorial Day.

Check out the WOD with Warriors You Tube Video here.

As we were conducting the WOD I was thinking of these fallen warriors:

LTC Joseph Fenty -KIA Afghanistan
CPT Michael Tarlavsky- KIA Iraq
CSM Jerry Wilson-KIA Iraq
SFC David Todd KIA Afghanistan
SSG Robert Chiomento-KIA Afghanistan
SSG Robert White-  KIA Afghanistan
SSG Michael Lammerts-KIA Afghanistan
SGT Allen Greca- KIA Iraq

Added by Gwen Olsen:
LCPL Daniel Olsen- KIA 04/02/2007 IRAQ

Added by Patrick Moore:
SSG Jorge Oliveira, KIA Afghanistan 

Added by Chris Lanca:
SSG Johnnie V. Mason - KIA Iraq
CW2 Kyran Kennedy - KIA Iraq
CPT James Adamouski - KIA Iraq

CW2 Aaron Power - training accident, FCKY

Added by Jon McBride:
LT Richard McBride, U.S. Navy, Killed 1992  

Added by Ben Coffey
SSG Anthony Lagman-KIA Miam Do, Afghanistan

SGT Michael Esposito-KIA Miam Do, Afghanistan

In honor of the brave men and women who have been killed in action:

 "Live a Life worthy of their sacrifice"



If you have a fallen warrior whose name you would like to add to the list above please e-mail me at    Check out Team RWB and get involved.

Saturday, May 17, 2014


I recently ran the West Point 5K and finished in 34:02. I took the picture below as I crossed the finish line.  Later, I posted the picture on Twitter  from my RWB account (Excuse the typo). 

It reads “Fastest 5 K in a long time. Some runners laugh at me… My Team RWB teammates were highfiving me.”

That says it all. I am a Wounded Warrior and the internal injury I suffered in Iraq limits how fast I can run. I am happy with a 34:02 but there are others who would not dare show up for a race if they had times like this. In the past I have had other runners who are not aware of my injury make fun of my race time.  I have learned to ignore it and when these people find out about my injury they usually feel pretty terrible and apologize.  In this particular race as I approached the finish line, my fellow Team RWB teammates were cheering me on ( as they did for everyone) and highfived me after I crossed.

You see, with Team RWB, it is ok to be wounded, no matter what it is. In the words of Brene Brown “Vulnerability is Courage”.  We encourage everyone to show up because all that matters is finishing the race.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Vulnerability and Courage: A Wounded Warriors Perspective

Last week I had the privilege of listening to Brene Brown speak at West Point. She gave an incredible talk about vulnerability and courage that caused me to immediately reflect on my experiences as wounded warrior. I gained some new insights and shared that with her after the event was over.

Photo courtesy of Susanne Jenemann:

I have continued to reflect on “Vulnerability and Courage” over the last few days and captured it in this blog post.

As she spoke my first thoughts about vulnerability and courage led me to think back 10 years to when I was wounded along with 9 of my soldiers.  During the fight my soldiers and I were very vulnerable and it took courage to lead them under fire and eventually accomplish our mission. (Read more about this on this here, here, and my Alive Day WOD here) I was awarded the Bronze Star medal for Valor for my actions under fire and received the Purple Heart de to being wounded by enemy fire.

As she continued to speak, I realized that was not the context in which she was speaking about vulnerability and courage. She next spoke about shame, and men's vulnerability as “weakness” and I felt that she was talking to me.  Weakness and shame are exactly what I felt after surgery and I was recovering from my injury. I was a warrior, decorated for valor and was being told by medical professionals that I would not be able to stay in the Army and continue to be a member of the military profession. Here I was the guy who took a big hit to the chest, recovered and stayed in the fight, being told I would never be that badass again. That CRUSHED ME!

For a while I took that to mean "I was not good enough" anymore. This was shame and vulnerability and it scared me. But then I went though a transformation with help of family and friends and in Brene Brown’s words I had the "courage to be imperfect”.  She mentioned "If you choose courage you choose to get your butt kicked”.  Recovery was an emotional roller coaster as I struggled to get back to my old self but realizing that due to my combat injury I would never be my former self again. I was getting my “butt kicked” on a regular basis but I chose courage over being comfortable and I was determined to recover and remain a member of the Army profession.

In her talk she linked vulnerability to joy and belonging. As I leaned into vulnerability and had the courage to be imperfect (I tick when I run).  I discovered I had a new sense of self-worth and belonging to my profession.

Before the war I was a triathlete and as I recovered I was able to start racing again. I was not nearly as fast as I was before the war but I eventually got over that. I was glad to be alive and happy to be able to complete a triathlon again. Due to my successful recovery, I was retained on active duty and kept my sense of belonging and identity. I went on to command a tank company in Korea and another company at FT. Polk, La which I deployed to Afghanistan. I received the General MacArthur Leadership award while I was deployed (My wife received it on my behalf from General Casey in May 2010).

 The purpose of mentioning the award is not to toot my own horn but to share my reflection on Brene Brown’s comments about choosing “Courage or Comfort” and “Vulnerability is Courage”.  I realized that I would never have received the award if I had not chosen courage and not had the support of my family and friends.

Her talk also caused me to think about the mental health issues some Veterans face when they transition out of the Army.  This is not my area of expertise but here are my thoughts.  There is a higher sense of purpose many service members feel when they are in combat with members of their unit. Whether they are analyzing the intelligence to find the enemy, running the logistics to support the fight, or moving into a building and engaging the enemy face to face, the sense of purpose felt in combat is hard to match after Veterans return home.  The short video below from my experience in combat captures that.

There is a certain vulnerability in facing the fact that you will not be part of a team with that sense of purpose again. It takes courage to reach out and find that new team.  Brene Brown referenced Teddy Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech which really connected with me and the work I do with Team Red, White, and Blue.

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

Connecting these Veterans with people that have been in the arena and giving them a new sense of purpose is important to their reintegration into society. There is sense of camaraderie that comes from being next to someone who has faced the same challenges in the “arena”.

I encourage Veterans and community members to put themselves out there and get into the "arena" by joining Team Red, White, and Blue in our missions to enrich the lives of America’s Veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.

A big THANK YOU to Brene Brown for taking the time to come speak at West Point. Check out her TED Talk on Vulnerability here:

Vulnerability is Courage and Courage Counts!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Wounded Warriors: They Take a Licking and Keep on Ticking!

Yesterday, I had the honor of working out with Eric Zastoupil and the rest of the Team Red, White, and Blue –West Point chapter to include the Dean, Brigadier General Timothy Trainor. 

Eric is a Wounded Warrior, currently stationed at Walter Reed National Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. He was wounded in Afghanistan and is a below-the-knee amputee. 

However, his injury did not slow him down during the workout, which consisted of a team tire flips, burpees, and other exercises.  Eric is the epitome of resiliency in action and is a great example for other Wounded Warriors and Veterans to emulate. 

Seeing him in action made me think of the Timex watch slogan “Takes a licking and keeps on ticking” (See video below)

Way to EAGLE UP Eric.  It’s Our Turn!


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Alive Day 2014

Ten years ago today, April 9th, 2004, I led my platoon in an attack across Bridge 3 spanning the Tigris River (See Picture below) in the Iraqi city of Al Kut in order to seize the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) compound that had been seized several day priot by members of the Mahdi Militia. During the assault 10 soldiers, to include myself and 3 attachments were wounded (Read more here).

Bridge 3 East in Al Kut, Iraq

So after 10 years, several triathlons, thousands of meters rowing, a boat load of "Crushit!" Workouts and a billion slam ball throw downs I am still ticking when I run.  

I consider today my “Alive Day” and could think of no better way to celebrate life then to do a workout with a bunch of FIRED UP RWBer's. That is exactly what I did. The workout is below.

Team RWB- West Point at "Alive Day" WOD on April 9th 2014

9 Stations – Each exercise is 9 reps followed by a 50 yard sprint- Do this 4 times per station. The 9 stations are for each of the soldiers that were wounded ( Minus myself. This is about them, not me). The 9 reps is for the date, April 9th. The 4 times per station comes from  April being the 4th  month. The workout will be 20 minutes and 04 seconds for the year 2004.
Example- Box Jumps
9 box Jumps, 50 yard sprint
9 box jumps, 50 yard sprint,
9 box jumps, 50 yard sprint,
9 box jumps 50 yard sprint- move to next station and repeat again

Battle Ropes
Box Jump
Kettle Bell Swings
Leg raises
Slam ball/Steel bell slams
Dead lifts
Air Squats
Weighted carry- Use a weight plate or slamball.

The best part of this workout was the people working out with me. My fellow Team RWBer’s are committed tp enriching the lives of Veterans by connecting them to community through physical and social activity. Taking care of our Veterans once they are home is what is most important.

In combat there is no wording in an Army mission statement that states a leader has to bring all their soldiers back unharmed and alive for a mission to be considered successful.  The nature of our profession is inherently risky and when engaging enemy forces in direct fire combat there is a good chance that a soldier could be wounded or killed. When soldiers ( and all service members) return home they deserve the support of the American people in helping them transition back to life stateside.  

George Washington said “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve...shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.” One way to show appreciation is to join an organization like Team Red, White, and Blue and help Veterans connect to their communities.

Killer Troop 3/2 ACR Leads the Way! Toujours Pret!