Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Stronger People are Harder to Kill-Both Physically and Mentally

Over the past couple weeks I have heard several different variations of "Strong People Are Harder to Kill Than Weak People" . There is a lot of truth in that saying. I know from personal experience in direct combat environments as well as do countless other combat veterans who also have direct combat experience.

Recently I was working out and overheard some local community members using that saying. I knew they were not combat veterans and had no way of knowing how physically demanding a firefight in direct combat was. I was going to ask them about how they could possibly know this, but then stopped to think about it for a second. Surviving any challenging event is more about the mental strength and discipline to face and overcome the challenge than the physical part.  As I started thinking about it I really started thinking about the " mental" part of this, and that is the KEY!!!!!!!!!

My variation of this saying is "Stronger People are Harder to Kill both Physically and Mentally"

There is no one workout approach that will totally prepare someone physically and mentally for combat. Rather, the approach is to be innovative and creative in designing physical fitness training to replicate the physical and mental demands of a direct combat environment. On a personal note, my experiences in Iraq were very physically and mentally demanding.     (More on  unit experiences in Iraq ) My Afghanistan experience was very physically demanding at times but not the same as Iraq. I was in a different role on that deployment. (Read more on Afghanistan experience

Regardless if a person is a combat vet, swimmer, cyclist, Crossfitter, triathlete, marathoner, etc... mental strength and discipline is key to physical strength and key to completing the event. This is developed through hard and challenging workouts. So after thinking about this I realize that civilians do have a grasp of that and stronger people are harder to kill both physically AND mentally.

Mental discipline is required to succeed in physically demanding environments and is rarely developed alone. It is usually developed as a member of a team or community. Yes, in endurance sports the individual is competing but in the training leading up to the event it is highly unlikely they trained alone. they were part of a TEAM, part of a COMMUNITY.  And it is from community that strength and mental discipline in physical fitness and endurance sports is developed.    My graduate work ( Available here )  focused on communities of practice and learning from the sharing of stories. What I found ( and there is tons of research to support) was that in a community, relationships and friendships are developed through shared experiences.  Community members hold each other accountable and through interaction help improve each other’s performance.

It is through hard, challenging shared experiences that communities, teams, relationships and friendships make individuals harder to kill both physically and mentally. It all starts with getting OFF THE COUCH!!!!!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

View from the Thomas Burnett Heroes Garden on the Pepperdine University, Malibu campus

“Freedom is never more than one generation from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream.  It must be fought for… or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."

President Ronald Reagan

On Tuesday I ran the Malibu Hills on the Pepperdine University campus. It was a good run, very scenic, but also very challenging Coming from Louisiana where the terrain is mostly flat, running the  hills on campus was pretty brutal.

It was all worth it though, as I finished at the Thomas Burnett Heroes Garden. Thomas Burnett was one of the Flight 93 heroes on 9/11 that fought to regain control of the aircraft causing it to crash in Pennsylvania and not reach its intended target in the nations capitol. He is also a Pepperdine alumnus.

 The Heroes Garden is a very scenic and peaceful place. As I was looking out over the campus and the great view of the pacific ocean I heard the sound of an airplane passing overhead and it caused me to think about Thomas Burnett and the other heroes of Flight 93 and the courage they had to fight back and try and take control of the plane before it hit its target in the Washington D.C. area. They knew the chances of surviving were slim but they knew they had to do something to try and take control of the aircraft and disrupt the AL Qaeda terrorist’s plan and they succeeded in doing so. Flight 93 crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

After the 9/11 attacks the U.S. Military went to war. Numerous stories have emerged over the last 10 plus years of war.  Storytelling is the only way to share these experiences and they are great sources of strength for me.  There are numerous stories of military service members showing strength and courage in recovering from wounds received in combat. These stories are a source of strength as well, some of which I shared in this previous blog post. I am proud to be a member of a profession whose values include Selfless Service and Personal Courage; the same values exhibited by the actions of Thomas Burnett and the heroes of Flight 93.

Never Forget! IT'S OUR TURN!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Coming Off The Couch: Physical Fitness Changes Lives For The Better

Wednesday July 11th  was my last workout with the team before I head north to my new assignment at West Point.  We had a great workout- 1 Mile run, then 3 Rounds of the following exercises: 10 Log Presses, 10 Kettle Bell Swings & 10 Pushups, 10 Box Jump Burpees, 10 Tire flips followed by a burpee, 10 Sledgehammer hits (Each Side) on the big tire, 1 Mile cool down run.

(L to R) Ed,  Jacque,Vince 
One of the newest members, Vince, achieved a milestone that morning. Vince came off the couch and started working out with us about a month ago. Wednesday morning he completed the mile run for the first time. He was pretty happy and it was a great achievement. 

Vince’s achievement speaks to the power of physical fitness and being a team member in a workout group. The group pushed and encouraged Vince and held him accountable.

(L to R ) Rebecca, JAcque, Victor, Jerry, Ed, Bridget, Me (Jonathan) , Tara, Vince, Roderick

 Each week Vince showed improvement and that built his confidence. With confidence comes the courage to try something more challenging. Vince is motivated and planning on running in some endurance races this fall.  Before we know it he will be a Marathoner or Ironman Triathlete.  Everyone starts by coming off the couch. How far they go is up to them but with a team behind them there is no limit.  Read more about the power of exercise and team in this Psychology Today Blog post. 

Get off the couch and CRUSH IT!!!!!!!!!!!!


Friday, July 6, 2012

July 4th "21 Guns" WOD for Warriors : NEVER FORGET!!!!

I have been stationed in the CENLA community for the last 13 years, coming and going for deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan as well as an overseas tour in Korea. While I was gone my family resided in Alexandria. When I was not overseas I was stationed at FT. Polk. Even though there is a lot of support for the military in the local communities, I was always struck by the lack of connectivity between the FT. Polk and Alexandria communities.

 Enter William Albritton,Trayce Snow and Jeff Prejean. All three are Physical Fitness MANIACS (that is a good thing)  and society needs more people like this encouraging people to get OFF THE COUCH!!!!!

Jeff and Trayce at the opening ceremony

William Albritton is a co-owner of  Crossfit Alexandria and big supporter of the military community. Trayce live is Alexandria, is a member of the Crossfit Alexandria family and huge supporter of Team RWB. Her son Ben is an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and her brother Jon Howerton is a Colonel in the United States Army who deployed to Iraq three times in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Jeff is a coach at Crossfit Alexandria and is involved in all sort so activities and events promoting physical fitness. He works with local athletes to improve their performance as well. Jeff is a huge supporter of the military.

In June I met with all of them about doing a event to connect community members , veterans and active duty military in the area.  On Wednesday July 4th, a simple call to action brought together two inspiring groups of people - Team Red, White, and Blue  and the  Crossfit Alexandria  family , and together they executed the “21 Guns WOD (Workout of the Day)  for Warriors” workout at Crossfit Alexandria.

Writing out the WOD

"21 Guns - A Memorial Salute"

Partner #1:

21 Pull-ups

21 Burpee Box Jumps
21 Firemans Carry Back Squat 

21 Burpee Box Jumps

21 Pull-Ups

Partner #2 executes

Partner #1 again

Before  the first heat kicked off I explained the significance of the "21 Guns" workout:

The 21 reps signify a 21 gun salute, the 5 exercises are one for each Branch of the Military. Executing with a Partner signifies the bonds we aim to create between our Nation's Warriors and the communities they grow in and return to, and doing it twice reflects the fact that we honor both the living and the deceased. 

This was a great event for both RWB and Crossfit.  Several veterans and active duty soldiers were present for the workout as well as a large number of community members. The shared experience of getting physically smoked  executing the WOD and the resulting interactions between community members and veterans, help the veterans identify with the community and to meet people, therefore building relationships that will continue to grow in the future and allow veterans to grow within the community.

Crossfit Family and Team RWB

Three veterans representing Vietnam, Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq)

with Erik

Jeff, me, and Paul


Trayce and her brother, COL Jon Howerton executing the pull-up portion of the WOD

Box Jump Burpees

Firemans Carry Squats

This was also a reunion of sorts for me. Two of my good friends showed up to participate in the WOD.

Lisa, in the picture with me on the left,  participated in my physical fitness bootcamp named “HOOAH Camp” in the fall of 2005 and spring of 2006. During HOOAH Camp we would do all the workouts outside in order to build mental discipline and toughness. She and I were joking about the time where it was around 25 degrees and the class was low crawling through the icy mud on the football field. It was a great workout, or at least I thought so, but is a great example of the bond formed over shared, challenging experiences.

I have been friends with Mitzi (pictured with me on the right and mentioned in a previous blog post ) for over ten years. We used to do triathlons together. We had a great group of people who would mount up every weekend and go to a different triathlon somewhere in Louisiana.  Our friendship is another great example of friendships built through physical fitness and shared experiences.

Both these friends were critical to my recovery after I had surgery due to injuries from my tour in Iraq.  While I was in the recovery  phase they were both very encouraging of me and supported me. It did not matter that I was not a fast runner anymore; all that mattered was that I was out there CRUSHING IT with them. Being out there with other community members sharing an experience helped me identify with them and the rest of the community. It was one HUGE step on the road to recovery.

Hopefully those two short examples demonstrated that strong, lasting relationships  can be built through shared experiences like physical fitness. These types of relationships build communities and when community members reach out and invite people in, such as veterans, it can change lives for the better.

The benefits of exercise are well known and it is through exercise and community events like the one with Crossfit Alexandria,  that Team RWB aims to enhance the reintegration of veterans back into civilian life.  Here is a great blog post in Psychology Today about the benefits of exercise as a team for veterans and community members: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/exercise-and-mood/201207/wearing-red-white-and-blue-july



Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Importance of Physical Fitness in Leadership and Overcoming Injury

One thing I have learned through my various leadership experiences in the U.S. Army is the importance of physical fitness in Leadership. I believe that physical fitness, especially endurance sports changes people for the better.  It builds self-discipline and a sense of pride in oneself as a person pursues harder and harder physical challenges and achieves those goals. As people pursue harder and harder challenges, operating outside of the zone they are comfortable in, they grow and develop both mentally and physically. It also makes leaders authentic to their peers, subordinates, and superiors when they show they have the personal courage to face a challenging physical task and achieve it. It is tied to leading by example " I did it, so can you". Stories of overcoming physical fitness challenges give leaders authenticity and can help influence others.

Leaders are responsible for coming up with solutions to challenging problems. How is that related to physical fitness? Physical fitness builds the mental  discipline that is necessary in other areas like progressive problem solving to come up with solutions to challenging problems.

Physical fitness is also a great way to deal with negative energy, turning it into positive energy which is critical to being an effective leader. Physical fitness has been a huge part of my recovery both physical and mentally.  It has inspired me to action and has created awareness and developed a bond between my fellow veterans and community members. As I went through the various stages of recovery and dealt with the limits of my injury, my confidence increased as I was able to accomplish more and more challenging physical tasks.I was not performing like I used to before I was injured but I was able to do all the activities and that is what counted. As my confidence increased so did my positive energy which could also be considered emotional energy.

Emotional energy is critical to be an effective energetic leader. Emotional energy is key in daily interactions with peers, superiors, and subordinates. Leaders that are emotionally intelligent can understand and control their emotions during the day, and when interacting with others. When people have low emotional energy that can lead to friction in relationships with others which can lead to negative energy.

A leaders energy influences people. Energetic leaders have energy that comes frommind, body, spirit and emotions. The kind of energy that locks-in commitment, gets people to go the extra mile for the team by releasing their constraints. Leadership is about unleashing the energy in the people that work for them or are around them.

So if you are a leader you should be involved in some sort of physical activity whether it is walking the block several times, running a 5K,  doing Crossfit, or an becoming an Ironman Triathlete. It will give you more confidence in yourself , make you more authentic, and inspire others to action.

Get out there and CRUSH IT!!!!!!!!!