Why Veterans Can’t Get Enough Of CrossFit

Arctic CrossFit

This post originally appeared in Task & Purpose on August 22, 2014

Black Box, work out of the day, burpee, ass to grass, kipping, Turkish get-up: If you know these terms, then you are one of the thousands of service members who have found their way into CrossFit. There are now countless CrossFit gyms on military bases around the country and even a few in Afghanistan that are operated by active-duty military members. In the civilian sector, there are numerous CrossFit gyms owned and populated by combat veterans.

Even though former gymnast Greg Glassman developed CrossFit as a workout in the 1970s, it did not become a formal company or gain much popularity until 2000, making it a relatively new and alternative exercise philosophy. CrossFit incorporates a groupthink element and is a broad, general, and inclusive strength and conditioning program designed for universal scalability, making it easily applicable for any committed individual regardless of experience. The workout is also almost totally decentralized, allowing any qualified trainer to become certified. But why exactly does CrossFit appeal to so many military members and veterans? Where does the nexus between military and CrossFit lie?

I posed this very question to Jason Sturm, a CrossFit trainer and wounded veteran, who trains and coaches at the CrossFit Walter Reed in Bethesda, Maryland. He offered me this response:

Some [service members ] tried and did CrossFit while in the service or pre injury. A lot of the appeal to CrossFit for veterans is due to the support and camaraderie the sport has overall. CrossFit Headquarters has several strenuous workouts named for fallen service members called Hero WODs (Work outs of the day). CrossFit gyms also tend to be very accepting to veterans … [they] find commonality among the other veterans in class. Let’s also not forget that veterans, much like athletes, can be fiercely competitive and CrossFit helps them remain or rediscover that feeling.

Additionally, while the innovations of battlefield medicine have preserved the lives of thousands of our nation’s warriors, they have also produced over 50,000 injured servicemen and women who now must manage the life-long physical fallout from missing limbs, injured brains, chronic pain caused by multiple deployments and heavy gear, emotional wounds, and post-traumatic stress. Injured active-duty service members require more than just the customary push-ups, sit-ups, and a two-mile run to stay physically healthy, and veterans are beginning to need more than just a handful of pills from their doctors to manage conditions like post-traumatic stress and chronic pain. Traditional medical tactics that once worked to treat injured service members are no longer enough on their own. More than at any other time in our history, today’s service members are taking the fate of their health into their own hands, and are pursuing alternative ways to stay strong and even heal their bodies and minds.

Often, due to the specific types of injuries that service members suffer, core-centric rehabilitation and variety of movement are the first and most integral step in the physical healing process. CrossFit is especially strong and focused in these two areas, helping to build up strength in one’s core muscles, demanding, proper alignment and form before advancing to other exercises. CrossFit also, by its very philosophy, incorporates constantly varied functional movements. But perhaps the most fruitful thing that CrossFit offers an injured warrior, or adaptive athlete, is the gift of rekindling his or her competitive spirit, through accomplishing challenging exercises that most uninjured men and women could not do.

We strive to understand the physical demands of modern military members, as well as how to treat both the physical and mental injuries that will almost certainly accompany them as they emerge from combat. But when it comes to physical fitness injury, and recovery, it is clear that our military is undergoing nothing short of a revolution.

Shelly Burgoyne-Goode is a former Army Officer. She served two tours in Iraq, leading combat resupply convoys to forward units. She is a Tillman Military Scholar, veteran advocate, military blogger, and writer.



Veterans Are Revitalizing The Agriculture Industry

This article originally appeared in Task & Purpose:

Veterans Vignettes

July, 28, 2014

Midway through my second deployment to Iraq, I vowed to eat better; war favors the young, and age was catching up with me. Unlike my 21-year-old soldiers, I just wasn’t getting what I needed out of the food I was eating. The combat zone is hot, the gear is heavy, the resupply convoys I led were long hauls that consisted of changing tires, recovering vehicles, loading and unloading heavy supply. I vowed that when I returned to the United States where healthy food was available, I would start eating as much of it as possible.

However, upon my return from Iraq, the sticker shock of organic food, and the difficulty finding it, kept me from buying a lot. But slowly month by month, I got there; not out of some noble quest, but because organic vegetables, fruit, meat and milk are just simply better for the human body than the pesticide and hormone-laden alternatives. Once I started to eat clean, I just couldn’t go back to the fake stuff — I was hooked. This journey to eat better led me to wonder where this real food comes from. I wondered why it costs so much, who grows it, and why? As I began to slowly find the answers to these questions, I discovered that in fact military veterans grow much of the organic food we consume.

Veterans from the Iraq and Afghan wars have a deep desire to continue to serve and be part of something bigger than themselves. This is illustrated everyday as thousands of veteran-owned and run organizations assist Americans during natural disasters, clean up poverty stricken neighborhoods, help the wounded among them heal, or even help to send fellow vets to college. Each of these pursuits make me proud; these accomplishments are clear indications that we indeed served in the most professional military in the world.

Yet, of the many pursuits listed above, one that rarely gets a lot of press, and frankly isn’t seen as all that sexy, is farming. But I, as well as George Washington, beg to differ; farming is indeed sexy. In fact, our first president considered farming to be one of the highest forms of community service and much like natural disaster relief, farming is vital to our national security and economic health as a nation. In short, we need farmers.

“I know of no pursuit in which more real and important services can be rendered to any country than by improving its agriculture, its breed of useful animals, and other branches of a husbandman’s cares.” —George Washington, first American president and combat veteran

To say that there is a shortage of American farmers in an understatement. According to the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, the average age of American farmers is 65 — young Americans who possess farming skills are few and far between. In fact, the shortage of American farmers is so great that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has embarked on a campaign to create 100,000 new American farmers in the next 10 years, and setting aside loads of federal money for low interest loans to farmers. This, combined with the fact that our population is seeking to eat healthier, more organic, and local produce equals a whole lot of demand for affordable healthy food and not enough supply of men and women to provide it. This is where our nation’s veteran farmers enter the picture.

There are many reasons why modern veterans choose farming as a way to spend the rest of their civilian lives. I happen to think that the principal reason is because they desire to spend the remainder of their lives, which were surely almost taken from them multiple times, healthy. But beyond this very physical motivation, there are actually many more reasons veterans choose farming as their way to give back and to even heal themselves.

Forty-five percent of today’s veterans come from rural backgrounds. While serving, veterans also become accustomed to tough physical work, long hours and working with little resources; they also find reward in seeing something from conception to fruition. They are excellent planners, welcome challenge, can quickly recover from defeat, and aren’t afraid to take risks. Veterans have also learned through multiple combat tours to be responsible stewards of their finite resources. In combat, they constantly had to figure out ways to operate in very difficult environments with very little; they stretched what they had, and attempted with all of their human capacity to successfully battle the weather, time, and lack of money; all things American farmers do on a daily basis.

The Farmer Veteran Coalition is one coalition connecting veteran farmers with each other. The organization “aspire[s] to lead the national effort connecting veterans to agriculture, and believe[s] that veterans possess the unique skills and character needed to strengthen rural communities and create sustainable food systems for all.”

Archi’s Acres is another example of a veteran-farming enterprise that uses hydroponic technology to grow organic produce. Headquartered in Escondido, California, the company is owned and operated by husband and wife team of Colin and Karen Archipley. Colin is a combat-decorated marine sergeantwho founded Archi’s Acres in 2006 with two core objectives: to develop a business that would provide business ownership opportunity for veterans and create a viable sustainable organic produce farming business. In an interview with environmental news site Grist, Archipley said, “Around the turn of the century, about 30 percent of Americans worked in ag. Now it’s less than 3 percent and over half of them are at retirement age or above. So they’re ready to leave the industry. Any time you have a void in the marketplace someone is going to fill it. This is our opportunity.”


Shelly Burgoyne-Goode is a former Army Officer. She served two tours in Iraq, leading combat resupply convoys to forward units. She is a Tillman Military Scholar, veteran advocate, military blogger, and writer.

The Ranger Tab….Who Will Be The First Woman to Wear It?


 “I’m no sociologist, I have no anthropological training but I’m certain of this … we live in a world where the squandering of women’s talent, the traducing of their potential, is a global disgrace”. [Opening all areas of the armed forces to women] “Wipes away the barriers to achieving potential and sends a clarion call to all who serve that talent will prevail, not gender. Armies that revel in their separateness from civil society, that value the male over the female, that use their imposed values to exclude those that don’t fit the particular traits of the dominant group, who celebrate the violence that is integral to my profession rather than seek ways to contain it … they do nothing to distinguish the soldier from the brute.”

~Chief of the Australian Army, General Morrison

A few weeks ago a qualified soldier with two X chromosomes, whose primary profession is not Infantry, was given access to, and graduated from, the Army’s new challenging Combat Jungle Warfare course. The soldier had this to say about her experience:

This is infantry we’re talking about here. These are guys who know they’re going to war and know they’re going to get into firefights. Me being there, of course I was not accepted at first. Every day, for the first two weeks, they’d wake up and say, ‘She didn’t leave yet?’ They tested me the whole time I was there until the last week, until they finally said, ‘Taylor, you’re not going nowhere, we’re so proud of you.’ They just want to see you prove yourself without any favoritism. They want to see you do what they do because they do this every day. Infantry doesn’t play. They respected me at the end, but I earned my respect.” ~Specialist Tinita Taylor, U.S. Army

So what exactly is the new Jungle Warfare Course? This new Army combat course is conducted in Hawaii and is designed to train our young soldiers in the lost art of jungle warfare. Our Army has been at war for over a decade in the desert, and has neglected to train in a subtropical environment; we must again become proficient at these specific skills. The Jungle Warfare Course, like Ranger School is extremely difficult, physically taxing, and mentally demanding. However, with that said, it is not a profession, Jungle Warfare School, like Ranger school is never a soldier’s primary occupation or MOS. The Jungle Warfare Course like Ranger School is just that, a school.

Like Airborne School, Air Assault School, Combat Dive School, etc., the Jungle Warfare Course and Ranger School is a course, an opportunity for a soldier to become certified in an EXTRA set of war fighting skills. These military schools are much like a police officer’s extra designation as “SWAT” qualified, or a Park Rangers extra certification of “search and rescue qualified”.

So, if a female soldier was allowed to pursue the extra certification of “jungle qualified” why do the same soldiers with two X chromosomes continued to be banned from accessing the Army’s elite Ranger School? Why is Ranger school different?

Many men in our military are supportive and frankly champions of equal access for qualified women to all combat professions and schools. However, there are those, who belong to a dwindling squad of mostly men in our Nation’s Armed Forces who vocally believe that the Special Operations, the Infantry, and Ranger School are just too difficult for women, that ultimately they are the sacred place of men…these arguments no longer hold any validity in our society and serious thinkers on the subject no longer entertain them, and neither will I.

What I will address however, are the dishonest group of hold outs who secretly place themselves among the supporters of combat integration, but in reality oppose the integration of women into combat jobs. This cowardly group in our Army endorse all the same antiquated ideas of women and their place in our society that I just mentioned, but won’t come out and publicly say it. This band knows that their beliefs no longer hold water in our society, that their civilian masters will no longer tolerate such ignorance. Let me be clear, they do not think a female soldier should have been allowed to attend the Jungle Warfare Course, and they certainly do not want women serving in the Infantry or wearing a Ranger Tab. However, because they can no longer successfully employ their base arguments they resort to deceptive delay and distraction tactics.

To delay the directive to give women equal access to all combat professions and schools they employ countless tests and studies, they hire research teams. They rattle off terms like “critical mass”, “force multiplier”, “bone mass”, “muscle composition”, cardio capacity”, “injury rate”, etc., etc., etc., etc.

To distract their bosses (the American public) they calmly list reasons like: “She is not Infantry why does she need a Ranger Tab?”, “Women in the Army don’t really want this”, “this is a political experiment”, “the 15+ women who graduated Marine Infantry training were trained to a different standard” etc., etc., etc. All of these new “reasons” are simply Red Herrings, the last desperate and veiled attempts to ban women from accessing these elite courses simply due to their sex.

They will tell their bosses, (the American people), that only soldiers who are Infantry soldiers need to attend Ranger School, and because qualified soldiers with two X chromosomes are not yet able to serve in our nation’s Infantry they should not be allowed to attend the Ranger Course. Yet, many male soldiers who are not Infantry soldiers become “Ranger” qualified every year; Chaplains, Armor soldiers, Medical Officers etc. You see, the Army believes that it is beneficial to have soldiers in many professions Ranger qualified. For example, a doctor might very well be attached to, or serving in an Infantry unit and her Ranger qualification will assist the entire unit as well as placing her on equal footing with her fellow Infantry soldiers who wear the Ranger Tab.

Because all combat jobs must be opened by 2015, women will surely begin to assume Armor and even Infantry professions. With this inevitable fact, doesn’t it make sense to allow female soldiers access to all the military’s special schools and extra certifications in order to develop a better trained fighter? Based on the direct order to integrate all jobs and schools by 2015 it seems to me, to be illegal and a complete disregard for a direct order, to continue to ban women from Ranger School. After all, Ranger School, like all other combat schools, is no longer reserved for men, it is reserved for warriors.

It is the hope of many female soldiers; to include the one who just graduated from the Jungle Warfare Course that, by next year, the first qualified soldier with two X chromosomes will have earned the right and the honor to wear the coveted Ranger Tab. In fact the young female soldier who currently wears the Jungle Warfare Tab had this to say about Ranger School:

 “My goal is to be the first female soldier to complete Ranger School.”

Many women, just like many men in the military do want this. It is not a political experiment, it is equality based on qualification; I can think of no other profession in our free nation that bans someone simply due to their chromosome make-up.

3 Pull Ups

pull ups

Physical Fitness Standards are a really big deal in the military; any tinkering of the current standard always causes a tremendous amount of complaining and general uproar among Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen. It must be said that most Americans could not come close to passing any one of the Service’s physical fitness tests, so complaining by the 1% who serve in our military and sacrifice what few will ever comprehend, is frankly allowed.

A service member’s performance on these tests, often decide promotion, and ones general future in the military, they are important to the service member, the military, and ultimately determine the overall physical readiness of our Nation’s fighting force. So when, the Marine Corps recently changed its physical fitness standard for women; requiring them to perform 3 pull ups (the minimum required by men), instead of the flexed arm hang, all hell broke loose in the ranks…and as expected, complaints poured in.

As the Marine Corps began to implement their new fitness standard, it also came to the attention of the media that approximately 53% of female Marines cannot perform the new three pull-up standard (which they have had virtually no time to train for). Armed with this new information, the remaining hold outs who oppose integration of women in the combat ranks quickly began rattling off the same, tired, anecdotal, and frankly passé reasons why women cannot serve in combat units; articles were spit out from computers all around America. Articles that bemoaned the fact that because, 53% of females Marines could not perform the three required pull ups right out of the gate, they clearly cannot serve in the Infantry.

Really? Because last time I checked physical fitness tests in the Marine Corps or the Army for that matter, have absolutely zero bearing on being in the Infantry; zero. I say again, there is, and has never been a separate or more advanced physical fitness test required to enter or graduate Infantry training…perhaps there should be. As it stands today, one must simply survive Infantry training, and pass the standard physical fitness test at the end of their training…if a Maine or soldier does this they are branched Infantry.

Continue reading

“Game Changers…The First Four Infantry Qualified Female Marines in our Nation’s History”


Last night, actually pretty late last night as I was aimlessly scrolling through my Facebook Timeline before bed, I scrolled past a story posted by the Marine Corps Times with a title something along the lines of: “Four will Graduate from the Marine School of Infantry”. I almost scrolled past it; I guess I was expecting that when a woman or women graduated from such a course there would be a bigger story…maybe there will be.  But last night this story was posted late, it seemed like an afterthought and it was short.  Nevertheless, I had to take a knee, not because I didn’t think it would happen; I did. I had to take a knee, because it means a lot.

Because only 1% serve in our Armed Forces, four female Marines making it through some military course in the middle of the North Carolina woods is surely not a huge story to most Americans, but to the military community, to the Marine Corps, to the Army, to the Infantry, to Special Forces, to women in the Army and the Marine Corps, and mostly to the women currently in the service academies, the hundreds of ROTC programs, and American high schools; it is a huge story. It is a game changer, and it is absolutely worth taking a knee for.

So how exactly is the fact that four female Marines will soon stand among hundreds of their fellow male Infantry Marines on a cold parade field in North Carolina a game changer? It is a game changer because America now knows that physically some women can do it…we can no longer pretend they can’t. It means that the Infantry, the Holy Grail of combat arms is no longer reserved for men; it means that our nation will finally join Canada, Israel, Norway, and Australia as places of absolute equality in the military.

So what comes next?  Well, I am not quite convinced that I can stop writing about this just yet, and I am not convinced that the Marine Corps and Army actually want women in the Infantry…sorry I am just not there yet. I am however convinced that what comes next is a bunch of “studies” and surveys to determine if women will get injured, if units will break down, if there are enough women, if their fellow Infantry Marines will abuse them, and if they can pee or sleep next to their fellow male Infantry Marine. Sadly like me, many female Veterans, and many active duty women remain skeptical that the Marine Corps or the Army really thinks that women should be in the Infantry. If they did, they would award these four women the MOS they earned. What’s also next is the Marine Corps and Army desperately clinging to Injury and the idea of “critical mass” as the next reasons that will somehow rescue them from their rightful owners (the American taxpayer) demand to allow qualified women into the Infantry.

Will women get injured? Yes and so will men. The Corps and the Army has yet to ban a skinny short male recruit from trying to be an Infantryman or a Navy Seal because he might get injured.  No, the Marine Corps allows that man to accept physical risk to his own body. Is this idea of “critical mass” important when it comes to equality? No, “critical mass” did not seem to be something that was thrown around as the services integrated black men into the military and specifically into combat arms. The military understood that even if there was one black man who wished to be an Infantry soldier he was enough…ten were not needed. You see we are no longer talking about combat readiness or the possibility that no female can physically do it; we know now that some woman can physically do it, so why does it matter that there might only be a few in the first few waves? It doesn’t.

Many men and women who oppose this policy also like to promote the idea that it is only so called “hard core feminists” and women who are not actually in the military who are pushing women in combat arms. It is not. I am a combat Veteran and the many female Veterans and active duty officers and enlisted females that I speak with, agree that women should be able to pursue the Infantry if they qualify and the standard does not change. With that said, because I was in the military, I am very aware that just because some women can get through Infantry training that does not mean that women in the Infantry is still not a complicate issue, it is and I realize this.

I have had many enlightening and uncomfortably honest conversations with Infantrymen on this issue; it is an emotional issue for them. They love their Infantry; they are connected to it viscerally, and fear what it will become with the inclusion of women. It is not even necessarily that they think it will be less, they just know it will be different…I understand this. But we are now on our way, and as military leaders and leaders in the Veteran community we must lead all soldiers, and Marines to embrace this next evolution in the finest fighting force in the history of the world.

No matter how one comes down on the policy change, one thing can definitely be said: ever since the policy was changed, thus propelling the idea of women in the Infantry from a very abstract idea to one of absolute reality, some really in depth and smart writing has surfaced. Writing which explores both sides, writing that admits the complexity of the issue, and most importantly writing that moves beyond the anecdotal, ridiculous and frankly insulting and sexist: “where will they pee?” arguments. Anyone still rattling off these reasons to ban women from the Infantry is just simply not educated on the issue, is inherently sexist, or both.

I do not kid myself and pretend that these four women selflessly volunteered to endure brutal Infantry training for the noble advancement of all female soldiers and Marines. I know a little bit about enlisted soldiers and Marines and it is probably much more likely that they very selfishly saw an opportunity and seized on it. Two of them probably wanted to just see if they could do it and the other two probably wanted to be Infantry Marines from the get go. Whatever their reasons, the Cadet in her junior year at West Point will have these four Infantry qualified Marines to thank when she fills out her “wish list” and places Infantry as her # 1 choice.

“Attention on Deck…All Marines with XX Chromosome will be Assigned Their Very Own Mentor”


Imagine if a 5 foot 3 inch, 150 lb enlisted Marine were going through the Marine Corps Infantry Course and the Marine Corps decided, that in order to ensure that this short, skinny Marine did not get badly injured or harassed, he was not only forced to attend the Infantry course with five additional short and skinny Marines to be his “Buddies”, but this short, skinny Marine would also be assigned two enlisted Marines of his same physical stature to be his Barracks “Monitors”.  His “Monitors would be there if he should happen to need advice about being short and skinny.  His “Monitors” would also be present to ensure that he did not inflict permanent physical damage to his body that would result in “career threatening injuries”. After all, a short and skinny Marine couldn’t possibly be able to determine this himself.

This is hard to imagine right?  It is hard to fathom because it would and has never happened.  Yet this is the very training arrangement that has been authorized by the Marine Commandant, as the first group of enlisted female Marines attempts to complete the enlisted Infantry course in Camp Geiger, N.C.  One note: the female Marines that will attempt the Infantry course will not actually be awarded the Infantry MOS should they graduate, they are simply volunteering to assist the Marine Corps in their study to determine if women should be allowed to pursue the Infantry as a career.

Continue reading

The “Shutdown” and “A Separate Class”


A U.S. Army Captain recently penned a small but thought-provoking piece in Tom Rick’s Blog: The Best Defense (FP). Captain Hardy’s Blog discussed the newly inherited “off-limits” and “separate class” status of soldiers and Veterans as it relates to the current shutdown crisis our government finds itself in. It got me thinking, are soldiers “special”, have we placed ourselves in a separate class from American civilian society on purpose, or were we placed there?  What is a modern soldier’s place in the State, what is the place of Veterans?  And finally what the hell is going on at the WWII Memorial?

Captain Hardy poses many interesting arguments in concern to our military’s current place in civilian society as well as the recent goings-on at the WWII Memorial ; most I wholly agree with, a few I do not.

I agree with the Captain’s assessment that our modern military has been placed unfairly upon an unrealistic and ridiculously high pedestal, and I think the Captain is dead right when he says that the placement upon this pedestal is a “slippery slope”…it is.  However, I disagree with the Captain’s opinion that we have placed ourselves in this status…we have not “self-separated” ourselves; it has been done to us.

Our new “separate class” and politically “off limits” status is the direct result of an all-volunteer force. We have been forcefully separated by the 99% of our civilian population who rightfully feels a tremendous amount of guilt for having ridden the bench during these last ten years of war. This is their way of making it all ok, and who can blame them, after all, they were never asked to give anything.…they are constantly delivering their reverence..and we let them…we take what kindness we can get. They recognize us at football games, build our wounded homes, send us “care packages”.  If there had been broad involvement in this ten year war, perhaps our military wouldn’t be forced by our guilty civilian masters to teeter on this unbelievably high pedestal, from which we will surely plummet.

I would also suggest that it is not the entire military and definitely not the entire population of America’s Veterans that has been placed in this separate class of warrior, removed from the orderly laws of our nation. You see, some Veterans are not seen in this way. The Iraq and Afghanistan War Vets are, because we are 1%, and that shameful number, in itself, is a debt we are owed by civilians. WWII Vets are, because they fought in a war that was supported and participated in, en mass…they are the “Greatest Generation”…they defeated the Nazis.  But are the Vets that fought in Vietnam seen and revered in this way?  I think not.  Would this group of Vets be allowed to skirt the laws of our nation?  Are they a “separate class”, “off limits”? No.

So what the hell is going on at the WWII Memorial in our nation’s capital, and what can it teach us about the current place of the soldier within the state? Should the “good” Vets from the “Greatest Generation” get a break? Would our civilian masters be as forgiving if a bunch of middle aged Vietnam Veterans stormed the Vietnam Memorial aided by bands of Harley driving Vet groups?  Something tells me probably not, you see they have and never will be politically “off limits”.  Perhaps this is because they were drafted, all were vulnerable to being called up, thus they were and remain not a “separate class”..they were and are our nation.  To be fair, WWII Vets were also drafted, so this is where my argument loses steam, and I remain confused. Personally I think that the WWII Vets are getting a break and allowed to slip through the barricades in their wheelchairs, simply because they are old…they pose no threat. I guess I might not know exactly what is going on at the WWII Memorial, but something defiantly is, and it is a lot more than just some barricades and a “shutdown”.

In any case, I know that the Captain and myself can agree that the events at the WWII Memorial are shameful, it is shameful that politicians of both parties would show up for photo ops, it is shameful that barricades were placed around the outdoor memorials that get a lot of visitation, but not around ones that do not, it is shameful that some Vets are deemed heroes, and some are not, it is shameful that the 99%, from whom nothing was demanded has, out of a massive amount of guilt, placed my generation of Vets in a “separate class”. They have sadly deemed us not subject to the orderly laws and rules of our nation, politically “off limits” to the consequences of the government “shutdown”. They have placed us upon a pedestal so high and so lofty we will surely never be able to maintain its height…and we have shamefully let them do it.