Jacob Levin is a VOC member, former Army infantry officer and the founder of Ulysses Training, an online personal training and nutrition company. To find out more about his services, please visit www.ulyssestraining.net or email him directly at email@example.com.
My military career ended with a car accident. I was on the road to the gym and, for reasons that still escape me, I turned left when I shouldn’t have and was T-boned by an old woman whose Buick totaled my Honda Pilot. She was alright. I had a broken nose, friction burns down my arm, and a damaged spine. I don’t remember turning. It’s still hard to swallow that my life changed so abruptly because of a decision I can’t remember making.
I fought to stay in the military. I appealed my Medical Examination Board twice, at the local and regional level. I lost both appeals without ever getting the chance to stand before the Board, a blow that felt like cruelty. But the military isn’t intentionally cruel to young, damaged, lieutenants. It just doesn’t need them.
I transitioned out of the military in March of 2013 and drove away from Columbus, Georgia with very little self-esteem, a chronic injury, and a big drinking problem. And my story isn’t at all unique. Most of us come out of the military with issues of some sort. Sadly, for many of us, those issues seem insurmountable.
About a year after I left the Army, I walked into a gym and a few weeks later I was helping to run a free youth program. Suddenly I was working with young men and women again. That gym gave me a gift.
It was the first time I really understood that I could still make a difference without a uniform. It was the first time I felt a shadow of the purpose I’d felt when I was commissioned as a second lieutenant.
Slowly, over the last six years, fitness has become the crux on which my life turns. But it’s not flexing in the mirror that keeps me going back. As soldiers, Marines, Seamen, and Airmen, we become used to thinking of ourselves in a certain way. Our uniform, haircut, and demeanor all stamp us out as different. We always know where we stand in the chain of command, and we always know we have someone to rely on when things get tight.
There is no magic pill to swallow that will cure us of the loneliness and the sense of despair many veterans feel when we first transition out of the military. We can’t simply snap our fingers and forge the sort of support structure that we once possessed. Whether we left voluntarily or against our will, the transition from military to civilian is a traumatic one. One day you’re one thing. The next, you’re something else.
We need something to focus on, some sort of bridge between the two lives. Many of us focus on being veterans, and allowing that to become a large part of our identity. It’s a ready-made community for us. There’s nothing wrong with this, and I am as proud of my service as anything I’ve ever done in my life. But for me, being a veteran is about what I used to do. It says very little about who I am now.
Fitness is a way to bridge the gap between service and civilian.
It is one of the healthier habits that we all form in our time in the military. In the midst of the transition, as we begin our own businesses or launch careers in the private sector, fitness is also one of the first habits that many of us discard. I would argue that tossing it aside is a mistake.
As veterans and soldiers, we often refer to ourselves as warriors. We take pride in our service to our country, as we should. It worries me, however, that many of us don’t continue to care for ourselves as warriors. We no longer hold ourselves ready for the call to arms. It saddens me to think that so many of us focus on what we have already done, rather than what we might do in the future.
Alfred Lord Tennyson once wrote “Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’ we are not now that strength which in old days moved Earth and Heaven, that which we are, we are; one equal temper of heroic hearts made weak by time and fate yet strong in will, to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
Tennyson is the poet who wrote The Charge of the Light Brigade, which memorialized an infamous breakdown in communication and the brave men who died because of it. He understood the costs of military service better than many of his peers. The lines I quoted above are from Ulysses. I think about them a lot. I formed my personal training company and veteran owned business because I was so inspired by them.
I don’t mean to imply that we as veterans should hold ourselves ready to leap back into a violent profession. For many of us, that isn’t an option. For most of the rest, it’s certainly not an appealing one. However, being physically fit opens a vast world of opportunities and adventures for us. It allows us to seek out new challenges and overcome them, to feel as though we’re still capable of creating change in the world around us.
I think this is even more true of the veteran entrepreneurs among us. We’re men and women who are striving to create something, building upon the discipline and the mental toughness that the military gave us. We want to make a positive mark on the world around us. It does not seem such a stretch, then, to suggest that being physically fit will help us accomplish that.
Quite apart from the obvious health benefits, I think that
Being physically fit endows us with a sense of self-confidence. It is an outward projection of our interior lives.
It serves as a fantastic break from the pressures that shape our lives as veteran business owners. Most importantly, however, it ties who we are now to who we were. We may no longer be the barrel-chested freedom fighters of our youth, but none of us are the sort to back down from a challenge. Of all the many habits to discard from our time in uniform, I really hope that fitness is one you choose to keep.
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