VFW Magazine — June/July 2017
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Nearly 300 CrossFit gyms are located on military bases. Active-duty troops and veterans alike have become members of the worldwide fitness program to stay in shape and be part of a ‘new family.’

Load the barbell. Turn up the music. Mentally prepare. And three. Two. One. GO. So begins a typical work-out at the box — the moniker for a gym in the world of CrossFit. It’s a world born from the mind of Greg Glassman and established in 2000, focusing on functional movements at a high intensity. Since then, it has gained international traction, encompassing the civilian world alongside veteran and active-duty military communities.

Jared Harmon-Moore, a life member of VFW Post 6654 in De Soto, Kan., retired April 1 after 29 years in the Navy and 20 deployments in 26 years. The community at Solution 1 CrossFit in Shawnee, Kan., has been key to his transition.

“I have loved every opportunity that the Navy’s given me… [but] CrossFit and knowing that those folks have now become my new family, it’s really eased my mental stress about leaving the Navy behind,” said Harmon-Moore, who retired as a senior chief hospital corpsman after serving in Iraq in 2004 with 3rd Bn., 24th Marine Regt., 1st Marine Div. and in 2006 with 3rd Bn., 14th Marines. He also deployed to Yemen aboard the USS Tarawa.


Dave Hudson, co-owner/coach at CrossFit Unconquered in Leavenworth, Kan., was introduced to CrossFit in 2009 while still in the Army. He gave it one month and worked out on his own, using the “workout of the day” (WOD) posted on the CrossFit website.

In that time, he gained strength, improved his cardio and “lost a little bit of body fat.”

Hudson served in Iraq from the end of 2006 to the end of 2007 with the 887th Eng. Co., 20th Eng. Bn., assigned to the 1st Cav Division HQ in Baghdad. He was in the Philippines in 2009 on a joint special-ops task force and in Afghanistan in 2012 and 2012-13 on the military information support task force. He said he was on the “typical gym-rat routines” prior to starting CrossFit.

It wasn’t until his deployment to the Philippines that he started working out in a group.

“That’s where I was really sold on it, on CrossFit, because it’s a great workout by itself, but the social aspect, being with other people suffering along with you... and competing against them as well,” Hudson said.

After one year of CrossFit, Hudson became certified as a Level One coach. It wasn’t long until he was stationed at Fort Leavenworth and coaching at the base’s military affiliate, Iron Major CrossFit. Since then, he also has coached at Red Point CrossFit in Fayetteville, N.C. Hudson has been with CrossFit Unconquered since June 2016.

Asher Boucher, a member of VFW Post 2016 in Amesbury, Mass., said his journey to CrossFit has been “a spiritual experience.”

He served in Iraq in 2003 as a field radio operator with the 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion attached to A Co., 1st Bn., 4th Marines. After his discharge in 2005, Boucher “chased an accounting career” through Boston to New York. He was first drawn to CrossFit a few years ago after dropping in at CrossFit Total Control in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., with a friend. At the time, he was training for a half Iron Man race.

CrossFit Total Control started a “flexible-diet challenge” about one-and-half years ago, according to Boucher, and he became “heavily involved” with that.

“There always just felt like there was something missing,” Boucher said, “and so my life’s changed a lot in the last year. I found Christianity [and] decided to move away from a promising accounting career to really start from scratch with this performance nutrition coaching.”

He later established Flexible Dieting Consultants, which, as of mid-March, had been active about four months. Boucher, who currently lives in Florida, continues to partner with CrossFit Total Control.


Dr. Walker Poston, senior principal investigator and director of the institute for biobehavioral health research at the National Development and Research Institute, is currently studying the effects of a CrossFit-inspired exercise program in the military. He published a review article with five other researchers (Is High-Intensity Functional Training (HIFT)/CrossFit Safe for Military Fitness Training?) in Military Medicine in 2016.

The article states that in 2014, 281 nonprofit CrossFit affiliates were located on military installations. Within the U.S., affiliates were found with the following:

Army (50)

Army National Guard units (6)

Air Force bases (37)

Air National Guard units (6)

Coast Guard stations (12)

Navy installations (16)

Marine Corps bases (17)

Joint Base installations (5)

Hudson is one of those who start-ed a military affiliate while stationed in Afghanistan. He did so during the CrossFit Open, a three-part, worldwide competition to determine who is the fit-test on earth. Participants are judged on their workouts. They also can submit videos of themselves completing the workouts to the CrossFit Games website.

Military affiliates, according to Hudson, are a good way for deployed soldiers to find “a group of folks” to share workouts.

“Having an affiliate and someone obviously trained to coach and teach you the movements gives you a little bit of a reprieve from the hurry up and go of being downrange in a war zone,” Hudson said.

Additionally, the review article states that Army Gen. Robert B. Abrams implemented CrossFit five years ago for soldiers in the 3rd Infantry Division during his time as commanding general.

A lot of military fitness program-ming focuses on passing fitness tests, an upper-body strength component and a core-endurance component, according to Poston, who served in the Air Force from 1989 to 1995 in the biomedical sciences.

HIFT, such as CrossFit, “tries to mimic things that you might actually do as part of your job if in a tactical profession,” according to Poston.

“You pick up ammo cans, for example,” Poston said, “and carry them like you might a farmer’s carry, one per hand.”

However, some have reservations about the high-intensity training. Five representatives of Uniformed Services University’s military and emergency medicine and preventive medicine and biometrics departments, along with U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., responded to Poston’s article in a 2017 Military Medicine letter to the editor.

The authors of the letter argue that each branch of service “revised their PT (physical training) programs long ago, by de-emphasizing running and over-training in favor of combat-focused and operationally relevant PT, which often include elements of HIFT.”

“Military training is inherently dangerous and takes place in every environment,” the authors wrote. “As such, military planners conduct risk assessments to ensure training is no more dangerous than required.”

Katie Heinrich, an exercise behavioral science professor at Kansas State University, is the faculty advisor for K-State CrossFit and got into the work-out regimen while working at the University of Hawaii.

From the beginning of her CrossFit journey, Heinrich said, she has been “surrounded by active-duty military” from all branches of service. Some of her students are veterans, and she said one is interested in “the applications of CrossFit to address PTSD.”

Heinrich also is working with Poston on an ongoing study of how CrossFit-type programming can reduce obesity.

The five-year study, currently in its third year, is funded by the National Institute for Health. However, because of the study’s design, Heinrich said, Poston and she are not able to view data until the end of the five-year period.

“It’s been a very interesting, challenging and rewarding process to work with the Army,” Heinrich said, “and we’ve met some really great people and made some really good connections through that.”


While serving, Harmon-Moore said, workout regimens consisted of “the daily seven,” which usually included pushups, jumping jacks and runs ranging any-where from three to 10 miles.

“With the infantry, I can say we might run a little bit here and there, but most of the work [is done with] a 110-pound pack plus body armor and weapons,” Harmon-Moore said.

CrossFit workouts, according to Harmon-Moore, focus more on flexibility and mobility, which he did not notice in the military.

“It makes a difference,” Harmon-Moore said. “Shoulder mobility makes a difference between good pullups and painful pullups.”

Jenn Wiest, a registered nurse with the Medical Detachment of the Kansas Army National Guard for 10 years, has been involved with CrossFit consistently for nearly two years. A member of Solution 1 CrossFit, she said she likes the workout regimen’s “functional fitness” aspect.

In the National Guard, she said, troops do not always do PT work as a group, only seeing each other one weekend per month and at a two-week annual train-ing session.

“We’re kind of on our own as far as keeping up with our own physical fitness,” Wiest said. “We still have to meet the standards [that the] active Army does.”

For Harmon-Moore, the “mental fortitude” it took to persist in the military has translated to CrossFit, just “with improved abilities and desires.”

“Unless you truly don’t try, you can’t suck at CrossFit after a year,” Harmon-Moore said.


For Boucher, the camaraderie of CrossFit compares to the military in the sense that a person gets “more out of it when other people are egging you on.”

“It’s a very conducive environment to getting more out of yourself than if it was just you in a silo motivating yourself,” Boucher said.

Harmon-Moore compared the environment in a box to serving alongside “young guys” in combat who are unsure of themselves or a task they’re required to perform.

“In CrossFit, everybody does that,” Harmon-Moore said. “There are new people who are trying, older people who after years of sedentary lifestyle, just something clicked in them that day that, ‘I’m going to do this.’ I love that.”

Boucher said he told his younger cousin, who joined the Marines last year, that CrossFit is “the best thing that would prepare you” for combat in an urban environment.

“If CrossFit had been around when I joined, that’s 100 percent how I would have prepared,” Boucher said. “Just get-ting your heart rate jacked up, the mov-ing of heavy weight. It’s the best transfer.”

Since making CrossFit part of her routine, Wiest said, her overall health has improved, and it helps her stay in shape for drill weekends.

“I like being there with other people and interacting with them,” Wiest said. “I feel like it improves how you do with fitness versus going to a conventional gym where you’re kind of on your own.”

Harmon-Moore said he drives 107 miles round trip in one day to go to work and hit the box for the WOD. The people and the accountability factor keep him motivated to make that drive.

“It’s been a really great transition for me from the military, from a combat background where it’s high energy and it’s explosive, and now you’ve got a bunch of people in the same type of suck with you,” Harmon-Moore said.

Hudson’s enjoyment of CrossFit circles back to why he became a coach in the first place — to help people become better versions of themselves, both physically and mentally.

During this year’s CrossFit Open, one of Hudson’s clients got her first pullup while another who wasn’t sure she could “squat to depth” did just that.

“She was getting lower than I can,” Hudson said. “And just hearing the members talk about, ‘Man, I was on a high all day after I got that workout done and seeing what I can do.’ So that’s what keeps bringing [me back].”

However, Heinrich said that “CrossFit is not for everyone.” Qualitative research she has conducted shows that some believe the workout regimen is “intimidating” and, therefore, will never try it.

“The people who enjoy it, they really get into it, and it becomes part of their lifestyle,” Heinrich said.

Heinrich also said those who stick with CrossFit are typically interested in intense exercises.

“It’s people who enjoy the process of learning and developing competence in the skill, as well as the community aspect,” Heinrich said.

When Boucher talks to friends he served with, he tells them how CrossFit is “a natural fit” for people who were in the military.

“You get that team environment that you lose when you leave the military,” Boucher said. “A lot of the stuff that I missed and longed for, I found in a CrossFit gym.”