By Christy Baroni
Here at CTF, we meet Murph every Memorial Day. If you aren’t familiar with Lt Michael Murphy, for whom this Hero WOD is named, please take 6 minutes out of your day today and read this. His heroism and courage is undeniable, and Memorial Day is our opportunity to reflect and remember him along with the many others who have paid the ultimate price in their service. The motto of the Wounded Warrior Project is “the greatest casualty is being forgotten”, which rings true in the very purpose of doing any Hero WOD. Coach Glassman has said that we do Hero WODs to honor a debt that cannot be repaid.
To honor. A debt.
It is in that spirit that I want to share the story of my own personal Murph. A man who laid down his life while at the same time saving others. Let me introduce you to General Thomas “Pugs” Tinsley.
Pugs was the first squadron commander my husband ever reported to in an active duty fighter squadron. He was larger than life. Literally. He stood head and shoulders above other men. A decorated fighter pilot, he was a giant barrel-chested beast of a man whose mere presence commanded attention. It was no wonder he led the most forward deployed fighter squadron in the world.
He was equal parts respected leader and lovable, laughable, generous family man. As a lowly dependent of a 1st Lieutenant, I had no expectations of this man. However, I learned more about leadership and mentorship from him than from anyone else I’ve ever met. He not only knew my name, which many in his position don’t even bother with, he actually got to know me. He cared that his airmen were good to their families which is a quality I rarely saw in the active duty world. He was the very definition of ‘work hard, play hard’ and he expected his troops to be their best in every area of their lives.
You can imagine my heartbreak on the morning of July 27, 2008 when I learned that he had died. It was shocking, and I assumed that the stress of carrying an entire generation of fighter pilots finally caught up with him.
Hours later I learned that he had taken his own life. In his own home, with his wife and daughter upstairs while he ended it all in his basement. The horror of his final moments still make me feel sick to my stomach. I cannot imagine the path that led him there. I will never know the whole story.
In the passing years I have become more and more uncomfortable with the stereotype of the soldier as hero. That may seem harsh to you, but let me give you a peek behind the camouflage curtain. In active duty ranks, there is a very hidden and very high occurrence of alcoholism, domestic violence, and depression among other things. It is fact that a service member who seeks mental health counseling is no longer eligible for promotion. So the very people who are humble enough to actually seek help to process their experiences are the ones who are marked. Because those conditions are seen as weaknesses, which is a sad yet real reflection of our understanding of mental health.
The very ones who seek healing are removed from the conversation.
When we hyperbole these men to be heroes, it becomes easy to miss their basic human needs. They are heroes, without a doubt, but they are human too and we can reward their heroism with more than a label.
The months leading up to his death, Pugs secured the ability for his service members to be seen off base for mental health counseling. Meaning that one could seek help without fear of their career being cut short. In his last months of life he could not access what he needed most, and even then he worked to make sure that no one else suffered the same.
That act reminds me of Murph, who in the last moments of his own life chose to save others knowing the price would be death.
I honor the debt of his service and life with this. As his daughter once painfully shared with me, there will never be a 5k run in his honor. There will never be a scholarship fund, or a stretch of highway, or even a WOD named for him. So, this Memorial Day I keep both Murph and Pugs on my shoulders as I move through this workout. This act alone does nothing more than secure a memory. It’s my part of the promise to never forget.
Whether a soldier dies on the battlefield or dies from unseen wounds that never heal, their memory is a powerful fuel.
Applying this to your WOD is easy. Keep an active eye on your people. When you are at the end of your ability, and your next rep seems impossible, take that moment to look around you. Find the person who is struggling and offer a word of encouragement. Use your breath to speak life to them, knowing that your words are fully capable of doing that.
Applying this in life is trickier, but we still need to keep an active eye on our people. That person who just hasn’t been themselves lately is worth a phone call. Often just the act of reaching out is enough.
But if that act is not enough, speak up. We are all just humans, and we all have demons that we battle. Some demons are big and loud and easy to spot. Others not so much. The one that you feed isn’t always the one who wins. Often the demon that is suppressed and ignored over and over again is the one who eventually rises. And what are we here for if not to bear each other’s burdens?