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Facing the “Elephants in the Room”

Organizations like Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs, led by Mixed Martial Artist Fighter and former Force Recon Marine Chad Robichaux, have seen 40% of the veteran graduates of his program who previously had symptoms of Post Traumatic Disorder (PTSD) demonstrate they no longer present with any clinical definitions of symptoms. Other organizations like this have seen tangible results that speak for themselves...

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You may recall me talking in my last blog post about how I would come to learn answers to big questions of military professionals (can I kill somebody in war, can I order somebody else to kill somebody in war, where do I go if I die, and am I prepared to have comrades die? For me in particular, I had the question “is there a God, who is He, and what does He expect of me?”

So I had come to the beginning of my journey FINALLY having peace about these questions and was excited to tell others and help my fellow comrades find the same thing I did. Unfortunately though opposition to my message and people like myself who wanted to share that message had started and was steam rolling pretty fast over the next decade because there was conflict over the exact definition of proselytization inside the military services. In late 2014 and early 2015, a definition of proselytization was finally brought to bear where it was seen as acceptable to share one’s faith publicly or privately with others provided it was done through the process of invitation and not in a manner that felt coerced. This pretty much aligned to what I had been taught by my mentors about the importance of sharing through genuine relationship with everybody around you. Now, many of my Christian friends and I who have served or do serve in the military could agree with this as we don’t subscribe to manipulative tactics of using our rank or position to force others to listen to our viewpoints. This is something I personally feel is wrong and is likely only to backfire in many ways. On the other hand, having a solution that works for you but not being willing to share it with others who have needs similiar to yours is not a great alternative either in my opinion.

In 2015, I was stationed in San Diego and was working in both military ministry and fitness ministry particularly in the CrossFit community where I worked as a CrossFit Level I coach at a gym in Escondido, CA. Working in Christian fitness ministry was a new wild concept that had been inspired by sports related ministry. My friend and somebody whom I would consider like a big sister, Becky Conzelman, a former military spouse, and an exceptional athlete who competed in the CrossFit games multiple times, founded the organization Faith Rx’d which would bring the hope of the Christian fatih to the CrossFit and fitness community. I was honored to partner with her and other volunteers from my gym to help bring a new dimension to wellness that often was overlooked. Unfortunately, Becky would pass on last year in April of 2019 from a brain aneurism, but her life work lives on in chapters in over 80+ cities in 9 different countries, but primarily in the US launched since 2013. I helped launch the San Diego Chapter of this organization and so I learned quite a bit about the integration of faith and fitness.

From a military standpoint, I was inspired to launch an outdoor adventure event for military men in Southern California called the “SoCal Crucible” under the authority of the Rock Church San Diego Military Ministry with the launch point of February of 2015 and the actual event taking place towards the end of September of 2015. I was asked to lead a “military men’s retreat” but I knew it couldn’t be a typical retreat as the guys I was looking to reach were high octane and needed some adventure and bold speakers they could related to. It was a big endeavor for me personally as the event was designed to be a Christian outreach event like what Promise Keepers were back in the 90s except for the military men's community. I was about to learn much over that season about organization, marketing, raising money, partnering with non-profit ministries and churches, talking to many different chaplains, and getting “butts in seats” to get participants from around Southern California to participate. I could sense some hesitation particularly among various leaders at that time because there was still some discomfort since 2010 when another event, “Rock the Fort”, a Christian concert led by the Billy Graham Evangelical Association in partnership with the Fort Bragg, NC base chaplain got a lot of bad press nationally at that time. I learned that part of the issue was that the base chaplain had used what I believe were appropriated funds for a non-federal entity not according to policy. After that, no large events and concerts like it were held because it was a season of fear real or perceived among evangelical Christian expression in the military of outside opposition groups who seemed to wield large influence among military leaders at that time. So, I was now heading into uncharted territory. I needed to do three things:

1) I would need to lead an event that military individuals could learn more about the Christian faith in a safe and fun manner appropriately given the freedom to do so.

2) I needed to do this without running afoul of military regulations which could get chaplains and other non-profit organizations in trouble.

3) I would have to “get butts in seats” which was first highlighted by a gentlemen who at the time served as the senior chaplain at one of the base chapels in Southern California.

However, during this time I also recognized a new wave of passion to share the Christian faith in the military community and nation as a whole with rising new innovative leadership especially in Southern California as newer leaders matured. Organizations like Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs, led by Mixed Martial Artist Fighter and former Force Recon Marine Chad Robichaux, have seen 40% of the veteran graduates of his program who previously had symptoms of Post Traumatic Disorder (PTSD) demonstrate they no longer present with any clinical definitions of symptoms. REBOOT, a partner organization to Mighty Oaks has also seen dramatic healing across the nation with both military members, veterans, and first responders that specializes in bringing a Christian faith solution tied into psychotherapy best practices to bring healing to the spiritual side of Post Traumatic Disorder. The tangible results of these organizations and others like this speak for themselves. Their credibility is so much that a few of these leaders to include Chad Robichaux have spoken to Congress about their work in petitioning the funding of faith based programs as an alternative to Veteran Administrative Programs based on the tangible solutions brought in starting to deal with the suicide and PTSD epidemic in the military and veteran community of the United States.

There was something I learned though from a chaplain at that time that would be a key for success for me. He explained that organizations opposed to faith based organizations in the military basically had an issue with the idea of “government endorsement” which tangibly came using government resources. However, to paraphrase him, he said if an organization paid money to rent facilities and go through the appropriate legal and vetting process that other non-federal entities had with a similiar chance of access, the argument was null and void. I instantly recognized what he was saying. If I raised the money and then spent it on behalf of a faith based organization on a military base, then nobody could come back and say there was favoritism shown. In fact, a short time before I hosted an event, a Christian faith based event for military women was held on on a base in Southern California and another organization complained about it. The chaplain told the organization that the Christian faith based non-profit paid money to rent the facilities on base and they were welcome to spend money and rent from the government themselves if they liked. Needless to say, the opposition organization dropped the argument.

In the end despite many obstacles along the way, we had speakers like former Force Recon member, Chad Robichaux, Navy SEAL Remi Adeleke, Author and Former Army Chaplain Cliff Graham come to speak to the military men gathered all with a unique frame of reference to articulate the Christian faith. I should also say as part of the attraction, we had outdoor adventure events like jet skiing, paintball, shooting, and skydiving. I was told that the cap would be 1500 people, but in the end the total participation with volunteers was about 10% of that. Still, a few military personnel were inspired to subscribe to the Christian belief system that night surrendering their lives to God's purpose the first night of the weekend event, and many relationships were formed that would enable future events.

In 2016, I would host the SoCal Crucible event again in Southern California this time under a non-profit organization called Soul Survivor Outdoor led by LtCol Rick Wolf, USMC (Ret) and partnered with Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs again. We also had other speakers to include a Christian ministry couple whose husband served many years in the SEAL community and a well-respected Navy chaplaincy couple by both Marines and Sailors. This time the event had more of a outdoor adventure physical race to it called the Freedom Challenge with various speakers lined up in a round robin manner which departed from the previous year’s event of being more like a typical men’s retreat. We also had military women this time at the event. Outdoor adventure as part of the Freedom Challenge included archery, functional fitness, and trap shotgun shooting all tied in with various credible military community speakers on relevant topics to the military community with a Christian faith solution. The event cost to host it dropped slightly. owever, the turnout did not change much (about 100 participants) despite all the hard marketing efforts, speakers with amazing credibility as military community leaders, outreach to chaplains, churches, etc. While all of us who participated as leaders applauded it a success, deep down I could tell we all felt like, “how come more people didn’t show up?” Yes, we stayed out of trouble, participants had fun, lives were changed, relationships were formed, etc., but the tangible return on investment of money invested (about $100 per person) for a day event didn’t seem all that sustainable in the long run. Something had to change in terms of getting participation numbers up while driving down the costs. More on that in a future post though. Send me an email with your thoughts on the SoCal Crucible events.

Land of the Free Because of the Brave,