Life After War

Coming home from war is a happy occasion – but transitioning back into civilian life carries unique challenges. One Marine veteran in Virginia found new opportunities in the transition – and now he helps others do the same.

Meet Brian Wilson


 A Marine from 2000-2006, Wilson served in Bosnia, East Africa, and Iraq. He moved to Washington, D.C., in 2006. And although he was thankful to come out of the experience with “all his fingers and toes,” the transition was tough.

It was nice to be in the city, but I was trying to replicate some of the stresses that I was under in Iraq. You just kind of seek out dangerous situations. You look for certain circumstances where you can recreate the stresses that you were under in places like Iraq.

That’s when Wilson discovered CrossFit – an instant community of fitness lovers that not only helped with his mental well-being, but his physical health, too.

I had a 40 percent disability rating. My knees and ankles were shredded. … I was doing one or two workouts a week and within three months, my knee pain was gone.

Then Wilson met Chip Gabriel and Pat Murray, two veterans who had survived terrible injuries. Gabriel suffered a stroke as a result of traumatic brain injury, and Murray had lost his leg in Fallujah in 2004. Wilson spent six months with them doing small-group training and saw them improving both physically and mentally.

Pat Murray and Brian Wilson at CrossFit Walter Reed. Photo courtesy of Brian Wilson

Pat Murray and Brian Wilson at CrossFit Walter Reed. (Photo courtesy of Brian Wilson)

This led Wilson to join another veteran CrossFit athlete with connections to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and create a training program for veterans who were hungering for a challenge.

CrossFit Walter Reed Photo 3V Video CrossFit Walter Reed courtesy of Brian Wilson

CrossFit Walter Reed (Photo: 3V Video, CrossFit Walter Reed, courtesy of Brian Wilson)

They started out working with just a few amputees, but are now operating in a fully stocked CrossFit gym dedicated to providing free workouts three times a week. CrossFit donated $25,000 worth of gear to the cause.

Now CrossFit Walter Reed is the only CrossFit gym in the world that caters exclusively to those injured in the line of service.


CrossFit Walter Reed (Photo: 3V Video, CrossFit Walter Reed, courtesy of Brian Wilson)

They were trained in highly skilled maneuvers, and now their legs or arms are missing.

That’s a blow to the ego as much as it is to the body.

Wilson describes the CrossFit community at Walter Reed as a group of people who want to help veterans, and do it in a “tangible way.”

Rather than pat you on the back and say thank you for your service, I think folks in CrossFit gym can offer a lot more to veterans … A very grueling, very demanding challenge that they have to push through that is going to remind them of a lot of the things they had to do in Afghanistan – in that positive, community-based environment where it’s all good in the end.

The guys he’s working with are like Jake Hill, whose first injury happened when he stepped on an IED. His second, he was bashed in the head.


Corporal Jake Hill, United States Marine Corps. (Photo: 3V Video, CrossFit Walter Reed, courtesy of Brian Wilson)

He and his fellow CrossFitters love their Walter Reed workouts for the sense of camaraderie it brings that is often lost after leaving the military.


CrossFit Walter Reed (Photo: 3V Video, CrossFit Walter Reed, courtesy of Brian Wilson)

When Wilson isn’t volunteering at CrossFit Walter Reed, he’s coaching at Potomac CrossFit and Patriot CrossFit in Virginia.


(Photo courtesy of Brian Wilson)

As Memorial Day weekend approaches, we are remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country – and supporting those who are having a tough time coming home.

Heritage Foundation