November is National Military Fitness and Wellness Month. The purpose of this month is to raise awareness of the importance of health and fitness for serving members of the United States Armed Forces, veterans who have served, and their families. One group that is very active in supporting military and veterans is Matt Hesse and his organization FitOps Foundation. According to the FIt Ops website, their mission is “to enable veterans to discover new purpose through the power of fitness and community.”
As Founder of FitOps and Founder and CEO of the University of Health and Performance, Matt Hesse has seen firsthand the differences these organizations make.
Hesse had a few family members from previous generations serving their country, but his own call to join the U.S. military came to him for a different reason. He was looking for a way to overcome a difficult upbringing.
“A lot of young men and women are called into service to feel safe,” Hesse said. “I think a lot of kids can’t help themselves, and when they have difficulties or trauma, they have empathy so other people don’t feel what they feel.”
Despite his difficult years as a child, Hesse sees the positive that came out of it, which helped him move forward when he became an adult.
“It made me want to help others not to feel the same as me. There is also a real gift there because that is what calls young people to help others. It can be difficult for the child, but it creates a servant and a leader in that person’s heart.
Matt Hesse served six years in the military before moving on to the next phase of his life. During this time, he met leaders who served as positive examples for him to follow.
“I think the military has played a vital role in helping me become the man I am and teaching me the value of having values.”
After his military service career ended, he found another way to fulfill a purpose to serve – through physical fitness. A wrestler in middle school and high school, he used fitness to help him improve in school and escape his childhood troubles. He still trains regularly today as it has become part of his foundation. Once Matt Hesse left the military, he went to school with his GI Bill and started working for a nutrition store. He also began writing programs and providing supplements for athletes at school. He became so passionate about nutrition that he eventually became a store owner himself. He prioritized hiring veterans to help them find new ways to make a difference.
“There is a way to serve when you get out of uniform. I think once you do that and have it in your heart, it never goes away. This purpose and meaning in life is your North Star, and finding it is the most important step in transition.
Matt Hesse said not taking the time to find out who you are and what you’re passionate about can be a reason veterans feel lost after moving on to the next phase of life. His passion for fitness and wellness combined with his intention to help other veterans was the start of Hesse’s next chapter in his career and life, which led to the creation of FitOps, and ultimately, from Health and Performance University, which Hesse began expanding after selling his sports nutrition business in 2017. It started out as a 30-day camp in Texas, but grew into something much more important.
“FitOps was the culmination of my desire to end the suffering of our population, and I believe we need to stop feeling sorry for the veteran population and start empowering them.”
The combination of FitOps and the University is different from other nonprofit organizations that work alone to raise funds. They want to help these veterans build a foundation to prepare for long-term success. Fitness is an important component of what they do, but it’s so much more than that. The ultimate goal is to position people to thrive and make a positive difference. That purpose is what many veterans lack in Hessian eyes, and it could be a reason why so many veterans struggle after finishing their military careers.
“The goal is to teach veterans what I’ve learned and the awareness I’ve gained through the power of fitness on emotional and mental health in a professional manner.”
The role of the University is to help veterans and active duty military personnel become trainers and serve through the power of coaching. Health and Performance University was accredited in the State of Arkansas in 2020, and Hesse invested in 500 acres of land to create the first campus for active military and veterans to learn about fitness and well-being as a vocation. Graduates can start a coaching career or possibly work in nutrition stores if they decide to focus on entrepreneurial goals. FitOps serves as a research and scholarship program for the University.
Matt Hesse isn’t the only person aligned with this mission. He found an ally in legendary WWE Superstar and actor John Cena. Cena is known for his support of children and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, but the former ‘The Marine’ star is also passionate about helping those who helped protect freedom,
“He’s a serious guy, and everything he touches has to be genuine,” he shared. “He has been a supporter with both resources and time. He mentored vets and continues to talk to vets he met on campus.
What started as a small way to help veterans has grown into a movement that has served many people across the country. Matt Hesee remains as committed to this mission as he was in service to our nation when he was in the military himself. Beyond what he does now, he also has a book in development called “The Purpose Blueprint”, which can help those leaving the service find that new purpose. Ultimately, he hopes his efforts go beyond measurable measures of success like money or fame. Its mission is to change the visions of veterans.
“I believe it is essential that we reshape the way civilians see veterans and the way veterans see themselves. It is my mission.
For more information on FItOps, visit www.fitops.org. To learn more about the University of Health and Performance, visit www.university-hp.com. You can also follow Matt Hesse @matt_hesse, @fitops and @university_hp on Instagram.