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