Jillian Michaels’ Life-Changing Visit to the Troops

Jillian Michaels

Though Jillian Michaels, the tough fitnesstrainer who spent 10 seasons on "The Biggest Loser," may have taken amilitant attitude when it came to helping contestants lose weight, she had noidea what a day in the life of actual military members serving overseas was ...until she made an emotional visit to a base in the Middle East to visit ouractive duty servicemen and women. Here, in her own words, Jillian tells thestory of her awe-inspiring discoveries, the amazing feats the troops performdaily, and what we can all do to support them.

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March 26, 2011: The game changer. I was speaking at a conference in D.C. and a USO rep reached out to me and invited me to visit Walter Reed Army Medical Center. This hospital is where many of our wounded warriors are brought to be rehabilitated from injuries incurred during battle.

It was incredibly serendipitous considering I happened to be in D.C. with a bit of free time. So, I went to pay a visit to our men and women in uniform to show my gratitude and appreciation.

To describe the injuries I saw and subsequently convey the courage and inspiration that went hand in hand with these wounds would be impossible using just words. You would have to meet these individuals in person, feel their energy, and hear their stories, both from the war and upon arriving home, to truly grasp what exceptional human beings they are. The sacrifices our military and their families are making on our behalf are extraordinary and, seemingly to this average American, beyond the call of duty.

I left there that day shattered and honestly ashamed, realizing that I had so often taken my freedom and the luxuries of being an American citizen for granted. Let's be brutally honest with each other: Unless you know someone fighting on the front lines or you've personally lost a loved one to the war or know someone who has, I bet you rarely, if ever, think about it, or our men and women who are fighting it.

The reality is that less than 1 percent of our population is shouldering the entire burden of two wars, both of which are longer than any war in American history, while nothing is asked of the other 99 percent of us.

I'm anti-war -- always have been as I can't be hypocritical. I wouldn't be able to bear having my child, husband, wife, sister, brother, friend, etc. in harm's way for any reason, no matter how noble or inappropriate (depending on your point of view).  That said, regardless, of where we stand on the issue, we must do our part to show gratitude and offer up support to our military and their families who take on this burden and make this sacrifice.

My business partner and I immediately planned a trip to the Middle East with the USO to visit our troops. We managed to organize it quickly and a few weeks later we were heading out.  For security reasons I can't disclose the locations.

After 30 or so hours of travel, I stepped off the plane into what I swear to you was Dante's ninth circle of hell.  The temperature was topping 137 degrees at times with 80 percent humidity and it was "only June," our escort told me, implying that it gets worse — "much worse." The sky was a dense brown haze.  The sand and dust were so thick in the air that you could barely make out your hand if it was right in front of your face.  Breathing felt like a near impossibility at first, as though you had wrapped your lips around the end of a hair dryer that came equipped with a built in sandblaster and felt your lungs seize and shrivel at the first inhale. I'm not quite sure what I had been expecting prior to this moment, but I instantly felt the gravity of the situation.

We were driven for a couple of hours through a barren desert of severe harsh terrain that looked as though we'd landed on some distant alien planet. I honestly can't tell you that I have ever felt quite so far from home.

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Finally we came upon the base. Nothing but sand, razorwire, and barricades for as far as my eyes could see. Then, just as I was fully convinced I'd gotten in over my head, the sight of our men and women in uniform nearly brought me to tears.  There they were, out there in this God forsaken hellhole, smiling and "doing their job." I felt a wash of security and comfort come over me as they checked us in, introduced themselves, and shook our hands -- all while military dogs and officers were searching our car for bombs.

We were then taken to our "barracks" so we might rest up for the next day after a quick bite in the "chow hall."  Our room had a pair of bunk beds, Wi-Fi, air conditioning, and indoor plumbing.  This, by the way, is the equivalent of a wartime Four Seasons. Most of our troops, in particular the ones on the front lines, are eating packaged MREs (highly processed food rations for taking into the field) sleeping 20 to a tent, waking up covered in sweat in cots that are literally inches apart, waiting to be fired upon.

Over the course of the next week I spent my time taking tours, shaking hands, sharing meals, and swapping stories with some of the most inspirational men and women I have ever had the fortune and pleasure to meet. Their feats of strength, discipline, courage, and most of all hospitality were awe-inspiring.

They work 24-hour shifts diffusing bombs, wearing an 80-pound suit in 140-degree heat.   They fly for 12 hours straight, alone, wrapped in an astronaut suit to keep their blood from boiling, wedged into a cockpit, peeing into a bag, and eating out of a tube at 70,000 feet — the edge of our atmosphere, the edge of outer space -- often risking neurological complications and even death from decompression sickness.

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They undergo rigorous training to take on the force of 9Gs (gravitational force) in a fighter jet while embroiled in a dogfight over enemy territory. At g-forces of 4 or 5, the average human would likely black out because their heart couldn't pump blood. It pools in the extremities, away from the brain, which doesn't receive enough oxygen and they would pass out.  If this happened in a fighter jet, obviously the consequence would be death.

I could go on and on, amazing you with these superhuman endeavors, but I've been allotted a word allowance so I'll get to the point. Our military are real-life heroes, the kind they make blockbuster movies about. They are out there everyday in harm's way, protecting us in some way shape or form without a complaint. It's our moral imperative, karmic debt, and social responsibility to give back and lift our service members and their families up.

Here are some options you and your family can pursue:

-- Make a donation to the USO, which goes directly to support our troops.  www.uso.org

-- Adopt a military unit or families within the unit through your church, service organization, or social club. Cook for them, provide transportation, organize social events and activities, and take up clothing, toys, school supplies, and food- for-food drives. For female service members, donate makeup, feminine products, clothes and, again, any item that their children could use or appreciate. With certain security clearance, you might even be able to babysit, or offer childcare or after school activities.

-- Donate time, clothes, household items and food to your local veteran service organization. Volunteers at U.S. VETS also help the organization's administrative staff with filing, data input, and office-related tasks. Visit www.serve.gov/vets to find out more.

-- Say thank you.  Let a service member know you care. This simple contact goes miles in letting them know you appreciate them and you're thinking about them. Visit www.letssaythanks.com to find out more.

-- Put me to work.  I am making it my mission to visit military bases around the United States to offer boot camps and Q&As for our service members and their families.  All you have to do to contribute here is like my facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/jillianmichaels  For every 100,000 new likes I accrue from now to September 1, I will visit and offer my services to a different base and donate Jillian Michaels products (books, DVDs, gear, etc.)

All that said, have a wonderful Independence Day!  Take a moment to be grateful and don't eat too much!

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