Amid Camp Atterbury, Indiana, a soldier's journey unfolds— a tale not of invulnerability, but of resilience, transformation, and a relentless pursuit of self-improvement. Meet Sergeant Major Justin Kline, a seasoned warrior with 18 years in the US Army, whose life story transcends the ordinary. Beyond the uniform lies a man who found solace in the grind of fitness, reshaping not only his own trajectory but also inspiring a collective pride in those who serve alongside him. As we immerse ourselves in Kline's experiences, we gain insights into how the principles of respect have guided him through the twists and turns of his remarkable path. Whether Kline is reflecting on his early military service, overcoming personal challenges, or inspiring a collective commitment to fitness, these stories serve as a poignant reminder of the enduring importance of respect in our individual journeys and the vast communities we navigate. Now, in Kline's own words, let's uncover the wisdom he shares from a life dedicated to service and self-improvement.
“I’m Justin Kline and am currently a Brigade Operations Sergeant Major for the 157th Infantry Brigade at Camp Atterbury, IN. I am married and a father of two. When I’m not serving as the OPS NCO I train and compete across a spectrum of sports in an effort to show as many people as I can that you can find so much stress relief and joy in fitness.
The Brigade Operations Sergeant Major is responsible for all Operations across the Brigade and the personnel in the Operations Cell or S3 at the Brigade Level. I keep the staff on task and hold them accountable for ensuring the Brigade is accomplishing the mission.
I have been in the US Army for 18 years. I was just recently promoted to the rank of Sergeant Major. I started my career as a Radio Telephone Operator (RTO) in the 25th Infantry Division. I was in Alpha Company, 2-27 IN Regiment. I did two deployments with 2-27. I was then stationed at Ft. Liberty, NC, and deployed to Afghanistan. We helped Special Operations Forces (SOF) stand up multiple Village Stability Platforms across the country. I then was selected to serve as a Ranger Instructor at the 5th Ranger Training Battalion in Dahlonega, GA. It was while stationed at Camp Merrill that I started to fall into some bad habits and quickly found myself looking at being chaptered from the Military. I had been drinking pretty regularly and had gained quite a bit of weight. I was up to 225 pounds. I for the first time started to get taped for the ABCP program that the Army did. I knew I needed a change. I never cared about fitness, but I knew I needed to do something. I hated running, especially any sort of distance.
Being stationed in the Appalachian Mountains, the no-brainer was to start mountain biking. So that’s what I did. I quickly began to love mountain biking and got invited to do an endurance-style mountain bike race. While training for this, I really began to love the grind of training. Other people started to notice the vast improvements that I had made. It really showed me how you can influence the circle around you. So, it became a passion of mine to push harder and try to do things that seemed really hard so that people around me might be inspired to take on more and shoot for things that they thought were too hard. After serving there, I made my way back to Hawaii and was assigned to the 1-27 IN Regiment. I served as a Platoon Sergeant and First Sergeant. While both a PSG and 1SG, I challenged my Soldiers to PT Competitions and continued to race in my free time. I started to post my training on social media and this is when the ability to influence a large collective became apparent to me. So many soldiers saw what I was doing and you could see the Platoon and Company take pride in fitness. Often we see senior leaders who are extremely out of shape and just get by. I think showing the Soldiers that even as a senior leader you can continue to get after it. I had a standing challenge that if anyone beat any of my PRs in running they could have a 4 day weekend. It was never broken while I was there.
After serving there, I went to Ft. Moore, GA, and served as a First Sergeant in the 2-58 IN BN OSUT. This was the first time that I had the opportunity to compete in the Best Ranger Competition. I literally had no idea how to really train for it. So I reached out to so many of my friends that had experience and we put together a pretty sketchy plan, but it was a plan. I had a huge base knowledge of endurance and my partner was big into CrossFit so we merged the two together and away we went. The new Soldiers saw the training that my partner and I were doing and you could see that they started to take PT more seriously. Even if it wasn’t PT related I could tell that the Soldiers were watching everything I was doing. Just noticing my dedication to fitness started to influence them to watch everything I was doing. Then COVID brought it all to an end. I was so disappointed, but the world came to a stop. Then, the next year BRC was a go again. So, I found a partner, albeit last minute, and we started training. With no resources, very little support, and full-time positions, somehow we pulled out a 15th-place finish. I had a broken foot and my partner's IT Band was destroyed, but we didn’t quit and crossed that finish line. The willpower that it took for both my partner and me to cross the finish line inspired so many around us. I think those moments influenced more people than all the training videos we put together.
I was selected to attend the Sergeants Major Academy. So I spent a year at Ft. Bliss, TX getting a higher education. Since graduating from the Academy I have been at Camp Atterbury, IN serving as an Operations SGM. Again, the opportunity to compete in the Best Ranger Competition came up. I was getting older, I was 39 years old and had spent a year in college. I was not in peak physical shape, I was still eager to engage. I turned this into an opportunity to showcase that although we are getting old, we don’t have to slow down or expect to do less. I’m in the best shape of my life, now at 40, than I have ever been. I spent 4 months intensely training with the other 3 competitors from our Division, and when game day hit, my partner and I were ready. We pulled off a 4th-place finish. We were in the running for 1st place the whole time, but just couldn’t get it all to fall into place. Now, almost a full year later, we are staring at tryouts again and hopefully another run at holding those 1911’s up in the air.
Fitness has become my passion. I have found that through social media, your circle of influence can increase. With an increase of influence, you can reach so many more people and inspire them to become the best version of themselves. Right now, the 50m and 10m target is the Best Ranger Competition. At the end of the month, I will be competing in the Division Tryouts to become a member of the Division BRC Team. Then after that, full steam ahead on training for the competition in April!
This is the biggest physical and public event the US Army puts on. The level of athletes that show up to the Best Ranger Competition are legitimately Olympic-level athletes. This competition is absolute bragging rights, not only for the competitors, but the units themselves. Every Division in the Army wants to win the Best Ranger Competition.
I can without a doubt say that self-doubt is my biggest obstacle. I fight it every day. I’ve seen the results, I’ve seen the messages from people telling me about how I impacted their life. But every day I feel fake. I feel like I don’t deserve the praise I’ve gotten. Jocko Willink once said, and I can’t remember the exact phrase, but essentially, ‘No one cares about what you did yesterday. What are you going to do today? The ‘Rep Count’ is now zero.’ That’s how I feel every day. Nothing I’ve done before matters. How am I going to be better today? How can I make myself bettertoday? How can I positively impact someone today? I fight every day with the thoughts that I’m not good enough and I’m wasting my time.
It is a mental battle in my mind every day. There are days when my internal voice is quiet and doesn't say much. There are days when it's screaming. It often seems to be screaming the loudest when I am seeing lots of success. Almost as if the more success I see the more doubt I have. The days that my internal monologue is loud I know that I am short with people or I seem angry. It's like a parent whose kids are screaming and going wild, they just want 2 seconds of peace. That’s how I feel sometimes. I just want some peace.
I am moving to Ft. Campbell next summer where I will serve as a Sergeant Major of another Battalion. After a few years, I will see if it is time to retire and start my life outside of the Army. I really want to open a gym and start training others and help them find peace through fitness.
The easy answer to who I respect is anyone who has raised their right hand and dedicated their life to serving the United States. Not just military, but all Law Enforcement Officers (LEO’s), Fire Fighters, and First Responders. The ones that stand out the most are those World War II, Korean, and Vietnam War Veterans. The battles those men saw are truly inconceivable. The pride they show, even with the crazy world right now, is awesome & inspiring. I used to think that their veteran hats were quirky. Now, I realize that these men and women are so proud of their country and their service. Pride like that is hard to find.
Self-Respect can hit in two different ways. One is through fitness. You have to take care of your body in order to thrive. If you just sit on the couch and eat potato chips then you will live a short unhappy life. Self-respect is treating your body like a temple and taking care of it to the best of your ability. The second way self-respect is important is mental health and asking for help. I’ve always played the game of admitting any of that is a weakness. After seeing so many of my peers find so much relief I finally found out how much seeking help and talking to people about it all can help. Without taking care of myself both physically and mentally there is no getting to the objective.” - Justin Kline
Against the backdrop of military service, Justin Kline's story serves as a testament to the transformative power of physical activity and the relentless human spirit, resonating with echoes of respect that transcend individual experiences. From the Appalachian Mountains to the heart of military duty, Kline's odyssey not only conquers self-doubt but also radiates inspiration to those in his orbit. His account underscores the enduring importance of respect in shaping individual journeys and the vast communities we navigate. Kline's dedication to fitness emerges not merely as a personal triumph but as a guiding light, inspiring others to strive for their best selves. In the multifaceted terrain of Kline's experiences, we find a profound exploration of the symbiotic relationship between physical and mental well-being, celebrating the transformative potency of kindness, compassion, and, above all, respect—towards oneself and others alike.
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