Heroes Among Us: “I believe heroism is shown in reliability.” with Chad Ayinde and Marco Dehry
I believe heroism is shown in reliability. You can be a hero to someone by simply embracing adversity and striving to be the best version of yourself you can be. I live my life by a simple principle: “Be a force of nature.” I write it in the bottom corner of every notebook page I open as a reminder that PEOPLE change the world just like seasons, natural disasters, or media. In everything I do I aim to give as much of my soul as humanely possible for the betterment of people. You don’t have to be the smartest, fastest, strongest, or most innovative….you just have to give everything you’ve got every chance you get.
As a part of my series about “Life and Leadership Lessons Learned In The Military”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chad Ayinde, the Director of Tactical Fitness at FX Well, a digital fitness company from Baltimore, Maryland. He is a husband, writer, small business owner, puppy father of three, and Batman aficionado. Born in the frigid temperatures of the Midwest, Chad has found himself right at home on the east coast as a specialist in adapting creative solutions to complex problems. His 12-year career as an Infantry Soldier, Educator, Hand to Hand Combat Specialist and Army Master Fitness Trainer, prepared him to continue his service in a new and inventive way. As director, he oversees holistic fitness initiatives that impact Servicemembers, first responders, and their families by leveraging technology to build healthy lifestyle habits. As owner of Pride & Protection LLC, he teaches self-improvement programs that challenge participants to adapt the way they look at the world through the lens of self-defense/protection. He is a National Academy of Sports Medicine-Certified Personal Trainer (NASM-CPT) and a Precision Nutrition Level 1 (PNL1) performance coach. He has tornado chased in Texas with the love of his life, trained hand to hand with one of the top five most dangerous men on the planet in Canada, and aims to become a real-life super hero: )
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
I was born in a small town on the eastern border of Indiana to a single mother. I grew up as an inquisitive and hyperactive kid that loved to help people. I possessed a crazy imagination and loved writing from the time I could pick up a pencil. I wrote my first full length story about a leprechaun biker gang in the second grade and was a three-time recipient of our school’s creative writer of the year award. I trained in Shotokan karate to harness my extra energy, collected action figures, read every comic I could get my hands on, was in the marching band, wrestled and played football. I attended the College of Mount Saint Joseph and wrestled there for two years before an injury put me on the shelf.
In 2006, I was approached by a recruiter for the National Guard who assistant coached with me at my old high school. The opportunity to serve my country as the closest thing to a real-life super hero was a no brainer. National Guard Soldiers spend three quarters of their year as civilians, like having a secret identity of teacher, or manufacturing plant manager. Then these amazing people don a uniform, train and prepare to defend our Constitution. It was pretty inspiring stuff! I would invest my next 12 years in that space, deploying in 2008 and finishing my career in 2018.
During my time in the National Guard I started my own limited liability company (Pride&Protection LLC) and developed a holistic coaching program taught through the lens of self-defense. The program, known as F.A.C.T.S. (Fitness, Awareness, Confidence, Timing, and Survival), was designed to get participants to focus on their individual value, and to prioritize their personal health. It is my belief that self-worth is the foundational building block for self-defense.
At this time, I was approached to take on an exciting new venture at FX Well. Deemed the “Fit to Serve” program, this remote coaching six-month experience leverages digital technology to create a sense of community for geographically dispersed populations. Focusing on elements of sleep, exercise, nutrition, stress management, and enjoying your life (S.E.N.S.E.), we teach service members to think abstractly about their fitness goals.
And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?
Today I am the tip of the spear for all FX Well tactical initiatives. We aim to make a positive impact on every person that we come into contact with. We have been working diligently on acquiring a litany of resources for the delivery of our program to the tactical population. We make use of Registered Dietitians, Strength and Conditioning Coaches, Physical Therapists, former military trainers, and Board-Certified Health Coaches (specializing in behavior change) to assist our program participants. All of this is tied together by a digital application that allows our trainers and coaches to push content (such as workouts) to users, set goals and participate in group challenges. The ultimate goal is to see people gain the confidence in themselves they may have lost over time, or never had to begin with.
I recently received a call from a participant to celebrate their six-year re-enlistment. This was a tremendous stepping stone as this individual had suffered a significant injury that hindered them from remaining in service due to an inability to meet the physical requirements. We worked slowly through a few mental setbacks and now that person is passing all required physical tasks. Not only were they inspired enough to make their own amazing lifestyle change, but they now serve as an ambassador for other service members in their formation to do the same. This individual has set themselves a goal of helping 10 people in the next month. You never know the impact of helping a single person.
Can you tell us a bit about your military background?
I’d like to think of myself as the Swiss Army Knife of any group that I am a part of.
I enlisted as a member of the National Guard in 2006 and conducted Basic Individual Training, Advanced Individual Training, and a Military Occupational Specialty Transition course within my first year in service. I began working in a full-time capacity in 2007, in the operations section and was specialty selected to serve on the personal security detail of my Brigade Commander for our deployment to Iraq in 2008. I was a gunner and dismount during the yearlong tour, and ran missions around Baghdad. Though I was an Infantry Soldier, I learned major troubleshooting capabilities from our communications specialists so that I had the ability to understand and operate with a deeper understanding of systems then many of my counterparts.
I returned home and became a member of the “Operation Warrior Trainer” team based out of my home state, a special assignment for Service members that had recently returned home. Here I was given an amazing opportunity to use my expertise on current tactics to assist in preparing units that were soon to mobilize, and I served in this position for 2 years. It was here that I also would take my martial arts background paired with my wrestling experience and become a certified Modern Army Combatives Trainer. I also would spend time in the supply section learning about logistics, government vehicle polices, and property book management.
I was promoted to Sergeant and selected to take on a new assignment as an instructor at the Regional Training Institute (RTI) for the next three years, and I felt as though the experience there forced me to look at things in a very different fashion. Until that point I had dreamed of being the greatest hand to hand instructor in uniform and I designated much of my time to perfecting that craft. The RTI, however, had nearly 11 separate course offerings and I was a primary instructor for many. It was here I learned the value of flexibility, adaptability, and the small nuances of captivating an audience. Working with adult learners over all different ranks and experience levels was a challenging, yet fun and rewarding experience.
From there I became a Tactical Operation Center Battle Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) and learned an extensive amount about understanding the scope of your mission, and creating a glidepath that fits within the constraints. I also learned a ton about effective communication as the shop I worked in was responsible for some of the largest scale operations in the entire state.
I was selected to move from this position to assist in leading the charge for a brand-new fitness initiative that was being stood up in 2016. The Army has heavily adapted its stance on fitness recently and many new policies were under development. An incredibly intelligent package of personnel was assembled within our state to try to create an infrastructure for fitness, nutrition, and sleep education. This was all to be backed by biometric data collected and utilized to provide personnel a roadmap to judge their overall success.
As the foundation for this was put into place I would begin my separation from the service, preparing for a life of running Pride&Protection LLC before being intercepted by FX Well.
Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?
I was on a special detail as the appointed driver for an important military leader that was visiting my area. There was a very special media day planned for our state governor, the dignitary and a group of special interest local media personalities. The day began like most do, picking the “Boss” up from his quarters and taking him to a location to be briefed on the itinerary for the day. Dignitaries are assigned specialty assistants that manage their schedules, coordinate much of their time, and ensure operations run smoothly, and this one in particular seemed poised for everything. Because this trip was going to be conducted on a few different weapons ranges, the assistant and myself secured all of our equipment and placed it in the covered bed of the pickup I was driving. This was an error we would quickly come to regret.
The assistant was an incredibly organized and meticulous planning machine. He knew the answers to questions that hadn’t been asked yet, and he and I developed a very tight relationship for the few days we worked together. I too, was known to be a detailed planner and we would work to outline routes of travel, secondary passages from stop to stop, and precoordinated checkpoints along those routes even though the only enemy was time.
When we arrived at the Headquarters building to allow our dignitary to link up for his in brief, I jumped out to make a call to a supporting unit. That morning, my driver’s side tail-light had gone out and there was no time to switch it out before pick up. Is there anything worse than getting pulled over with a dignitary in your vehicle….The answer is no, so I called for help, deciding I would change the bulb myself if someone could bring it to me.
While standing on the phone near the front of our vehicle convoy consisting of buses and vans, I noticed three Soldiers walking out of the Headquarters building carrying gear for the media team and other participants. I thought nothing of this as the media were traveling in their own individual van and would require their own gear to hit the range with our package. Explaining to the supporting unit on my call that I needed a tail-light rushed quickly to my location I felt my heart sink into my stomach when the tailgate of my truck slammed shut.
I rushed to the back of the truck and asked the Soldiers where they placed the additional gear, already knowing the answer and praying this wasn’t going to be a problem. I remember the hard plastic of the lever under my fingers as I unlatched and dropped the gate to find 10 sets of body armor and 10 helmets. Believe it or not, these items are sized (small, medium, large) and they were all mixed together! I panicked….the hyper organized assistant had gone inside to take notes and I knew he would be out moments before the “Boss” to let me know to fire up the engine. I grabbed for the gear….What size does the guy even wear?
I sifted through two or three body armors, holding them up to my chest like I was trying on t-shirts for my wife in a department store. As I continued to check gear I caught movement in my peripheral vision. It was the dignitary’s assistant exiting the building and heading straight toward me. I snapped to attention, as is customary in the presence of an officer and rendered a salute.
“Sir, does the Boss have his nametape on his gear?” I asked, fingers crossed at my side that the news would be good.
The assistant looked at me in despair as he knew the answer to the question and had observed the terrible situation through a window inside. We immediately started sorting through the equipment and he was able to find the body armor based on the weight and distribution of magazine pouches. The helmet was much tougher.
After looking at all sizes, the way the cushions inside were arrayed and the existence of a band marked with blood type, it felt as though all hope was lost. In moments, the “Boss” would be upon us and would be heavily disgraced when he picked up an oversized helmet that covered his eyes like Gomer Pyle or Dark Helmet in Spaceballs, in front of a media crew. But then….A Hail Mary from the assistant.
He turned two helmets up on end and raised them to his face allowing the aroma from the cushions that spent hours affixed to a Soldiers head to waft into his nostrils. He turned up his nose at the first, obviously a little too much sweat in that one, but after three attempts he pulled one off to the side.
“That’s his shampoo.” He confidently bolstered, securing the body armor and helmet and placing them in the cab of the truck.
The event went off without a hitch and I learned a valuable lesson on that day. In a world where anything can go wrong at any time, knowing your audience in an intimate fashion will always win out. I carry that lesson to this day as I believe it is impossible to effectively impact people if you can’t understand where they are coming from.
I’m interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.
This isn’t the conventional war story because, though there is a ton of heroism displayed in battle, I think an equal amount can be shown in times of peace. I had a military leader who was preparing to retire after a long and decorated career. Our unit was placed in a formation for him to address us en mass and he used the opportunity to tell us a story. He told us about a book he had read called “Gates of Fire”, a historical fiction story about the Battle of Thermopylae. This is the battle captured in the Spartan movie “300” and it was a book that had stuck with him. To think that a king would stand against unspeakable odds with no more than 300 of his best Spartan Warriors, was a poetic depiction of belief in people.
From that story our leader told us that he had taken to collecting names on the inside covers of that text. He planned to spend the rest of his life compiling his list of 300 warriors, people that he could trust, that he would stand with against unspeakable odds, and that would stand with him in kind. I was so motivated and inspired by the words I could feel my heart skip a beat and my palms began getting clammy. ‘This is what a super hero is’ I thought to myself.
I began to question in that moment….Have I been good enough? Trust worthy enough? Compassionate enough? Strong enough? Adaptable enough….to make it into that book? I thought I had, but I couldn’t answer the question myself and it made me feel as though I may be letting myself down. It’s easy to forget that every day we step out into this world we have an opportunity to impact someone’s life for the better.
The Army has Seven Values that Soldiers are charged with living by, the day they choose to enlist: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage. Of those integrity is the one that stands out here as we don’t always know who is watching our behaviors in a given moment. For that reason, it is imperative to do what is right even when no one is looking. Integrity equals trust and trust (to me) equals heroism.
When people believe in each other, there is no limit to how big of a difference they can make in this world!
Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?
Heroes aim to make a difference by striving to be the best version of themselves each and every day. They are flawed but choose to prioritize the needs of others above their own. They don’t skip out on chances to bring value to someone else’s life and above all else they are trustworthy. No one has to question if Superman is going to make the right decision because the world believes in his judgement.
Does a person need to be facing a life and death situation to do something heroic or to be called a hero?
Absolutely not…I believe heroism is shown in reliability. You can be a hero to someone by simply embracing adversity and striving to be the best version of yourself you can be. I live my life by a simple principle: “Be a force of nature.” I write it in the bottom corner of every notebook page I open as a reminder that PEOPLE change the world just like seasons, natural disasters, or media. In everything I do I aim to give as much of my soul as humanely possible for the betterment of people. You don’t have to be the smartest, fastest, strongest, or most innovative….you just have to give everything you’ve got every chance you get.
I watched an amazing web series called The Failure Club, which focused on empowering people by getting them more comfortable with their relationship to failure. They worked toward a lofty dream for the period of a single year and shared their experiences in a therapy group online. It changed my life, simply watching those people go against conventional wisdom to chase their dreams was a game changer for me. Though I don’t know any of those people I look at them as heroes because they inspired me to change the way I look at my life.
Based on your military experience, can you share with our readers 5 Leadership or Life Lessons that you learned from your experience”? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Transparency trumps all
It is easy to assume because you know “insider” information, that everyone else is prithee to the same…When you don’t control the narrative of your operation, “water cooler talk” rules out. Believe me, just because you choose not to address it doesn’t mean your subordinates aren’t heavily invested in the topic. You gain trust through authenticity and that trust is what makes for a strong team!
2. Mentorship matters
Have you ever heard of the saying, “the squeaky wheel gets the oil”? Well that idea has bred a world of businesses that put 80% of their time and effort into the 20% of personnel unmotivated to do the job effectively. The true value is in taking your high performers and mentoring them to become higher functioning, strategic level thinkers. Identify your special performers and find a way to make them better than they are today and you WILL retain the best and brightest personnel in your operation.
3. The Devil is in the details
My first experience with this was as an evaluating instructor for the Army Basic Instructor Course. Small stuff matters because if you practice hard all week you play hard in the game on the weekend. Things like slide punctuation and uniformity seem ridiculous when compared to the average presenter, but I desire to breed an elite’s class of instructors with a precision-based attention to detail. Practice doesn’t make perfect….Perfect practice makes perfect. Rehearse and do things right as many times as possible to create the habit of excellence.
4. Live like you mean it
We are granted a limited amount of opportunities in this life to make a true difference. No one knows when their time will come and that makes it important to treat every encounter like it is the first, last, and only opportunity you will ever have to engage someone. Treat every encounter like it could grow into a million-dollar opportunity and people will open up to you.
5. Operate with urgency
Just because you don’t value something as important doesn’t mean those around you don’t value it. It is important to make everyone feel like a priority if you value their input and/or service. The biggest mistake you can make is to assume your benefits package will stand for itself as a major incentive for loyalty. Know your people, know their struggles, and evaluate what can be done to make your operation feel appealing.
Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business? Can you explain?
Without a shadow of a doubt….In the military I learned confidence in myself. I learned to lead in a fashion that was respected and achieved results. I learned to attend to small detail that would escape the average person because these could mean life or death for my colleagues. I also learned to think about the second and third order effects of decision making. The choices you make rarely impact a singular party and understanding, not only the first layer of people you engage with regularly, but also the families and communities that are affected by a singular decision, makes a major difference. Every course of action in the military must meet four key criteria. They must be Sustainable, feasible, acceptable, and distinguishable and I plan every operation I am a part of based off these key elements.
As you know, some people are scarred for life by their experience in the military. Did you struggle after your deployment was over? What have you done to adjust and thrive in civilian life that others may want to emulate?
I returned from my deployment right before the holidays in 2008. After nearly a year running the roads of Iraq the toughest adaptation was coming back to a world not focused on war. It can often be hard to see people complaining about quality of the most recent Tarantino film, or Kanye’s new outburst when you left an area where children were occasionally used as suicide bombers. My experience overseas put my life in perspective and allowed me to understand that we are truly blessed to live the life we do in the United States of America, even with its flaws. And the opportunity that exists here is something that I want (so bad) for others to embrace. I was told a long time ago that people “don’t know what they don’t know” and though simple, that’s incredibly true.
If you have never experienced a life outside of these walls you do not know just how easy we currently live. Unadulterated information and technology at the end of our fingertips is an astonishing feet, many take for granted.
My adjustment to the civilian sector was based in finding a family. FX Well, as a startup, granted me the opportunity to plug into a network of amazing people that I loved to share ideas with. The Army functions in the same capacity and it is truly the relationships (comradery) at the tactical level that drive the decision to serve 20+ years. There is no bigger support network and it took a major effort from my wife and the employees at FX Well to fill the gap of close relationships I had built over the last 12 years. The startup environment actually served me very well because our operation was still small enough for me to know everyone’s’ name (something I took major pride in during my military career).
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
As a small business owner, I have been blown away by the concept of grassroots movements. I launched my self-defense LLC (Pride&Protection) while still in uniform and garnered a quality following in my local area. In a new state, with a new focus I have decided to go back to my roots. As a child, I was inspired to do everything I chose to by superheroes in comics and for that, I am working on a special project know as:
“BATTLEBORNE COMICS — Creative content forged from combat.”
My ultimate goal (as a content creator myself) is to provide military personnel, including veterans and their families, an opportunity to publish their comics, graphic novels, or books for as low of a cost as I can muster. I, too have been working on my own comic and found that it can take significant amounts of money and time to track down all the resources necessary to bring a dream to life. Battleborne, created for those who were comfortable making the ultimate sacrifice (support networks included) is designed to assist in getting personnel that are interested, into the comics industry. There is a large amount of military personnel looking for a creative outlet and we hope to be their first stop in breaking into exploring that outlet. Our goal is to assist independent authors and artists in getting their content published for distribution. From there, if they want to become artists or writers for the biggest companies in the industry, we hope to give them a springboard into that.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
Develop your leaders to abstractly problem solve. Provide them with an inside track to your way of thinking, your passions, and fears; then turn them loose to execute. Quality leaders are curators of talented people and should build a trust that empowers those personnel to operate with autonomy. I always tell my people, “if you need me to make every decision than why do I need you?”
Above all else, consistently coach, mentor, and evaluate the quality of production within your team. Celebrate their successes but don’t be afraid to approach them with corrections.
What advice would you give to other leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Create a culture that embraces your brands values, then recruit people who naturally gravitate toward your message. If you are a circular company it is much harder to shave the edges off a squared employee then it is to recruit personnel that embody your company’s values. Know what you stand for and build a team that lives by those tenets.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I would have to say I could not wake up, put on pants, and step out into the world without my beautiful, amazing wife, Jamie. She is my sextant when I am lost, my first customer when I am looking to sell an idea, and the only thing that keeps me sane in a world where not a lot makes sense. She constantly brings great thoughts to the table when I’m stumped, and drives me to never settle for less than I am capable. She challenges me to constantly think bigger, and consoles me when things do not play out in my favor.
She is the entrance to a network of amazing people that support me through thick and thin including my family and hers. Like a professional sports team, it requires a heck of a coach to get the quarterback comfortable with the playbook. Jamie, a service member also, has helped show me the ropes in the corporate world, and taught me to celebrate my victories.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I think first off, in trying to tie my efforts to the betterment of the “often forgotten force.” As a former National Guard Soldier, I recall the amount of work, responsibility, and expectation thrust upon a formation that has half the time and resources to prepare. A great deal of solutions that are drummed up at the highest levels of Washington are heavily focused on the ease and betterment of life for the Active Duty Soldier. It’s about creating a sense of community for people who are separated from their formations more often than they are together, and that is what we try to do at FX.
At Pride & Protection, it’s about providing people a free space to be unapologetically themselves. You don’t have to be afraid to let your hair down and be aggressive. You can get a workout in, take the time to journal about your life plan or priorities, and palm strike someone in the face all at the same session. I truly believe we have gotten out of touch with our own thoughts, feelings, dreams and aspirations due to the amount of daily distraction. We try to slow down time and guide people back to their center.
My hope with Batteborne is to assist in providing a springboard to aspiring content creators coming from the uniform. When I was still serving, I stumbled across a multitude of talented people with interest in getting into comics as storywriters and/or artists. The current landscape can be incredibly tough to navigate, however. It’s rare the comic publishers we all grew up on are looking for solely a writer and many of the other companies won’t take a submission unless you have an entire team paired together. I’m hoping to tie military artists and writers across the nation into a network so they can track one another down and then help them get their work created and into the hands of larger publishers if they so choose.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
My movement would definitely be two-fold and start with a cleansing period. I would ask people to work to eliminate toxicity from their lives (toxic people, toxic substances, toxic influences) for a period of two months (60 days). With the extra mental bandwidth, I would ask each person to start journaling, first by identifying what it is they hope to get out of their time in this world, followed by where they currently are in this very moment. My hope would be that they can look at their life holistically and determine if the path they are currently on is leading them toward the eventual goal they hope to accomplish. If not, what would it take to get on the path?
I was asked a question once in my life by a savvy military leader that turned my world upside down and it was: “what would you do if you knew you could not fail?” The quote forced me to take a step back from the path I was on and look at the end instead of the beginning. The day I started making decisions with that quote in mind was the day I felt truly liberated to embrace the world without fear.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Remember, upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all” — Alexander the Great
This quote has always given me a significant amount of confidence when stepping out into the world with new ideas. One individual can effectively make a major impact, and I believe that is encapsulated in this quote by one of the greatest military minds of all time. When an idea strikes me that I feel could bring value, this is the quote that allows me to comfortably bring it to the forefront for exploration.
It also places a major spotlight on the responsibility of each person to play a role in driving our society forward.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
This is a very tough one because I am so heavily inspired by the works of so many different people, but if I had to narrow it to one it would have to be Neil Gaiman. At my core my therapeutic outlet has always been fictional writing, and I have been so influenced by
his work overtime that I would love to just spend a few hours in his presence. I listen to his interviews on YouTube when I am writing and I think he and I would have some interesting conversations that would spark creative influence for some really cool future projects.
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.