by Rob Killen of Church Fitness
Colonel Thomas Hundley has an unyielding passion to serve his country, his fellow men and women in uniform and above all else, his heavenly father. The twenty-six year U.S. Army veteran is known for his enthusiasm on all matters health and fitness related, as well as his conviction for his faith. Hundley is the creator of Fit For Duty, and is currently assigned to the Army Medical Service Corps at Shaw Air Force Base, in South Carolina. He is also the author of Fit for the King: God’s Plan for Weight Loss and Total Health, which was released in 2009.
For all the good Col. Hundley strives to do in serving his country and teaching others the principles of leading a healthy lifestyle, he’s recently come under some criticism for referencing God, Jesus, the Bible and prayer in one of his “Motivational Monday Messages” that he issued earlier this year on the official website of the Military Health System and the Defense Health Agency: www.health.mil.
A week after posting his message the Army Times ran an article stating that Col. Hundley’s views and references to his faith drew an official complaint from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). In the complaint, MRFF President Mikey Weinstein says “This is not the manner in which this individual should be using his senior position as a full colonel in the United States Army: as a missionary.” Weinstein went on to say that “People view him as a fundamentalist Christian bully”.
Faith & Fitness Magazine caught wind of the story and we decided to reach out directly to Col. Hundley for an interview. We wanted to hear directly from the man at the center of the controversy, and learn a little more about him and his personal philosophy on life.
Faith & Fitness Magazine: Thank you for making time in your busy schedule to do this interview. Please begin by sharing about your background. Where did it all start for you and what life experiences have helped to shape the person you are today?
Col. Hundley: I was born in Chicago, but raised in Waynesboro, Mississippi. Upon graduating from high school, I spent four years in the National Guard to make some extra money while attending college. I graduated from South Carolina State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting. I went on to receive my Master’s Degree in Logistics Management at the Florida Institute of Technology. I’ve been an Army officer for more than twenty-two years, and I’m currently stationed at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, South Carolina. My character has been molded by the influence of several people throughout my life. My great grandfather gave me wisdom and was the first one to tell me that I was destined for greatness. My mother taught me unconditional love. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. showed me the true essence of being a global leader and taught me the power of the spoken word.
Faith & Fitness Magazine: What role did your family and Dr. King play in influencing your own faith?
Col. Hundley: I believe that God placed the right mix of characteristics from each of those individuals inside me to give me my own authenticity. I am that leader who He has created, trained, groomed, tested, and approved to do a major work for the kingdom. The world is hurting and I can clearly see that a lot of people are holding on to past pains and hurts. Those hurts have morphed into bitterness and anger, which has led to a lot of hate and division in our country. I'm here to help; I believe I have the right formula and plan to heal the brokenness. I know what has worked for me: following the example of Christ. And because it's worked for me, I'm willing to share my experiences and my journey with anyone who has a desire to know why I walk with the confidence of a champion.
Faith & Fitness Magazine: Describe your perspective on authority, responsibility and leadership from both a military and Christian view.
Col. Hundley: I consider myself to be a leader in every aspect of my life. The more I reflect on my journey, the more I find that I was destined and created for that role and level of responsibility.
No matter if it was playing little league baseball, participating in church programs, joining high school and college academic and social clubs, or serving within the military, I find that I have been looked upon, asked, or either expected to serve as a leader within each one. As a leader, you're given an extremely important level of authority and responsibility.
I know as a Christian Army officer, I'm responsible through my words and my actions to set the right example for others to follow. There are lives that are dependent on me making the right decisions and doing the right things. There are mothers and fathers who have placed the lives of their children in my hands. With the authority and responsibility given to me by virtue of my leadership position, I make a point each day to ask myself, “Did I treat others the way I would want my two daughters treated?” This is how I approach life, both as an Army Officer and as a Christian.
Faith & Fitness Magazine: What essential character traits do you personally exhibit in your role as a leader?
Col. Hundley: A competent leader must possess confidence, which comes from knowing God is with you, Christ is for you, and the Holy Spirit is in you. That's a winning combination that makes me exude with confidence. Then you must have humility. You have to be humble enough to know that you are not living to be served but you only exist to serve those who God allows to cross your path. The final characteristic is authenticity. People know the difference when a person is being fake or genuine. I realize that no one else was created with my gifts and purpose, as I was not given the skills of someone else. I allow everyone I meet to experience the real and authentic me.
Finally, all of these characteristics are useless if you don't have love. Love is the tie that binds all of these things together. I absolutely love people regardless of who they are or what they do. When you have love for all mankind, it makes it easy to have the heart of a servant.
Faith & Fitness Magazine: What makes your leadership style unique, particularly as it relates to sharing and teaching about your two strongest passions – faith and fitness?
Col. Hundley: I consider myself to be a spiritual fitness trainer. That makes what I do separate from religion. I choose to use the Biblical examples and teachings of Jesus as not only my guide for better health but also my blueprint for righteous living. My job is not to push my beliefs on anyone but to share my knowledge and experience in an effort to help someone else improve his or her spirituality.
Spirituality is often defined as a sense of connection that gives meaning and purpose to a person’s life. It has nothing to do with the person's religious practices. Spirituality is unique to each individual and refers to the deepest part of a person. A person's spirit provides them with the revealing of who they are, why they are here and what their purpose for living is. It is that innermost part of a person that must be strengthened to make it through all the painful and difficult times. I know the hurt many people have to carry and God chose me to help in the healing process.
Faith & Fitness Magazine: What are your personal thoughts and feelings about all the criticism and commotion your article created?
Col. Hundley: I was totally surprised at the criticism of the article. Contrary to what the critics printed, there were only a few complaints, which pales in comparison to the thousands of comments of how that article helped people during a low moment in their life. So even if the article had helped only one person to heal or improve, I would have no regrets, and consider it a success. My faith is not only what I believe, but it is also who I am. As a servant of God and my country, I have an obligation to share that same wisdom and teachings with anyone who may be hurting or seeking a change in life. I have no regrets in my service to God and country.
Faith & Fitness Magazine: Tell us some about the Fit For Duty Program you created.
Col Hundley: I started a non-profit program called Fit For Duty which provides servicemen, veterans, students, employees, and employers the necessary physical, mental, spiritual, and nutritional interventions that aid in improving an individual's quality of life. I have a talented team of believers who are now taking this program to Job Corps centers across America to help those lost teens and students who need to be shown God’s grace and love.
Faith & Fitness Magazine: In what ways has sharing your testimony with other soldiers helped them cope with the challenges of serving in the military?
Col. Hundley: It was in 2004 that I first realized how my faith and fitness were a part of who God created me to be. While deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I was in the best physical shape of my life. I worked out two hours every night and even completed my first marathon during that time.
But it was not until I found myself in the middle of a mortar attack that I realized there were more components to fitness than just the physical. That near death experience played on my mind for months and I couldn't shake it. I had daydreams and nightmares about that event. I lost my motivation to work out and lost my zeal for running.
What got me through my depression was having a simple conversation with God every day. I began every morning with a simple prayer that resembled me talking to my brother or best friend. Those daily prayers produced a relationship and closeness with God and gave me a confidence that was easily noticeable to others. I began reading the New Testament in the Bible as though my life depended on it. I hungered for and craved the Word of God more than I did food. The examples set forth by Jesus Christ became the way, truth and life for me. As my spiritual fitness improved, so did my mental, emotional, and physical fitness. I seemed to have a glow about me that gave people hope.
From that time on, I seemed to get approached by young soldiers and airmen who either wanted to work out with me, talk to me or who just wanted to hear something positive to get them through the day. Within the month of June 2005, there were three servicemen who approached me and shared that they were contemplating suicide. Not only did I help them through their trying times, but I used gym workouts and daily exercise sessions as a way to talk to them about God's grace.
I also used that time as a way to show them that someone cares. I realized then that God had given me specific gifts that I was supposed to use to help others. Giving of my own time for the purpose of helping others was the most rewarding feeling ever. I dedicated my life to serving God by sharing my gifts to bring healing to all of those who are hurting in this world.
Faith & Fitness Magazine: That is a very powerful testimony! It’s hard to imagine how someone who goes out of their way to serve others the way you do, now finds himself being criticized for sharing the same message that helped you to save the lives of your fellow soldiers. In light of the recent article in the Army Times, have you experienced any other times when you were cited or chastised for addressing your personal faith?
Col. Hundley: I have served for 22 years and I’ve never been called out in a negative way by anyone in the military regarding my faith. I also never have to announce or state to anyone that I am Christian or a man of great faith. As a leader, my walk is the example and I'm sure the light that God has placed inside me is what draws those to me who are hurting or seeking guidance. The way I live my life makes me a very approachable leader which makes it easier for people to not feel intimidated by sharing with me that they need help.
I have been called out by one senior leader in a positive way. My Commander in 2011-2012 stated publicly during my farewell ceremony that he's never met another officer with such strong faith, who gives so much of himself to help others. He told me privately that he can tell God has a great purpose for me and he can't wait to see what He has for me next.
Faith & Fitness Magazine: Wow, that’s an awesome compliment your former commander gave you. Receiving words of encouragement like that from your Commander must strengthen your resolve to continue reaching and helping more people.
Col. Hundley: The military gives me access to those who seem to be hurting most. We serve multiple deployments which require extended family separations. That time away and the things we are required to do make for some difficult situations for everyone involved. I am approached almost daily by someone and I do my best to guide them in the right direction that leads to total healing. God has opened my eyes to a whole generation of people who are hurting and who could benefit from my gifts.
Faith & Fitness Magazine: You mention something that I think often gets taken for granted by much of the civilian world: deployments and military members being separated from their families for extended periods of time. This is a huge commitment that our men and women in uniform make every day. I know you have two daughters of your own that you don’t always get to see as often as you would like. Share an example of how you have demonstrated humility, brokenness and repentance with them. Why was that important to do?
Col. Hundley: My brokenness as it relates to my daughters happened after my divorce to their mother. The distance put between us by geography and my military obligations appeared to the teenage intellect as if I had placed other things and other people before them. They started to pull away and get distant and it hurt me something awful. I felt that I was losing my closeness with my girls and that feeling, coupled with being alone, broke me beyond belief. It seemed that nothing I said or did could fix that brokenness. I sunk to a very low place in my life and the only thing that saved me was my relationship with God.
The lesson in humility for me came when I was forced to see life through the eyes of a teenager. I had to reflect back on how my father must have felt as I blamed his military service and other people for him not being there for me. I immediately called my father and apologized for blaming him and I asked for his forgiveness. Breaking that chain was like dropping a fifty pound weight off my shoulders. I have driven over 45,000 miles per year for the past eight years to ensure my daughters know that I am the number one man in their lives. Our relationship is stronger today than ever, and it’s a pure joy watching my two daddy’s girls grow into young adults.
Faith & Fitness Magazine: We really appreciate you spending the time to share your personal message with us. I’m sure our readers around the globe will be inspired and motivated by your story!
Col Hundley: Thank you for the time. In closing I’d like to say that I completely understand now my purpose for serving all of these years in the Army. I can clearly see that no matter what job you have, only in the military do you have an opportunity to meet and serve with the most diverse population of people from all races, religions, states, backgrounds, genders and upbringings. So can you imagine the honor in leading that diverse group to put their differences aside in a unified effort to accomplish one goal which is to defend our nation?
It is a tremendous responsibility to be chosen to lead that same diverse group into combat with a promise that you will get them back home to their families safely. I believe God has called me to unify a much larger and more diverse group than those I’ve led in the Army. I have a job to do, and I desire nothing more than doing that job in a manner that makes God say, "Well done my good and faithful servant." I don't know when I’ll retire from the Army, but serving God whether in the military or out is all I want to do for the rest of my life. I will go wherever He sends me.