Melissa Barre, 31
A learning disability led to Melissa Barre being homeschooled as a child. It also allowed her to discover a penchant for solving intricate math equations. Remarkably, Barre graduated from community college at age 14. However, family issues were an emotional anchor: She had an emotionally abusive upbringing, was forced into foster care, and eventually relocated to live with an abusive aunt.
“I didn’t grow up with the best lifestyle,” she admits. Then came an ultimatum: Get sent away to another group home, or join the Army.
The math whiz opted to enlist in the Army as a logistics expert. Later, she was deployed to Afghanistan. The exposure to war, along with the years of mental abuse, began to take a severe toll on her mental health. After four years, and despite her pleas to remain enlisted, Barre’s psychologist dropped the news: “You can’t be around the military anymore—you need to go.”
She was honorably discharged from the Army, which she admits was the hardest day of her life. “I did all this stuff for my country, earned several awards in Afghanistan, and all of a sudden my life was just gone.”
Finding her footing didn’t happen overnight, professionally or in her personal life. She tried her hand at various jobs—waitress, sales rep, library assistant—but nothing stuck. On the homefront, Barre got married, then divorced, and had two children who were eventually taken from her. Her weight ballooned to more than 200 pounds, and, at her lowest point, she wound up in jail. With seemingly nowhere to turn, attempts to take her life followed.
“I was once this amazing person who did so much for my country. And now I’m just a criminal who shouldn’t be alive,” she recalls thinking. “But I believe that God saved me.”
While at a suicide group meeting, someone offered her some lasting advice. “You have too much to live for. Find something you’re passionate about,” he said.
She did, losing all the excess weight she had gained (“I wanted to look good again,” she says), and began volunteering as a fitness director for a Christian nonprofit. She then discovered FitOps through a friend, and wasted no time applying. “Everyone here has such a similarity to the service,” she says. “Civilians don’t understand what it’s like to be in the military. It’s controlled and regulated, like it is here. We understand it.”
Once she finishes FitOps training, Barre plans to continue helping other vets with their struggles.
“I wish there were a place every veteran can feel at home, whether it’s an actual home or a classroom where their peers share the same experiences,” she says. “[Veterans] don’t just need psychologists, only to go home alone and have nothing. We need something afterward. FitOps is a great start.”