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News | March 26, 2020

Future Soldier overcomes loss, completes 10-year enlistment journey

By Emily Peacok Richmond Recruiting Battalion

Joining the U.S. Army has always been Christopher Henley’s dream. Both his grandfathers and sister served, he was in shape and he had always wanted to be a part of something bigger than himself.

So it was no surprise that in 2010, Henley made the decision to enlist in the Army. 

Sadly, before Henley was able to complete his enlistment process, his father was diagnosed with cancer.

“I wanted to enlist, but I needed to be there for my family,” Henley said. “I had to make sure my parents were taken care of.”

Henley made the difficult decision to end his enlistment process and focus on the needs of his family. For the next seven years, Henley made caring for his father and supporting his mother his top priorities.

In 2017, however, Henley’s father lost his battle with cancer.

“In the months after my father’s passing, I wanted to make sure my mom was all right before even thinking about joining the Army,” Henley said. “I also needed to get back into shape.”

At 27, Henley weighed in at almost 400lbs.

“I had to stay out of the gym to take care of my parents,” he said. “I spent a lot more time at home where I wasn’t exercising.”

To cope with the loss of his father, Henley turned to fitness for relief.

“Instead of turning to alcohol or other destructive habits, I chose to go back to working out and eating better,” Henley explained. “I needed to find that one focus that would help me get through the tough times and change me for the better.”

Henley began a rigorous routine of eating healthy and exercising five to six times per week, finding inspiration not only in his father’s cancer battle but in Army veterans as well.

“I follow an Army veteran who’s actually my age named Derek Weide on social media,” Henley said. “He’s an above-the-knee amputee who lost his leg in Afghanistan and can deadlift 600lbs.”

In 2019, Henley returned to his local Army recruiting station to continue on his enlistment journey.

There, he met Sgt. Diego Santiago.

“He had come so far on his weight-loss journey but still had a little ways to go before we could send him to basic training,” Santiago explained.

Santiago worked with Henley to identify his career goals, keep him motivated and help prepare for life in the Army.

“He answered every question I had and addressed every concern,” Henley said. “He’s always been there for me, checking in and keeping me on track.”

With hard work, dedication and a will to serve, Henley lost over 160lbs.

In February 2020, nearly 10 years after walking into the Denbigh Recruiting Station, Henley raised his right hand and repeated the words so many future Soldiers before him have spoken.

Following his passion for law enforcement, Henley chose the military occupational specialty military police.

“I’ve always been interested in law enforcement,” Henley said. “Whether I’m the first responder or the person setting the standards for others to follow, I can’t wait to begin my Army journey.”

To prepare for basic training, Henley is continuing to work out regularly while also doing his research.

“I’ve been studying the Army values, learning the Soldiers’ Creed and researching the new Army Combat Fitness Test,” he said.

When asked what his father would think of his decision to serve, Henley sounded optimistic.

“I think my dad would be really proud of me,” Henley said. “I think he would be very proud of my decision to do something really meaningful with my life.”

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