Leader's 'barn burn' workouts foster fitness, engagement
Brig. Gen. Clinton Murray, Brooke Army Medical Center commanding general, poses for a selfie with members of Team BAMC after an early morning workout at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, Feb. 24, 2022. Murray holds the sessions in a barn built in 1917 behind his on-post residence every Thursday with small groups of BAMC staff members. (courtesy photo) (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, March 11, 2022 – The sun has not risen yet on Fort Sam Houston, and the streets lined with stately officers’ quarters and ancient trees are peaceful and still -- with one exception.

Back behind his 19th century home, Brig. Gen. Clinton Murray is cranking up a late 80s pop song from the dusty interior of a barn that serves as his gym.

As the notes of The Proclaimer’s “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” fill the room, a handful of motivated teammates from Brooke Army Medical Center kick up clouds of dust as they count off jumping jacks and air squats.

Leading the group and barely breaking a sweat is their “barn burn” leader, who is also the BAMC commanding general. As the song nears its end, Murray calls out encouragement to the group, “Just a few seconds more. Almost there!”

As the last notes fade, the group collapses to their now-dirt-covered mats in relief, but not for long. Next up is Reel to Reel’s upbeat “I Like to Move It,” signaling the start of crunches and heel touches.

Murray’s Thursday morning song-inspired barn burns, open to any BAMC team member who would like to join in, have become the stuff of legend since he kicked them off almost a year ago. He holds the sessions in a barn built in 1917, the year the U.S. entered World War I, and, coincidentally, a year prior to the influenza pandemic that wiped out about 50 million people around the world.

History has been kind to the barn; it’s well-preserved but mostly unchanged, with dirt-covered floors and rough-hewn wooden beams. But, shielded from the rain and wind, Murray finds it a perfect location for a workout.

Stories have circulated about the commander’s challenging workout, and there are whispers of a rumored few, such as Chaplain (Col) Stanley Smith, who have made it all of the way through.

“My wife and I do cross-fit, which is why I was able to complete the commander’s circuit,” explained Smith, BAMC’s command chaplain. “Not that it was easy! It’s an awesome event, not only because it’s a great workout, but primarily because our commanding general leads the way.”

While the stories seem to get more exaggerated with time, the workout is much less difficult than perceived, Murray said. He demonstrates safe modifications throughout to ensure all fitness levels can participate. “The barn is a no-judgement zone,” he said.

The workout covers the gamut of body-weight exercises, from planks and burpees to bridges and bicycles. With the exercises timed to each song, participants have time to catch their breath or grab a sip of water in between.

“It was one of the most difficult workouts I’ve ever enjoyed,” said Daniel Calderon, BAMC community relations. “The combination of music and encouragement helped motivate me through the tough parts.”

This week, the group has finally made it to the last song, AC/DC’s rock anthem “Thunderstruck,” which accompanies nearly five minutes of air squats. Applause erupts as Murray turns off the music, signifying mission success, capped off with a selfie of the triumphant, and sweaty, participants.

Post-workout, Murray invites everyone into his home to cool down and feast on a well-deserved homemade breakfast cooked by his wife, LeeAnn. The now-hungry participants pile their plates with healthy, homemade breakfast foods, grab a water or coffee, and sit around the fire pit chatting about life, work and any other topic that comes to mind.

“I really enjoy these engagements,” Murray said. “It’s a gift to be able to spend time with the team away from the rigors of everyday hospital demands, and this environment is more conducive to open conversation. We can talk about everything, but I encourage the teams to take advantage of the one-on-one time and to share their challenges or concerns.”

MAJ Charles Wyatt, chief, Business Operations Division, said he appreciated the opportunity to share a few, pressing issues. “Everything I addressed that morning was actioned by the end of the week,” he said. “I think it’s imperative that senior leaders take advice from lower-level leadership to better gauge the real issues within the organization. This forum achieved that.”

Murray attributes the fire pit conversations for insights gained on everything from MHS GENESIS challenges to staffing, equipment or training gaps. “I’ve had groups of doctors, nurses, technicians and support personnel of all ranks and grades, and have learned something new from each of them,” he said. “I make sure to take any concerns back to our leadership teams to ensure visibility and to explore courses of action.

“Ultimately, it’s a great way to get to know everyone while knocking out a great workout session,” he added.

Murray’s active command engagement also extends to visiting wards and staff throughout the hospital, and he’s often seen during night shifts, holidays and weekends. He prefers handing out awards and coins himself whenever possible, and his selfies with team members are prolific on social media. However, the barn burns are most likely to go down in history once the commander departs.

“It’s important to think outside the box and find ways to connect one-on-one with your team,” Murray said.

Air Force Capt. Cassidy McEuen, executive officer, 959th Medical Group, said the workout, while challenging, will remain a high point in her career. “It was amazing to have an Army-Air Force workout together with our commanding general,” she said “I’ve never had the opportunity in my almost 17-year career to work out and then have breakfast with a general officer.”

Murray’s Barn Burn Workout (songs can be modified based on preferred genre)

o “I’m Gonna Be” (500 miles) (3:37)- jumping jacks and air squats

o “I Like to Move It” (3:39) - crunches and heal touches

o “Flower (Sally Ups)” (3:25)- air squats

o “Cha Cha Slide” (3:41) - straight arm planks with hip/leg movements

o “Roxanne” (3:20) - bicycles

o “5150” (3:01) - bridges

o “Ghostbusters” (4:03) - burpees

o “Can’t Touch This” (3:36) - Side planks

o “Rock and Roll Part 2” (3:12) - rest

o “Tubthumping” (3:23) - burpees

o “We Will Rock You” (2:01) - superman

o “What Ifs” (3:07)- T -pushups

o “Thunderstruck” (4:47) - air squats