Army strong: Life lessons from service and Iraq sharp veteran Billy Wingo

If you are a regular at the French Riviera Fitness on Poplar Ave. in Memphis, Billy Wingo hitting the weights and building up a sweat is a common sight.

The retired Army Captain really didn’t pay attention to his physical fitness growing up in Trezevant, Tenn., a few miles north of Jackson. The Trezevant High School and UT-Martin graduate developed a passion for working out leading to 20 years of service in the U.S. Army.

“When I was a young kid, I was always fascinated with the military,” Wingo said. “So, when I was enrolled at UT-Martin, I signed up for ROTC. That basically started it. I figured I was going to go Air Force. Since they didn’t have an Air Force ROTC, I joined the Army. It just kept going from there.

“My love of physical fitness started when I enrolled in college because when I was young I worked a lot,” he added. “But I wasn’t really into weightlifting or running. When I enrolled college, it just took off from there.”

Once Wingo, 53, became a part of the Army he realized quickly how training the body was important in his career choice.

“Being in the military, the military wants you physically fit,” he said. “The things you have to do, the missions you have to go on, you have to be prepared for hardships and things that are unexpected. The more physically fit you are, the more prepared you’ll be. It challenges you and brings out a challenge in you to push yourself to see what you’re made out of.”

In 2004 Wingo and his fellow soldiers were tested on the soil of Iraq. He served one tour in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“Good times, being with the soldiers and being able to serve,” he noted. “The hardships were the convoys. You didn’t know if you were going to get hit. Dealing with the unexpected, no matter how much you deal with combat or low intensity conflict, its still unnerving. That was the biggest thing facing the unknown.

“Over there the fight against terrorism, you’re not fighting a foe that’s in uniform,” Wingo continued. “Or that’s in a tank, carrying weapon. Most of the time it was the population you were dealing with – the insurgents. They were implanted in the population. A lot of the time you didn’t even know who you were dealing with until something happened.”

The opposition could be an adult man with a machine gun or a child strapped with a bomb. Sometimes danger was in the road waiting on them.

“Most unnerving thing, you’re in a convoy and the next thing all of sudden an Improvised Explosive Device goes off,” he recalled. “It’s planted somewhere along the roadside. It’s unexpected.

“One thing that I found out about the military, it makes you look at yourself,” Wingo added. “It makes you take a self inventory of yourself. It forces you to look at the things you can do and the things you cannot do. It shows you the limits that you have.”

The limitations and expenses of most workplaces don’t involve death. Those who signed up for the ultimate sacrifice face his or her demise often.

“Another thing about being in the military it forces you to work with other members as a team,” Wingo noted. “One thing I’ve learned in life, no one goes at it alone. A lot of people today in our society feel they can make it on their own. But you do need somebody to help you along the way.

“Teamwork is very important because it seems our society has gotten away from that concept of working together as one,” he continued. “It takes more than one person to get the job done or get the mission done. In the military to try not to form a real emotional bond. You never know because that person you formed the bond with could be gone that same day. You go out on a mission, you don’t know what to expect. You might not be coming back or the person next to you is coming back.”

Wingo feels blessed to be back stateside and was humbled by his experiences overseas. These days Wingo takes those life lessons and applies them to his everyday life including staying physically fit.

“For me it’s more of a lifestyle,” he said. “Being fit is not a trend, it’s not a fab. It’s a sacrifice. If you want to be fit you have to make time for it with the diet and the training. The rest and recovery is all part of what are you willing to give up to be a part of this. That’s what it is in the military. What are you willing to sacrifice to make sure the mission is accomplished?

“Because only the military is where we plan for acceptable losses,” Wingo continued. “Not in the civilian world we plan for acceptable losses. We want every soldier, sailor, marine or seaman to come home. But it doesn’t work that way. That’s the reason we train and physical fitness is a big part of that.”

Wingo said everyday he lives and is able to train his body is a small tribute to those who didn’t come back home from any war America has fought.

“That’s the biggest sacrifice a person could give is serving in the military because your life is on the line,” he concluded. “You never accept the losses that you go through when you lose a soldier, airmen, marine and sailor. It’s always in the back of your mind no matter that training, you have to face it.”

Written by Thomas Sellers Jr., editor of the Millington Star. Contact him at (901) 872-2286 or via email to