On paper, it might not make sense how someone could directly transition from 22 years of special operations missions to leading a multi-national product innovation team at one of the fastest growing defense contractors and commercial fitness companies in the world.
Yet, that’s exactly what Brian Carey did when he joined BeaverFit, the largest supplier of fitness and tactical training solutions to U.S. and NATO militaries.
Carey’s transition from active military service to private-sector success wasn’t automatic. Like many veterans, especially those with a special operations or combat background, Carey wasn’t sure how he would find purpose and fulfillment once he took off the uniform.
The transition from a life of service and sacrifice to the life of a civilian can be a struggle for many veterans. At a glance, Carey’s journey is a success story: a highly-skilled former special operator finds a perfect fit in private industry and rapidly rises to a leadership position. But reality is never that simple, and Carey had to overcome both internal and external challenges and doubts to make it to where he is today.
Like many combat veterans from the last two decades of expeditionary warfare, Carey joined a pre-9/11 military, enlisting in the Navy in 1999 as an aviation rescue swimmer. During his enlisted career, he responded to three significant rescue missions. Their impact shaped his intrinsic desire to help others – a theme that would follow him throughout his life.
In 2001, Carey applied to become an Air Force pararescueman but was denied due to service obligations in the Navy. This drove him to work harder, earning a commission in the Navy and ultimately being selected for the Air Force pararescue community as an officer in 2008.
Throughout his career in pararescue and Air Force Special Tactics he completed eight deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa – seven of which were combat deployments.
Carey saw the path to officership as a way to impact those that worked for and with him. “I’ve always wanted to help others grow and be successful at accomplishing their goals, both personally and professionally,” he said.
And he did. Carey went on to become commander at the pararescue training course at Kirtland Air Force Base.
“Being there to train, mentor and develop candidates to serve as the next generation of pararescuemen and combat rescue officers was rewarding, not only from a leadership perspective, but also because of the things we were able to do to improve our training infrastructure and curriculum.”
In 2016, in one of those fortuitous moments that can redefine and shape a life path, Carey met Michael Taylor, co-founder of BeaverFit USA, while on a recruiting trip at the CrossFit Games. Upon learning about BeaverFit’s capabilities, Carey told Taylor the pararescue school had several requirements and invited him out to see how BeaverFit could support.
The first project entailed a major upgrade to their gym: converting the indoor space to make it more functional while optimizing throughput, and adding an outdoor space with racks, rigs, turf and sun protection to enable year-round outdoor training.
Next – what Carey considers one of his legacy projects – was an obstacle course. He worked closely with unit members to procure and build an obstacle course about a quarter mile in length that “essentially jump-started that product line for BeaverFit.”
After the success of the gym rebuild and the obstacle course installation, Carey initiated a roadmap of different projects with BeaverFit, including a tactical training facility to simulate military operations in urban terrain and close quarters combat, and the first BeaverFit rappelling and training tower in the United States.
After two decades of serving at a high operational tempo, Carey recounted that the bad experiences shaped him as much as the good. He struggled through the loss of friends and others in combat, the murder of his commander, the survivor’s guilt that followed, and the stress that came with being a special operations leader – knowing his actions determined whether or not someone came home to their family.
In 2020, Brian decided to leave active duty and transition to the National Guard. However, not long after being selected to command a special tactics squadron at Portland Air National Guard Base, he realized it wasn’t the change he needed for his mental health and started focusing on what his next move would be. He reconnected with Taylor, who invited him to the BeaverFit headquarters to chat about possible opportunities.
Carey said the idea of leaving the military was hard, but he realized that he couldn’t give 110% to the job anymore and “that’s not me,” he said.
“If I’m doing something it’s got to be at that level, otherwise it’s time to do something else.”
He recalled a good friend saying, “Don’t you jump out of planes for a living? Put the parachute on and get out of the plane.” So metaphorically, he did. He retired from the military and joined the BeaverFit team to oversee custom product development for indoor facility conversions and special operations equipment, and began working toward a master’s degree in business administration.
“As I was making the transition, I really focused on my interests and my purpose, and my purpose is pretty clear: I’m here to help others. That was solidified many times over my career,” he said.
“And my interests are all around physical and human performance,” he continued. “So matching both of those is how I determined that retiring was right for me, and obviously arriving at BeaverFit was the right place for me.”
He was comfortable at BeaverFit in terms of driving efforts and understanding what it takes to help a customer solve the problems they’re dealing with, but there were a lot of things he had to learn about how the company operates, he said. He had to shift his vernacular from one language to another, “putting on a little bit more business flavor rather than heavy acronyms” – something every veteran in the private sector can relate to.
Carey said leaving the military and beginning his career at BeaverFit was “like leaving one team room for another,” especially since the BeaverFit team is comprised of about 80% veterans. This unique aspect of BeaverFit, being majority staffed with veterans, is one of the characteristics that makes it a natural and easy landing place for so many combat veterans like Carey, and is a deliberate part of the culture at BeaverFit.
“We’ve always gravitated towards hiring veterans,” said Alex Roodhouse, BeaverFit’s other U.S. co-founder and owner, also a combat veteran along with Taylor. “We don’t hire them out of charity, or as a service to the veteran, but because we know first-hand the value, work ethic and camaraderie that come with a legacy of service.”
“Veterans are motivated, motivating, and eager to prove themselves outside of uniform, and they are often the best team members we have.”
It was after reading Sebastian Junger’s book “Tribe” that Roodhouse realized BeaverFit “had done something by accident, or rather as a byproduct of a different deliberate effort, that Junger described as the best possible way for a veteran to transition out of service… We had created a genuine community.”
“In this community of veterans, none of us are outliers, and everyone feels comfortable the instant they walk in the door. So many of the mental health issues and transition struggles that veterans experience are a result of being an outlier, having to hide or mask your experience in a world that doesn’t understand it. Not here,” he said.
Fast forward two years from joining the team and Carey now oversees the entire North America product portfolio for BeaverFit, with dynamic day-to-day responsibilities.
“The interesting thing is, a portion of the product portfolio I have now with all the custom products, a lot of those I had a hand in developing as a customer,” he said. With Carey’s expert insight, the team has a leg up in understanding how products are solving current problems for customers, and what future problems the company will need to solve.
“I want to see the company be successful and win,” he said. “So my focus is to really dive in, help the company build an effective strategy going into the future, and then execute on it.”
And while he’s keeping busy, he’s also trying to find balance. Having recently completed his MBA, Carey also volunteers for Shields and Stripes, a nonprofit organization that supports veterans and first responders in overcoming physical and non-physical injuries sustained from their careers. During his limited free time, Carey said his next personal goal is to refocus on hobbies such as martial arts, and more time at the mountains and the beach – things that have been placed on the backburner for too long.
Maintaining personal identity outside of day-to-day work is important to Carey. “What you do for work is not what defines you, and is not what makes you who you are,” he said. “If you can keep those things separate, then you have a lot of flexibility in where you go in life. When we start to associate our identity with the things that we do on a day-to-day basis, it’s harder to walk away and adjust to new roles.“
“It’s important to find your own place where you’re happy as a person,” he said.
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