By J.J. Pinter, Deputy Director

 

My wife and I recently sold our dream house.  We both loved the house dearly, and it was a great home for our family.  We said that we were never going to move again and that we’d end our lives in that home.

Except, it was in the wrong spot.

Our lives have changed drastically in the last 5 years, with new jobs, more kids, and more involvement in the community.  And, our home was now conveniently located 30 minutes from everything that we did on a constant basis – causing our family to spend many extra hours each week in the car.  In our hearts, my wife and I both knew that we needed to move, but having the uncomfortable discussion about it and deciding to list our house was tremendously difficult.  I suspect that we’re not the only family to have experiences in this vein.

There’s an economic principle at play here called “the sunk cost fallacy”.  A sunk cost is any past cost that has already been paid and cannot be recovered. This money (or time) is now gone, so it shouldn’t figure into the decision making process about whatever problem is trying to be solved.  In actuality, the fact that we have lived in the house for 5 years and had great memories there has no bearing on whether or not it works for us now – but it can be hard to separate the two.

The sunk cost fallacy is a very real thing.  And it affects most people every day.

Here are some examples:

“This movie is terrible, but I’m going to finish watching it, because I’ve invested an hour of my time.”

“I can’t break up with my boyfriend even though I’m unhappy, because we’ve been together such a long time.”

“I can’t possibly go back to school to become a nurse – I’ve been a teacher for 10 years.”

The truth of the matter is that you should end a relationship when you don’t see a future with your partner, becoming a nurse when you are 30 (not 20) still allows a full career, and that it made all the sense in the world for my family to move – but that doesn’t make it easier to make the change.

The common thread for these examples is that the person involved usually knows that their actions don’t make sense, or at least has an inclination that something isn’t right – but they fail to act because the alternative seems too difficult at face value.  Here’s where the fallacy comes in – when you actually look at the alternative objectively, we often find that the obstacles are not nearly as insurmountable as they appear at first glance. Would you rather go through a messy break-up that might take 2 months to recover emotionally from, or be in an unhappy relationship for the rest of your life? Is going back to school for 2 years to learn a new career really harder than working in a job you dislike for the next 40 years? The answer is usually no to these questions, but the sunk cost fallacy keeps people from acting, because they feel invested in what they are currently doing.

As I left a good Fortune 500 job 3-years ago to work for a small non-profit, Team RWB, people constantly ask me about career changes or projects they are pondering with statements like this:

“I really feel like I could use my skillset to help Veterans, but I need to work here 5 more years before we can do it.”

“It’s a life goal to hike the Appalachian Trail with my son, but we can’t afford it.”

“My father was taken by Pancreatic Cancer and I want to get involved in the fight, but if I do it, I want to be able to commit fully, and I don’t have time right now.”

My answer is always the same whenever I am presented with these scenarios: to quote our friends at Nike: “just do it.”  People usually know in their hearts what they really want to do, but the grip of the status quo keeps them from making a change.  The reality of what they want to do is usually very attainable, but the sunk cost fallacy keeps them from stepping into the arena.

Here’s the reality:

A change in housing and a smaller car payment can usually allow for working at a non-profit or start-up.

The Appalachian Trail can be hiked for dollars a day and $100 bucks in second-hand gear.

The average American watches 30 hours of TV a week – there’s plenty of time to volunteer.

So, if you’ve ever said to yourself, “I’d really like to do ______, but I can’t because of _______.

Just do it. 

And if your goal is to help enrich the lives of America’s Veterans – just call us at Team RWB.  We’ll help you get there.

By Dan Brostek

It’s hard to capture through words alone the experience of the 2015 relay so we decided to partner with We Are The Mighty to create a video that would allow us to document the power and emotion behind this epic journey.

Here are some statistics to keep in mind as you watch this video. These aren’t just numbers. Instead, they represent the personal stories, connections, widespread support and community engagement that came to define the essence and impact of the 2015 Old Glory Relay.

  • Total Funds Raised: $436,000.
  • New Team RWB Members: 10,118 (19% YoY increase).
  • Participation: 59 teams and 1,170 athletes.
  • Events: 13 community celebrations with over 800 participants.
  • Route: 3,540 miles, 13 States, 4 State Capitals and over 7M steps taken.
  • Weather: Temperatures north of 110 degrees and well below freezing.
  • Elevation: From sea level to 11,312 feet (Monarch Pass, Colorado).
  • Content: Captured over 4,200 user generated photos and videos with countless personal testimonials.
  • Media: Generated a potential reach of over 950M impressions across traditional and digital media channels.
  • Website: Increased YoY website traffic during the Old Glory Relay by 65% and total pageviews by 94%.
  • Influencers: Engaged numerous individuals and organizations in the Veteran space, news outlets, athletes, politicians, community leaders and brands.
  • News: The top 30 media stories generated over 7,700 social shares with close to 10M in web traffic including an appearance on Happening Now on Fox News with national viewership over 1.1M.
  • Microsoft Incentives: Delivered over $20k in Microsoft product to top individual and team fundraisers.
  • Hashtag Engagement: The #oldgloryrelay hashtag was used over 3,500 times via Twitter and Instagram with over 6M impressions generated in the last 30 days of the campaign alone.
  • The Photo: A single photo shared by Fox News of a police officer saluting Old Glory (held by Tim Muessig from Microsoft) reached over 19M people with 1M+ likes, 650k shares & 17k comments…in the first week.
  • Freedom Honks: Too many to count.

 

 

This event could not have taken place without the Eagle Fire of our participants and fundraisers, the dedication of our Team RWB staff on the course, the engagement of numerous volunteers across the country…and the unwavering support of our sponsors. A heartfelt thanks to our presenting sponsor, Microsoft. A special thanks as well to the Schultz Family Foundation, NoGii, Zignal LabsRDB Running and the Bob Woodruff Foundation for making this experience a memory to last a lifetime.

Planning for the 2016 Old Glory Relay is underway so stay tuned for more details.

 

 

By Blayne Smith and Lonnie Martin

 

Several weeks ago, on a Saturday afternoon, I was mindlessly scrolling though Instagram, when I saw an alert that Lonnie Martin had tagged me in a post. I’d met him once, during the pre-race pasta dinner at the 2014 Marine Corps Marathon. We took a quick photo together, but didn’t talk much. Here are Lonnie’s words (in bold italics):

My name is Lonnie Martin. I am a fourth generation Marine and my family has fought in every major U.S. conflict. I spent over 20 years in the Marine Corps and deployed sometimes more often than I was in country. I did a couple combat tours in Iraq that changed the fabric of who I am as a person. I came back with what I frequently call my “gifts” from combat. The gifts of PTSD, depression, TBI, Survivor’s guilt, insomnia, nightmares, migraines and cluster headaches, and the inability to hold employment due to the overwhelming effect these and many more gifts have on me. Basically my whole sense of self is so severely altered that most days I struggle to do anything.

I had, through the miracle of social media, become familiar with his travels and adventures as “Spartan Martin” (as he’s known on Facebook and Instagram), a Marine-veteran who was determined to fight back against depression and post-traumatic stress by engaging in (lots) of vigorous physical activity. He struck me as my kind of guy—honest and tough enough to openly acknowledge his challenges and to battle like hell to overcome them. Most of Lonnie’s posts were positive and upbeat, often funny. But this one was different, proven by the black-and-white photo of his clearly frustrated face.

Our warrior class is in danger. We are the strongest nation in the world militarily, but those warriors we send in harm’s way are quickly becoming endangered. We are taking our own lives far too often. I know because on my worst of days I have come very close to being a statistic. I have strongly considered ending my own life due to the rigors of the daily battle with inner demons. I still battle, but everyday is another struggle to persevere.

In the post, Lonnie stated that one reason that veterans are struggling with isolation and depression (even suicide) is that nonprofit organizations (like the one I lead) are failing to effectively reach out and connect. I was flushed with a rapid series of emotions—from “Holy shit, we’re failing veterans!” to “How dare you put that on us when we’re trying so hard to help”. It took me several minutes to level off. Eventually, I decided that I would offer Lonnie my cell phone number and ask him—challenge him, really—to give me call. A few days later, my phone rang. I didn’t think Lonnie would call, but I’m so glad that he did. Because, as he had written in that post . . .

I have battled PTSD and depression for more than 5 years with very little improvement. I understand it better and have found ways to live with it, but it still can attack quickly. It causes me to isolate myself and dig in for the depression tide to surge back in. I hit my lowest lows in the past few months. I isolated myself. I started to give up. I just could not go on anymore. Suicide is seen as giving up. For me it was ending the pain. How do you battle that? Everything in me told me to battle it alone. This was my fight. After all I had been through in combat how could I not be able to conquer this. Unfortunately that just does NOT work at all.

After just 20 minutes on the phone, I gained a much better understanding for what Lonnie was going through. As a very active member of our Honolulu chapter, he had had his bad days, but was otherwise doing pretty well…until he hit a rough patch. Lonnie withdrew into isolation and stopped showing up. Most days, he felt alone, battling with depression, and wasn’t sure where to turn.

My girlfriend had seen enough and ordered me to get help. I found a PTSD support group locally sponsored by the Wounded Warrior Project, which helped with getting out of isolation. I vented like many others in my support group about the VA and the mental health support. My group kept mentioning the Vet Centers as a great source of support. The Vet Centers are technically part of the VA, but operate in a way that you feel they have your best interests at heart by providing free and confidential counseling for combat veterans and their families. Far too many of us suffer alone in silence. I have been to the Vet Center now 3 times in the last week and have another appointment with a counselor tomorrow marking my fourth visit in 9 days. If I didn’t have my girlfriend pushing me so hard to seek help I don’t know if I would have. It was just a matter of time till I lost my battle.

This is where our conversation really started and illustrates how we, as veterans, often struggle to find resources, despite the fact that they are everywhere. Lonnie’s story delivered a few very powerful messages:

  • We, as individuals, have to be vigilant in our care for each other.
  • We, as veterans, must be willing to seek help when we need it.
  • We, as veteran-serving organizations, must work closely together.

 

No single person or organization can provide everything that every veteran needs, all the time. We have a collective obligation to provide what we can, when we can…and empower veterans to connect with other resources that may provide important services. It gives me great pride to know that while Lonnie found camaraderie and connection with Team RWB, he relied upon WWP for a PTSD support group and the Vet Centers for mental health counseling. However, he shouldn’t have had to experience such anguish before getting that help. That is why we, at Team RWB, are working hard to create working relationships with best-in-class partners in areas of critical need. As our chapters take root in communities, we must be aware of, and connect with, those delivering valuable resources. That’s why Lonnie and I decided to write this blog post, together. Lonnie says it really well.

We as an organization are not always best equipped to help folks like me. However, we are a powerhouse in the veteran community and touch more warrior lives than many other support groups. We within Team RWB are going to recognize those that need help first. We might be the only place that a veteran interacts with others outside of family. Heck, I spent more time with Team RWB than any other place. It was easier being with other veterans because of all the shared experiences. When we leave the military sometimes we feel alienated from civilian society, which makes Team RWB such a vital touch point for us to stay socially engaged. Team RWB has partnerships with other organizations that can provide the expertise and understanding of what it will take to win our inner battles.

I cannot thank Lonnie enough for his courage. By sharing his story, he is shining a light, not only on the challenges, but also on the solutions. Please, keep an eye on each other. Know the Five Signs of suffering, and take action. Take it from Lonnie:

Don’t be scared to ask the tough questions. Don’t be scared to get up in their business. Hurt feelings are easier to fix than losing your friends to their inner demons. Reach out. Call that Eagle that totally disappeared from events. Notice that change in behavior, mood, amount of social contact. Suicidal thoughts are not normally the first sign. As a warrior it is the hardest thing in the world to ask for help, and fighting a solo battle is impossible to win.

 

By Dana Ayers, Team RWB, Washington, D.C., Author, Confessions of an Unlikely Runner

 

My support of the military began 14 years ago, shortly after the attacks on 9/11. The attacks took place on the second day of my internship at the White House.  Feeling a need to support the response effort, I volunteered to serve food to those cleaning up debris at the Pentagon, where I met another volunteer named Paul.  Paul and I both felt motivated to continue to provide some level of public service, but that desire initially led us in different directions.  I accepted a permanent position at the White House, and Paul directed his patriotism towards joining the Army. While I was honored to serve in the Executive Office of the President, I was also envious of Paul’s decision to serve in the uniform.

When Operation Iraqi Freedom began, I kept in touch with Paul while he was deployed to Baghdad. Hearing his stories made me want to contribute to the war efforts in some way, so I began greeting the evacuation flights that were coming to Walter Reed with the wounded. Then, one by one, Paul’s new military friends started moving to D.C. and he enlisted me to “take care of them.” That was trait number one that I noticed in all the service members who eventually became part of my life: loyalty. No one got left behind; no one thought twice about bending over backwards for each other. I was thrilled to be pulled into such a community.

My work with service members at Walter Reed, and my new friendships with Paul’s “battle buddies,” exposed more consistent traits in all of them: dedication, discipline, and resilience. I could not help but admire the ability of everyone to simply get the job done and not complain about it. Even the veterans I met at Walter Reed who were missing one, two, even three limbs were always positive, polite, and strong. I wanted to continue being around service members just so I could continue to see those traits. I eventually joined the Navy reserves to burrow even further into the military community I so admired.

My experiences at Walter Reed and with Paul and his military friends also taught me about the challenges veterans face when trying to integrate into civilian life, and about PTSD and TBIs. I found myself wanting even more to support those who might feel overwhelmed leaving the military, or who might just need a friend. I sought out volunteer opportunities with various veteran service organizations. Then, I saw a Facebook friend post about Team Red White and Blue (RWB) and I was immediately intrigued.

Not only was RWB an organization that brought together veterans and civilians for camaraderie in a practical, sustainable way, but it used physical activities to do so. I’m not naturally athletic, but I love staying active and I’ve been sucked into the running world since moving to D.C. I went to an RWB group run, then continued to show up for other events. I found myself rock climbing, participating in yoga classes, and doing service projects with the Team. I saw those traits that I loved in my veteran friends, show up in the Eagles I was meeting: a desire to go above and beyond, an inherent sense of duty to help, and the conviction that no one gets left behind. I saw these traits in both the civilian and military members of the Team, so I was hooked.

While I do call myself a runner, I’m a very slow, not very consistent runner. So I was intimidated at first to join RWB runs because it makes me uncomfortable for people to wait for me to finish. But then I saw the genuine desire in the Eagles to be there for one another and I finally allowed myself to be cared for at times. I distinctly recall one race in particular where a few of us admitted that we were slow and immediately another Eagle jumped in the Facebook discussion and said “If you all are running that pace, then I’m running that pace.” And I knew he meant it. And I knew it made him happy to do that. Seeing that kind of support carved a little memory crease in my brain that has given me motivation ever since. When I’m struggling in my own runs, or in a race, I think about moments like that and I feel the support of the Team even when I’m not around other Eagles.

I wrote a book this year on my misadventures in being a slow runner, and RWB definitely had to be mentioned. While I was a runner long before I was an Eagle, joining the Team has encouraged me to do more training runs, and do more races – mostly because I just want to spend more time with RWBers. The Team has encouraged me to stay physically active, and has shown me time and again what it looks like to be there for the people around me. #EagleUp indeed.

By Andrew Hutchinson

Team RWB Director of Experiential Leadership, Andrew Hutchinson, recently spoke in San Francisco to a group of veterans and young professionals on Veterans Day. He spoke as part of an event called ‘Battle Tested Veterans’ – an event organized to help change the way we think about veterans, and to highlight the diversity and strength that veterans can bring to their communities. In his presentation, Andrew talks about some of the things that veterans miss most when they leave the service – things like people, purpose, and identity – and how Team RWB is using physical and social activity to help veterans find those things again.