Chapter: Team RWB Atlanta

Member Since: June 2017

Motto: “You can accomplish anything as long as you have a open mind and a positive attitude.”

Why Did You Join Team RWB?

“I wanted to join a group that supports our Veterans and also start assisting in my community. I enjoy doing various obstacle races and wanted to join a group to help me train. There is nothing as motivating and awesome as seeing a sea of red t-shirts with the Team RWB logo.”

What has Been Your Favorite Event or Experience with Team RWB?

“My favorite event was my first event with Team RWB. There was a 4 or 7 mile ruck followed by a picnic and tubing down the river. From the moment that I arrived, everyone was so welcoming and delightful. I instantly made some new friendships and knew that this was a great group with amazing people from all walks of life.”

How Do You Serve Your Community?

“One of the ways I like to serve our community is volunteering at local races. This is also a great way to meet some new people and get involved in local events. Also, I like to try and do some fundraising if some of the races are for charity.

What Inspires You?

“There are a few things that inspire me but the most important are my wife Kim who is also a Team RWB member and my 2 daughters. They are the reasons that make we want to improve and be a better person each and every day. Life can be stressful and a challenge at times but they are what keeps me grounded and motivates me to be who I am today.”

How Has Team RWB Impacted Your Life?

“Although its only been a couple months since I joined Team RWB, it’s been a great experience. I have met some wonderful people and enjoy the events that take place. As a Veteran currently employed in corporate America, sometimes you don’t always have that camaraderie and feeling of togetherness like you do in the military. Since joining Team RWB, I do feel that sense of camaraderie and always look forward to the next get-together and meeting new people.

What Would You Say to Someone Who is Thinking of Joining Team RWB?

“I would say absolutely join Team RWB! You will meet some great people from all walks of life. From civilians to military, from active to those who may not choose to be, there are always great people to meet, new friendships to make and events/volunteering to partake. I am really proud to be apart of Team RWB and I know you will too!”

Blog written by: Pete Hitzeman

One of the most well-known phenomena of the military experience is the ability to form lifelong friendships with total strangers over a matter of hours or days. The crucibles of training and combat provide the proximity, unity of purpose, and common mindset that allow people from widely disparate backgrounds to understand and appreciate each other, and the bond of shared sacrifice cements the resulting relationships.

But it is equally true that, after separation, many veterans are hesitant to form such bonds with their new civilian peers. As the sociological divide between those who have served and those who have not becomes increasingly pronounced, it can be difficult for veterans and civilians alike to find the common ground and worldview necessary to create deep, lasting bonds.

Until a year ago, I had spent my entire life in the narrow slice of the pie chart depicting the portion of the public who has served. I was raised in a family whose tradition of military service runs uninterrupted from the Spanish-American War to Operation Inherent Resolve. No sooner had my ancestors arrived on American soil, than they took up arms to defend it.

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My entire understanding of our nation and culture was built through the lens of God and Country. While I held a variety of civilian jobs during the 15 years I served, I always considered myself an Airman first, and everything else second. So when I came to the realization that it was time for me to get out, I quickly discovered that it was going to be about a lot more than a change in employment. I was going to have to find a way to close the book on a long, demanding, dynamic chapter of my life, and find a way to integrate myself into the fabric of the “real world.”

There is no manual for that job; no challenge-and-response checklist to get you through the task. My last job in the Air Force required almost complete secrecy, and so I learned how to reflexively compartmentalize my thoughts and emotions. I took the same approach to my transition from military life to civilian: I grew a beard, boxed up my uniforms and awards, threw myself into my new careers, and more or less pretended that the previous decade and a half didn’t happen.

But I found that mindset to require a certain amount of internal dishonesty. My service is, and will always be, a huge part of who I am. It may be awkward to talk about in some social situations, but that doesn’t mean it can be ignored.

The trouble is that it can often be difficult to know how a new group of people will react to the “veteran” me. Some are casually curious, peering at me like a bear on the other side of the glass at the zoo. Too often, I hear a reflexive and insincere “thank you for your service,” which I try to accept with as much grace and dignity as I can muster, given how hollow the words can ring at times. In fairness, I don’t imagine it’s any more comfortable on the other side of the conversation, but the end result is that I have often simply avoided the topic, or situations in which it might come up.

So when my good friend and fellow veteran Amanda invited me to join Team RWB, I hesitated. For a year. I wasn’t sure what to make of all the cheering and flag waving I saw from Eagles at my local races. They were just so… unreasonably friendly. I thought it strange for a service organization aimed at veterans to have so many civilian members. In short, I didn’t get it, and wasn’t sure that I wanted to.

But then there was this bike ride.

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The (Des Moines) Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) is a weeklong, rolling celebration of everything with wheels and pedals. It begins at the western border of the state and ends at the Mississippi River. Along the way, the route is punctuated by postcard-worthy scenery and beautiful little towns left untouched by time; sprinkled with beer trucks, pork chops, and every imaginable nutritional transgression. It’s Woodstock for bikes, only with a more diverse turnout.

Amanda upped the ante, inviting me to join RWB specifically to go to RAGBRAI, and I ran out excuses not to do it. I can’t turn down an epic bike adventure, and a week of camping and riding sounded like just my kind of party.

The week started with what should have been a miserable car ride, but instead was a fascinating, stimulating, and frequently hilarious 18 hours. That we had three grown men sharing the back seat of a pickup truck did nothing to dampen our humor, even when Mike decided to use me as a pillow for the last couple hours of the drive.

That would set the tone for the rest of the week (the attitude, not the cuddling). Our crew of 28 riders, plus support vehicles, drivers, and family members formed a happy little band that, over the course of just a few days, started to feel a lot like the military family I recently left.

The most remarkable thing about that feeling was that, unlike most social situations, you couldn’t readily distinguish between veterans and civilians. What’s more, nobody seemed to care. It wasn’t that your service didn’t matter—quite the opposite, I’ve rarely felt such genuine appreciation—it was that everyone valued everyone else as a complete, complex person, rather than some imagined, monochromatic stereotype of a veteran.

This acceptance and positivity manifested in the smoothest week I have ever been a part of, inside the military or out of it. There were no fights or bickering, no cliques, and nobody causing problems for the rest of us. We rode out as a team every morning and reunited every evening, and in between we did whatever we felt like doing, together, in small groups, or alone (that is, as alone as you can be among ten thousand other cyclists). I learned that this was no accident; RWB leaders intentionally shape the culture of their chapters according to a carefully crafted Ethos, and RWB members cheerfully adopt and live to that standard.

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Over eight days and 518 miles, I would make more friends and create more memories than in any week in recent memory. We got up early, groaned through our aches and pains as we broke camp, and got on the road by 6:30 am sharp (ish). We rode fast, we rode slow, we drank beer and ate pork chops and shared grilled cheeses (with bacon!), and waited in line in the sun for ice cream churned by antique John Deere motors. We battled the wind, hid from the rain, and took care of each other when the going got rough. We learned from each other, laughed with each other, and created dozens of inside jokes that I won’t get to use again for a year.

Riding RAGBRAI with Team RWB gave me the opportunity to decompress, and to be my whole self among people who were my friends before they ever met me. Before that week in Iowa, I didn’t know those sorts of friendships could be formed outside of a grueling military experience. But now, I know that this team is full of people I would go anywhere with, to do anything, for any reason. When can we do it all again?

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Mat Best is a former Army Ranger and current entrepreneur – but he is most well known as a social media influencer, racking up tens of millions of views and impressions with his youtube videos and content.  He’s a true creative professional, and we dive deep into his creative process and how he’s spending his time.  

In this episode we discuss:

• His Memorial Day video that went viral

• How he approaches the creative process

• His transition process and associated struggles

• How he keeps himself balanced and effective

 

  

Chapter: Team RWB Raleigh/Durham

Member Since: June 2014

Motto: “To have a full life, keep a balance of mind, body and soul. Always learn something new, keep yourself healthy, and do for others.”

Why Did You Join Team RWB?

“I was running in the Veterans Day 10k in Washington DC, I saw a guy running with Old Glory. I tried to catch him on the entire 10k, it was an out and back run. On his was back, I saw a bird logo on his shirt. It turns out that the faster I ran to catch him, the faster he kept going. I did this run twice before and I was on track to crush my previous years time, I found out afterward that he was doing negative splits, that’s why I couldn’t catch him. At the 6 mile point, a sea of red shirts come out of nowhere (at least it seemed that way) and ran in with him, he was the last man in their group. I had to inquire about this organization once I saw the mission statement “Enriching Veterans Lives” on the back of the shirt. He explained to me what Team RWB does, and that there was most likely a chapter in my area. I went to the website and saw what the mission was, I felt that I had much to offer. I went into the Army 3 weeks after graduating from High School. When I went through the transition from Military life to civilian life, it was very tough. I figured that being that I’ve already been through the hardships that I could help smooth out the transition others. I signed up.”

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What has Been Your Favorite Event or Experience with Team RWB?

“I’ve had many events and experiences in different places with Team RWB that have affected me in different ways. As far as my favorite event and experience locally, it was the St. Paddy’s Day 8k / Call to Action. When I put the word out about a Ft. Bragg Eagle and friend, Shawn Conaway needing some assistance to get through the course, because he just got out of rehab 3 weeks prior to the race. I was amazed and deeply moved by the great response that we got. We had such a great turnout that we were able to have 3 photographers on the course and 1 or 2 people helping at every hill. I gave up my hill assignment to let another Eagle be a part of this and being that Shawn overshot a turn on one of the downhills, I got to be a part of it too. There were only 2 people there that knew Shawn prior to that day, Myself and Jesus Ramirez. 14 people came together to make sure that 1 man on a hand cycle that they didn’t know until after the race, would make it thru a very hilly course.”

How Do You Serve Your Community?

“I am the Chapter Captain for Team RWB, I spend much of my free time organizing, and being involved with many of our activities. I spend a lot of time working with other organizations and local businesses to build partnerships that can be mutually beneficial to Team RWB and the other organization or business. I am also a team member with Team Rubicon and help out with their local missions whenever possible.

What Inspires You?

“I have found inspiration in many ways. I draw inspiration from my friends, family, and my fellow Eagles. Everyone inspires me in a different way, some by setting new personal records on a race, loosing weight, stopping smoking, start new businesses, a positive attitude, inspiration is everywhere. You have to open your eyes and ears, you will see it and you will hear their stories.”

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How Has Team RWB Impacted Your Life?

“Team RWB has helped me form new friendships, camaraderie, relationships, and much more. I’m in the best shape I’ve been in for quite some time, thanks to many of our members who always inspire me. Thanks to many of our Eagles that I’ve been drawing inspiration from, I’ve knocked 24 mins 2 sec off of my half marathon PR. Several Eagles have taken me out of my comfort zones and help me reach my potential.

What Would You Say to Someone Who is Thinking of Joining Team RWB?

“I tell them about how Team RWB has impacted my life and/or the life of others. I let them know that it doesn’t matter who you are or what you like to do, there is a place for you within the organization.”

 

Jeremy Paris is the Executive Director of the Veteran Artist Program and a long-time contributor the Veteran space.  He is also the host of the Veteran Resource Podcast, and was a major contributor to the establishment of the Eagle Nation Podcast.  

During this episode, we dig in to his start in nonprofit work and how art has grown into a viable career path for military Veterans.  His organization, Veteran Artist Program, provides a community, resources, and mentorship for those looking to grow as working artists.

We also spend some time covering the craft of podcasting and the role that is plays in building both community and business.  We cover a bunch of really important topics that apply well beyond podcasts.

Jeremy has been at it for a long time and has tremendous perspective and insight.  We know you’ll enjoy hearing from him!