Written by Richie Evans
My name is Richie Evans, and my story starts a little different than most veterans featured on this page. I am young – just nineteen years old – and I have spent just under two years in the military thus far. I was trained as an Aerospace Maintenance mechanic on the KC-135 Stratotanker, and I spent a very short three weeks at MacDill AFB in Tampa, FL in the Air Force Reserve. I then transferred back home and into the Air National Guard, reenlisting with the 107th Airlift Wing in Niagara Falls, NY. When my ANG recruiter, TSgt. Krystalore Stegner mentioned Team Red, White and Blue, a support group for veterans, I became intrigued. Upon my arrival home I immediately “Googled” this group. Without hesitation I signed up and the rest became history.
Though it took me a few months after signing up to be able to get out to a Wednesday evening run at Delaware Park in Buffalo, NY, I knew there was something special about Team RWB from the beginning. The group was extremely welcoming, and made me feel like I had been a member for many months. I was very nervous to make it to a run, since I only knew one person; however, that anxiety was unjustified and the decision to go has proven to be one of my best to date.
I have always been the type of person attracted to, and for lack of a better word, “obsessed” with helping others in any way possible. I am a firm believer that I was not put on this Earth to just live my life, like so many others do; rather I was put here to impact others. If I have enabled one man to breathe a little easier because of something I have done, then I have done my job. That is the very reason why I have made the decision to serve my country by joining the military, and serve my community by becoming a volunteer firefighter and first responder. I also volunteer as a track and field coach, and of course have become involved with Team RWB. Knowing that I can reach out to veterans and members who currently serve is one of the biggest reasons why I continually participate with this Team. I feel as if many members seek out Team RWB for help coping with various life challenges and transitions from the military. I have been fortunate enough to be put in the position to potentially help those men and women who may desperately need compassion from someone. Physical activity has been a large part of my life from a very young age, and continues to be to this day, so I love that Team RWB brings together all group members with such an activity. The opportunity to interact with veterans and veteran supporters on a frequent basis has proved to be extremely rewarding and refreshing for me. (more…)
Written by Jeremiah Fountain
My name is Jeremiah Fountain. I transitioned out of the Army in August of 2011, after serving three years on active duty as an Infantryman. During my time in the service, I was deployed once to the Diyala province of Iraq with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 2nd Infantry Division out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord Washington. While stationed at JBLM, I met and married the wonderful woman I have the honor of calling my wife – Myra. She is now a Captain in the Army Reserves serving on AGR, which has brought us to Pittsburgh, PA. Shortly after my transition out of the Army, my wife and I were blessed with our amazing son Noah.
As with many veterans I know, I fell into a physical slump after separating from the service. I began to use minor service related injuries as an excuse to stop exercising and sit on the couch all day. Furthermore, I was afforded the privilege of becoming a full time stay at home dad after our son was born. This great opportunity to stay home with my son gave me yet another excuse to avoid exercise and a proper diet. As expected, that destructive lifestyle came with a high cost. By the end of 2012, my weight was out of control. I had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and the devastating diagnosis of diabetes. In the spring of 2013, I had no choice but to start making better decisions for my health in order to ensure I could stick around for my son. 2013 was a roller coaster ride of trying to manage my diet and exercise with little result.
My wife discovered Team RWB through classmates in her Captains Career Course at Fort Lee, VA; she subsequently joined in August 2013. While she was at the course my son and I spent six months in Florida staying with family. When Myra would visit, she would tell me about this veterans group she had joined, and that she had started running 5Ks, 10Ks and half marathons. I was extremely out of shape, and hated running, so I blew off her praises to avoid being pulled into a “running” group. Even after she came to Florida with a few Team RWB members and ran the 2014 Disney World Marathon, I still refused to join the team insisting that since I was not a runner it was not for me. In February 2014, my wife reported to a Reserve center in Pittsburgh, PA. Since we were new to the area and didn’t know anyone, she convinced me to join her in meeting with the Western PA Team RWB group for a social event. It was there that I met Susanne Kokoska, a Navy veteran, and the social director for the chapter. Recognizing her enthusiasm and passion for getting veterans together and building relationships, and her persistent encouragement, she had me logging in that afternoon to join Team RWB. (more…)
Written by Sean O’Neill & Jamie Malinowski
Greetings Team Red, White & Blue
I’m a fairly new member to the team. I had just heard about the team from a friend in Chicago shortly before the Boston Marathon bombing. After seeing Team RWB’s response to the terrorist attack, I knew this was a group I wanted to join.
My name is Sean O’Neill – former Infantry Captain, United States Marine Corps – decorated Iraq Combat Veteran. I served in Iraq in 2005 in Al-Anbar province along the Euphrates, where our unit lost 48 Marines and Sailors. After returning home I’ve tried to deal with Post Traumatic Stress through physical activity. I ran the 2011 Marine Corps Marathon with my fellow Marines, and the Marines from another amazing group, Semper Fidelis Health & Wellness. We ran to honor and remember the 48 brothers we lost.
The crew from SFHW had introduced me to the idea of yoga as therapy for veterans, and even though I had dabbled in yoga while on active duty, it was only for stretching purposes. I would have never imagined how much of an impact it would have later in my life. Shortly after I joined Team RWB, I heard about a local yoga studio through Kate Nemec Bielak, who heads up the SW PA Chapter. The studio was offering free classes and discounts for veterans. So I started taking classes at Prima Yoga in Cranberry, PA and have been hooked ever since.
Since I started practicing yoga for therapy on a regular basis I continue to be amazed by the welcoming, understanding and supportive nature of the yoga community. The staff of Prima Yoga is an excellent force multiplier for Team RWB. I can not recommend enough how beneficial my yoga practice and involvement in Team RWB has been to my overall health, and the welfare of my family as well. As an example, earlier this summer I had not been going to yoga for a couple weeks due to the tempo at work. My wife said to me in the car one day, “You haven’t been to yoga in a while have you?” I replied with, “no, it’s been a couple weeks.” She lovingly responded, “I know, I can tell.” One more interesting tid-bit; I recently discovered that my dad, a Vietnam Combat Marine, used to do yoga years ago to deal with his PTSD – long before it was in fashion. Too bad our Vietnam Vets didn’t have amazing support groups like Team Red, White, & Blue. Thank you all for the amazing work you do day after day to help reconnect our veterans with the proud and supportive communities we love so much.
Semper Fidelis – Fidelis Ad Mortem,
Sean M. O’Neill
Prima Yoga’s Story:
I became interested in Bikram yoga after taking my first class in Washington D.C., where the studio owner was a retired Army Ranger. I gravitated towards the Bikram yoga because it was more structured, and required more physical strength and mental concentration than other yoga classes I had taken in the past. After seeing the benefits and changes in my body after practicing for two years, I decided to go to training and eventually bring Bikram yoga back to Cranberry Township by opening Prima Yoga in September 2011.
My husband is also a veteran; he served six years as a Marine, and completed three tours in Iraq. I have a special place in my heart for those who are willing to give of themselves in order to keep the rest of us safe and free. Bikram yoga is great for vets because it gives them the physical challenge they desire, but also helps them to relax, and reduce stress/anxiety. Bikram says “It’s never too late, it’s never too bad, you’re never too old, or too sick to start from scratch once again.” Every vet can benefit from yoga; they just have to start somewhere.
In the past, I’ve done special classes for Team RWB, so vets could take a class with other like-minded individuals. I also run different charity events throughout the year at the studio, and have donated the proceeds to Team RWB. I truly believe Bikram yoga can help vets both physically and mentally, and I love to share my passion for yoga with those who want to learn more.
Written by Jessica Tyra
My name is Jessica Tyra, and I’m currently a stay at home mother to three beautiful children. I became a member of Team RWB when we moved from Fort Riley, KS to Tampa during the summer of 2013. The chapter welcomed me as soon as we arrived. Right away, I was invited to runs, races, and BBQs. I remember my first BBQ was at the Homeless Emergency Project, and I was able to meet some veterans who were currently homeless.
I was part of the Army from 2003-2010, during which I deployed twice. My second deployment occurred while I was a single mother during the Surge from February 2007 – April 2008. These 15 months were by far the hardest of my life. My son lived with my parents, and I only got phone calls with him when possible, as Skype just didn’t work on our FOB. I was lucky to receive emails from my mother with pictures and updates from him, as well as numerous care packages from back home! Amazingly, my old elementary school adopted my unit, and I would get up to 15 boxes at a time to distribute throughout the whole AO.
Our FOB would receive indirect fire almost daily, and many of the attacks were deadly. It was a true test of faith, having to hide on a daily basis and feeling safer when out on a convoy. We moved into tents from a dilapidated building for the last few months of our deployment, and the target for IDF seemed to be right next to the FOB’s “tent city.” On March 20, 2008 we received 12 volleys of indirect fire, with shrapnel from the 6th or 7th hitting me in my leg. I was lucky enough to be treated on the FOB, and even though the piece of shrapnel is out of my leg it did leave me with some nerve damage. I receive shooting pains up my leg every once in a while, but on good days my leg is completely numb.
This happened less than a month before we were leaving Iraq, and I was still in denial about how close I was to losing my life. It took some “seasoned vets” to explain to me how close I came, which finally made me realize the seriousness of getting injured during a deployment. I made sure to get treatment for my subsequent PTSD and was able to take over parenting my son. We had some challenges, and it was a struggle to get back to normal life, but I can say I’m a better mother and person for everything I went through.
I chose not to use medication for my PTSD treatment; instead I opted for sessions with a therapist to talk about my issues, and I explored other forms of therapy. Team RWB has helped me quickly find runs, softball games, and other events to help me get out and see how other veterans are dealing with their individual situations. I like hearing all of the different stories, and I especially love the fact that anyone can be part of Team RWB. It’s all about building a community with veterans and those who support veterans, and I am proud to be part of the team. I haven’t had to take my medication since I started running, and it’s a wonderful feeling to be able to control my own emotions and feelings with just these various forms of therapy! I’m definitely not the best runner, or most in shape…but I enjoy these runs.
We are proud and very excited to announce that starting today, Team RWB members can “make their miles matter” no matter where you walk, run or bike. How, you ask? Because we are now a featured non-profit organization partner on Charity Miles.
How does it work? Go to the app store and search for “Charity Miles.” Download the app, which is free. Then every time you go out for a walk, run or bike ride, open the app and choose Team RWB. Log your workout and Charity Miles will donate $0.25 for every mile you walk/run and $0.10 for every mile you bike!
And we are kicking off this partnership today with a little extra motivation. Anna Judd, a civilian member of our Los Angeles chapter, is kicking off her run across America tomorrow! She will be logging over 3,000 miles on Charity Miles in the next two months…..WOW! To be a part of her epic event, after you select Team RWB, choose ‘#runAmerica’ so that your miles add up to inspire Anna, too.
Whether you are an active member of a Team RWB chapter – or you are 1 of the 35,500 members of our Veteran Ambassador Program (VAP) – you can make a big impact on our mission through Charity Miles. Simply download the app and make sure you log your miles when you run, walk or bike.
Hashtags: #EagleUp #ItsOurTurn and #EveryMileMatters