Blog Written by: Lani Faulkner
Reflecting on my Eagle Leader Fellow journey this year touches my heart with deep gratitude. It has been a year of wonderful gains and sad losses. Eagles come into our lives and become family and this year a couple of them with a blink of an eye, are gone.
October 2015, I had the honor and privilege to attend Team RWB’s first National GoRuck athletic camp. People from all across the country were selected by their chapter leaders to attend the 3 day leadership camp while learning the art of rucking. It was a weekend like no other, where huge bonds were formed and leadership was learned not only by the presentations but, by sweating, rucking, carrying large objects, being immersed in water and just plain hard work. It was amazing.
I nominated Eric Forbes from our chapter to attend the leadership camp. A Marine veteran who joined our chapter through the VA Move program and became a leader by hosting the weekly dog walks. He had struggles that were very personal to him but, when he attended the GoRuck camp, he shared his “Why Team RWB” and I can tell you I had to fight the tears. He literally said that if it wasn’t for Team RWB he would not be alive. He said Team RWB saved his life. I was taken aback. I knew our Eagle family was tight but, didn’t realize how deep his pain was until that weekend. The bond between us became even stronger and we were like family. I also met Stephanie Stump (affectionately known as Momma Stump). A firecracker of a lady who had survived breast cancer, during her treatments she lost her house to a fire and had an incredibly positive attitude. She loved her son so very much and he too was a Marine veteran. During her “Why Team RWB” she shared all of that with us and she would make us cry and laugh all at the same time. She was amazing and her energy was contagious.
This year we lost both of them. Momma Stump’s cancer returned and she lost her battle, and Eric passed away after his stomach bypass surgery. It was devastating to many of us. Accepting why they had to leave us so soon was very hard. But, as I thought about our experiences through Team RWB, I realized that maybe our paths would have never crossed if it wasn’t for Team RWB. I am grateful for the short time I was given with Momma Stump and the time I had with Eric. As I read aloud Eric’s eulogy that I wrote to loved ones at his funeral, I shared what he meant to me and to those in our Team RWB family. The connections he made, the people he inspired and the people who loved him, I closed the eulogy with the thought that I was grateful for Team RWB and God who gave me the opportunity to share this earth with him and that at least I know in my heart that our Eagle family made his last days on this earth happy. I believe Momma Stump’s life was enriched by her Team RWB family as well as they gathered around her before she passed.
Sharing this story makes me grateful for Eagle Leader Fellows. When I attended the summit in Tampa, Florida in March, I knew it was going to be a wonderful and beautiful emotional weekend. Every single camp, summit or leadership gathering is that way. I met so many committed, dedicated and loyal individuals that have a passion for enriching veterans lives and building a community to gather together to make them feel welcomed and a part of the Eagle family. They came from all branches of the military as well as civilians from all different backgrounds and each of them unique and wonderful with their own stories. The weekend was phenomenal as we spoke about our “Why Team RWB.” The meeting was scheduled for 2 hours, we took 4 hours. It didn’t feel like it was that long at all. It was filled with vulnerability, trust and was unconditional. The love in that room was so powerful. The weekend progressed from there and all of us felt this sense of sadness as we departed back to our normal lives. Not a sadness that we dreaded going home but, a sadness that the purpose and passion we feel for Team RWB was unleashed at the summit and we were going to miss being that candid. We were in our circle of trust. We were excited too as we learned so much about what we could do and given the autonomy to choose our destination and achieve our goals in whatever we wanted to do in leadership. Team RWB was investing in us. We all felt extremely fortunate and wouldn’t be taking this opportunity lightly.
I chose to achieve my Executive Certification in Leadership from Notre Dame. I am in my last 8 weeks and pretty excited about what I have learned. I was also given the opportunity to coordinate and execute a Team RWB triathlon camp for Eagles in the Southeast Region in my hometown. I was very fortunate to work alongside 3 other Eagle Leader Fellows, Dennis Volpe, Josh Winters and Lisa Gunnoe and we were supported by our Southeast Program Manager, Patrick Griffith and Southeast Regional Director, Garrett Cathcart. They gave us the green light and encouraged us to dare to be great. The camp was a four day event and local coaches donated their time in all three sports. Local community businesses supported the camp as well. I was asked to attend the yoga and GoRuck athletic camp as the speaker on “Empathetic Leadership” in Tampa and in Jacksonville. Hurricane Matthew changed the plans for Tampa but, I spoke in Jacksonville and was honored to have been given the opportunity. I felt a warm welcome from our Eagle brothers and sisters which made it easy to speak in front of them. Team RWB invited me to Houston, Texas to attend the Brene’ Brown lecture on the Pillars of Leadership with other leaders and teammates. What an incredible experience that was and seeing and spending time with my Houston Eagle family was an added bonus.
Another amazing experience was participating in the Old Glory Relay with teammates from several chapters in Florida. Our day was day 58 on November 7th. We were fired up and excited to carry Old Glory and getting her one day closer to her destination in Tampa, Florida for the Veterans day celebration on November 11th. Approximately 15 of us were part of 7000 plus hands who carried Old Glory by the time it reached our pickup point and we were extremely proud. Meeting with Eagle brothers and sisters in Lake City where the Odum family welcomed us and provided a wonderful buffet dinner as if it were Thanksgiving to carrying the flag each mile with excitement, Bill Cardoza a Navy Seabee Veteran using his walker and Ralph Little a Marine Veteran walked the flag 2/10ths of a mile leading us to the veterans memorial in Perry, Florida where we stopped for lunch and ending the day with cheers and happiness that we did this together. This day, huge bonds were formed between our teammates and we all have already committed to doing it again in 2017. Our Old Glory Relay captains, Jay Ulloa, Air Force active duty and his wife, Rebecca Ulloa, an elementary school teacher coordinated and executed an experience for all of us that will forever be in our hearts. I am so proud of the two of them and their leadership. They lead from the front and were welcoming and encouraging the whole way. I am honored to be a part of their team.
With all these experiences I believe I have become a more grateful person as well as a better leader. I am more aware of others. I understand that in order for me to make an impact in others lives as a leader, I need to share my story. It just may inspire someone. From the beginning in 2012 when I became the chapter captain of Team RWB Daytona, I felt strongly that the passion was about me giving back to those who have served our country and I do feel even stronger about that today. What I didn’t expect to happen is that I would be impacted personally and realize that I needed my Eagles. I was diagnosed in early 2016 with breast cancer and by May I had undergone two lumpectomies and radiation. It was a pretty crazy rollercoaster but, there wasn’t one day that I felt alone. I had the love and support of my family and my Eagle family. Although, my focus was keeping my Team RWB family connected and engaged, I really needed them and they were there. It was never a doubt in my mind they wouldn’t be. I can tell you, it is then that I realized literally how Eric Forbes felt when he said, we saved his life. Just knowing you are not alone means the world. My chapter has shown me that they are here to enrich my life as well and Eagle Leader Fellows has taught me how to recognize and accept it. I’ve learned to dare greatly and how my personal gifts as a leader is enough. I am surrounded by many other amazing individuals on my team who have the same heart and commitment to our veterans and our community and together we have accomplished extraordinary goals. Eagle Leader Fellows is about authentic and genuine leadership and empowering others to be great leaders. As I continue on with my Eagle Leader Fellow journey to finish out the year, I have a personal goal to obtain my CrossFit Level 1 certification and I would like to attend the national triathlon camp in 2017 as a final piece.
What I have always known is that Team RWB is not about me, it’s about WE. I look around every single day and my heart is full knowing that together we make a difference. Together we can inspire leaders, whether you lead your family, yourself, your work, your volunteers, we are all leaders and we can learn and dare to be great.