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.
By Dan Brostek, Director of Marketing and Communications
This is the discussion that happens multiple times a day as we carry Old Glory east across the country.
Relay Bystander: “What Are You Doing?”
Team RWB Member: “We are running the American Flag from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. over 60 days.”
Relay Bystander: “But why?”
Team RWB Member: “So we can have this very conversation.”
Running with the American Flag at any time is an awesome experience. Running Old Glory 3,540 miles through the heartland of America is absolutely surreal. The very image of one individual and one flag, unified in motion, generates questions, curiosity, honks, waves, high fives, tears, expressions of gratitude, and most importantly, the sharing of personal stories and experiences.
Over the course of six days I traveled with Old Glory from Telluride to Colorado Springs. I experienced some of the most epic scenery this country has to offer, and against that backdrop I’ve witnessed everyday Americans coming together from all over the state and country with a single mission…move Old Glory forward…one step at a time.
And in these steps is where something truly magical happens. These steps create stories, and these stories create connections. Given the time, I could write a short book on my journey with Old Glory through Colorado. Instead, I will highlight some of the unique experiences I had over the course of six days and more than 350 miles from the San Juan Mountains through the Arkansas River Valley to the Front Range.
There was a moment of total serendipity as I witnessed a few Team RWB members meet a complete stranger on our way into the small town of Ridgway only to learn that they were all involved in the 1989 Panama invasion. It was absolutely captivating to hear their stories and see them recount those harrowing experiences.
I experienced a moment of uncontrollable laughter when I learned what happens to a runner when you get too close to a cattle truck coming around a curve. You can use your imagination on this one. Bottom-line, it’s funny…unless you are the runner.
We had CDOT workers serenade us with the National Anthem as they paused their blasting for a few minutes so our runners could bypass the construction work and continue moving Old Glory up Monarch Pass.
I heard amazing stories from veterans, civilians and active duty members about how they found Team RWB and the impact the organization is having on their lives. One individual lost over 120 pounds and made fitness a priority in her life. Another individual shared his story about getting clean and battling his addictions. Another veteran with over 25 years of service talked about dealing with the struggles of readjusting to civilian life. Many commented on how they found the camaraderie that they had been seeking since they left the military. Some shared their Faces of Old Glory…personal stories of their grandfathers, uncles, sisters, cousins and friends that have positively impacted and shaped their lives. And some folks just liked the awesome red shirt and wanted to join the team, and in doing so found so much more.
I witnessed people testing their physical and mental limits as they pushed through the heat, altitude and rain to ensure Old Glory continued to move forward.
My favorite experience of all was the handoff…that split second in time when the energy and power of Old Glory transitions from one runner to the next. Having both witnessed and experienced “the handoff” hundreds of times, I still find it hard to put into words how moving this experience truly is.
“So what are you all doing out here?”
Well, we are creating connections…we are sharing stories and experiences, and in the end, we are uniting around a shared goal to enrich the lives of our veterans.
So as the flag continues to move east, take an opportunity to get involved and experience the relay firsthand. You can still register as a relay or virtual runner and you can donate to help grow the programs that Team RWB is delivering in communities across the globe. Visit OldGloryRelay.org to learn more.
Blog post inspired by Dave Price.
By Blayne Smith, Executive Director
It is hard to believe that it has been 5 years. Many of you may not know that October 2, 2010 marked Team RWB’s first ever event, the Twin Cities Marathon. I don’t think that any of us had an idea of the journey that we were beginning. Over the past five years our Team has become a second home for tens of thousands of Veterans, military members, our families, and supportive members of our communities. I could not be more proud to be a part of this Team and the work that we are doing to enrich so many lives. On our anniversary, I thought it would be appropriate to tell our story.
In early 2010, Mike Erwin had the idea of inviting 75 friends to Minneapolis to run the Twin Cities Marathon. This “team” would join together to raise awareness and money for a nonprofit organization that would support wounded Veterans and their families. Since leaving Ft. Bragg and arriving at grad school he had noticed that there was a real lack of consistent, everyday support for Veterans where they lived. With this problem in his head, and against the advice of almost everybody, Mike decided to found a nonprofit organization to fill the gap that so badly needed to be addressed.
A Better Way:
It was clear to us that the existing model for wounded Veteran support was inadequate, if not broken altogether. Much of the support being offered was too centralized, too inconsistent, too grand, felt way too much like charity, and cast Veterans as broken victims. We knew that the answer had to be local, consistent, sustainable, valuable, positive, and empowering. Ultimately, ski trips, golf clubs, and hockey tickets are just expensive ways to defer the real challenges that await Veterans when they come home for good. What our wounded truly needed were real people, providing authentic support, where they lived.
Team RWB 1.0:
At our inception, Team RWB was chartered to serve only wounded Veterans. The original model was designed to pair one wounded Veteran with one “Advocate” within their community. Each chapter was lead by a “Lead Advocate” that conducted most of the outreach and was responsible for all of the pairings. This was challenging, labor-intensive work, but it yielded powerful results in a number cases. With each successful pair, we were more convinced of the power of personal relationships. However, we started to make some interesting observations that caused us to wonder if our model was correct.
1. In many cases, it was hard to determine who was getting more out of the Veteran/Advocate relationships (a good thing).
2. Creating pairs felt a little like social work, which we were not necessarily qualified to do, and the concept was proving hard to scale.
3. Very few Veterans wanted to identify themselves as “in-need” and rather signed up to be advocates for fellow Veterans or athlete fundraisers.
4. We started getting emails and phone calls from tons of non-wounded Veterans stating that Team RWB had been very important to them in their transition process.
These realizations told us that we had the big ideas right, but that we’d missed the bigger potential. The most important things that our organization offered were renewed purpose, sense of identity, and genuine camaraderie. It also turns out that many Veterans struggle, to some degree, with the transition to civilian life; and that we could build an organization to serve all of them.
The Right Questions:
Our realization that we needed to serve an inclusive population of Veterans brought a number of exciting and challenging questions to the forefront. Before launching headlong into a strategy that sounded good, we decided to invest some time and energy in answering the two biggest questions:
1. Who is an American Veteran?
2. What does he/she want and need?
So, we dove into the problem, we conducted a scientific survey, and we did our homework. The results were clear and compelling. Here’s what we learned:
Veterans typically fall into one of three groups. We call them: Connection-seekers, Family-focused, and Driven. Interestingly, Connection-seekers and Driven have very complementary needs…and this explained Team RWB’s early appeal. While about 25% of Veterans are seeking connection, mentorship, and belonging (Connection-seekers); another 25% are actively looking for opportunities to lead, coach, mentor, and matter (Driven). The remaining 50% are generally getting along quite well and will join only if the experience adds value to their life (Family-focused). Armed with this knowledge and understanding, we went about creating a model that would actually give Veterans what they were asking for.
A New Beginning:
During the last few months of 2012 we ran the organization while simultaneously building (mostly behind the scenes) Team RWB 2.0. We spent a tremendous amount of time re-tooling everything from our mission statement, to our programs, to our website. We built budgets, a chapter playbook, and new communication and marketing tools. Most importantly, we invited about 30 of our local leaders, national volunteers, board members, and advisors to the very first Team RWB Leadership Summit…a January weekend in Chicago that would change everything. We spent three days sharing a clear mission and vision, new tools and guidelines, and academic evidence that our strategy would work. It is hard to describe the incredible passion and energy that filled the Pritzker Military Library during the summit, but everyone went home empowered and committed to the mission.
Rapid (and Responsible) Growth:
Since January of 2013, Team RWB has not simply grown in numbers. We’ve become more professional, more efficient, and more effective. We’ve not only changed lives, but have also successfully laid the foundation to change thousands more in the future.
We began 2013 with about 6,400 members and a growth rate of about 20 members per day. After our summit, we immediately started seeing growth at over 75 new members per day and finished the year with over 28,000 members. As of 1 September 2015, we have nearly 90,000 members!
We started 2013 with less than 10 solid chapters. By the year’s end, we were well established in 70 cities across the country, and today, we are established in over 180 locations! We will continue to strive to serve more Veterans, in more places, more often.
We have, and will continue to, invest in our members and volunteer leaders. We now have over 1,300 volunteer leaders! Through the camps, leadership development program, and regional leadership summits, we have committed to strong leaders, a strong team, and strong communities.
And We Are Just Getting Started:
As proud as we are of our first few years, we are beyond excited about what lies ahead. We will certainly continue to grow in scale (more Veterans, more communities, more often). However, we are also working feverishly to build our capacity in the areas of leadership development, volunteer training, and thought leadership.
We are in this for the long haul. We have a bold and ambitious vision. Together, we will continue building our movement to build strong American communities. You are a co-author to this story. Go write your chapter.
To celebrate our anniversary, we doing a limited edition, throwback Team RWB white t-shirt…just like the ones we wore at our first event. If you’d like to pick one up, you can grab it here, while supplies last.
By Mike Erwin, Chairman of the Board
Leadership touches nearly every aspect of our lives. Our families, communities, schools, military, companies, non-profit organizations, clubs, government, churches and sports teams rely upon effective leadership to succeed. Leaders set the strategy, culture and the example. As leaders go, so goes the team.
At Team RWB, leadership is a key component to enriching veterans’ lives and making American communities stronger. It has fueled our impact and growth over the past five years. And it is so important that we have just created a Director of Leadership Development position, and chosen Joe Quinn for the role. In the coming months, Joe will be launching our Eagle Leadership Development Program (ELDP) designed to invest in and empower our volunteers, leaders, and veterans to guarantee a lasting and positive influence in their communities.
As an organization, our understanding and implementation of leadership has earned us a lot of respect from people outside of Team RWB. Consequently, we have been fielding an increasing number of requests to engage people in their community around the subject of leadership. One such organization that we are working with is the Elite 11 program, which works to develop the next generation of quarterbacks—and leaders.
You can’t be a great quarterback without being a great leader. And at the age of 16-17, these young men know that. When asked, “what is the first word that comes to mind when you hear the word ‘quarterback?’ 16 of the 18 quarterbacks in the Elite 11 finals answered, “LEADER or LEADERSHIP.”
At the Elite 11 finals in 2014 and 2015, Team RWB has led these quarterbacks in a series of leadership development and “soul-building” exercises. KJ Costello is headed to Stanford next fall. He had this to say about his experience, “It’s the hardest I’ve ever been tested in my entire life. You really have one of two options. You can suck it up and give it your all, or you can act like you’re tired. Your true personality really comes out when things aren’t going right.”
One of the most challenging parts of being a leader is making difficult, unpopular decisions, or speaking up when teammates have more to give. A majority of the Elite 11 quarterbacks admitted that their biggest leadership weakness is “engaging their teammates when they aren’t doing the right thing or aren’t giving their all.” So a part of the Team RWB leadership development experience is to sit down with the quarterbacks after the other exercises have been completed and lead them through a peer evaluation process, inspired by the U.S. Army’s Ranger school.
Elite 11 Head Coach and Super Bowl champion, Trent Dilfer, believes this is the most important part of the Team RWB experience at the Elite 11 finals: “It’s so hard for them to be critical of people they just went through something hard with because there’s a bonding that happens in the midst of that. The beauty behind this is that they get it. They admitted I’m really sad that I didn’t give more, but I did learn that I had more to give. I think it’s really powerful, I think it’s a great tool, but it’s very difficult for them.” We are confident that as they develop as leaders, these quarterbacks’ appreciation for this aspect of leadership (courage) will continue to grow. And those that embrace its importance will reach their maximum potential, both on and off the field.
Some of these young men are already suiting up on game day as college freshmen at schools like UCLA and Michigan. Others will do so in the coming years for the likes of Texas, Georgia and Tennessee. Their development is a journey and Team RWB is honored to a small part of it. Because when they do step into that quarterback position in college or the NFL, their ability to lead, inspire and hold their teammates accountable will be just as important as their footwork and arm strength.
By Andrew Hutchinson, Director of Camps and Special Programs
Veteran Athletic and Leadership Camp (VAC) Intro and Definition:
The cornerstone of the Team Red, White & Blue mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans. We define enrichment as creating quality relationships and experiences that contribute to life satisfaction and overall wellbeing. One of the programs helping us achieve this is our Veteran Athletic and Leadership Camp (VAC) Program. The VACs present tremendous opportunities for veterans to learn a new activity that they can take home to their local chapter in a leadership capacity or as a highly active community member. They are led and coached by world-class athletes and renowned experts and are built to inspire veterans to commit to their own health and fitness. Camps are an investment in the member, the organization and the community. The goal is for every camp attendee to possess the tools and motivation to return home and make a positive impact in their local community.
Attendees of our camps are making a direct impact not only for Team RWB, but for local communities across the country. Although we offer a variety of activities in the camp program, these camps represent so much more than the sport that is being taught. We expect camp attendees to take action when they return back to their chapter. As part of the application process to get selected for camp, athletes must work with their local leadership to outline a 3-month plan of action upon returning to their community. This document is their plan for sharing what they have learned, for stepping up and taking action, and for being a leader in Team RWB and the community.
In order to monitor the success of the camp program, we have identified specific outputs and outcomes that we measure once an athlete leaves camp.
- Confidence in leading volunteers and leading in the community
- Feeling of connection to Team RWB and to the local community
- Feeling of empowerment regarding personal health and fitness
- Overall activity level
- Number of events and activities led in the chapter
- Number serving in a leadership position in Team RWB or at the community level
- Number participating in the camp sport/activity
The camp infograph provides a quick snapshot of the program to date and shows data on the outputs and the outcomes outlined above. It also shows camp attendance data since 2012. The program continues to grow each year as we add more camps and empower more leaders.