By Lois Hicks-Wozniack

My age-group wave went out into the water to begin the West Point Triathlon. I tried to keep up with all of the fast women; after all, I had been training all summer, and I felt ready. Nervous, but ready. I found myself in the back of the pack, arms, feet, waves – I was not ready for this, and as we curved around out of the cove I could see the buoy off in the distance. “I’m never going to make it. It’s too far. I can’t catch my breath.”  A full-blown panic attack set in. Vertical and swallowing water, I looked at the people on the shore. I started screaming, “I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I CAN’T do this!!”…

My Dad was a career Army Officer (retired LTC) and he fought in WWII in the Pacific. I was his youngest child, a late-in-life “surprise”. I knew he had seen terrible things in the war. My Dad was a proud man. He loved his country. He loved the U.S. Army. (Heaven forbid we hear Elvis sing, “Love Me Tender” for Dad would remind us that the melody was really “Army Blue”). He suffered from Bipolar disorder, or what they called manic depression back then.  Looking back on it now, I think he, like so many of the “Greatest Generation,” suffered deep wounds from their service, and it was treated too late or not at all.

I don’t think I ever planned on joining the military when I was a child. I’m a professional musician, a saxophonist by trade. It’s what I always wanted to be. I was living in New York City and had won a competition, and part of the prize was a partially funded debut recital in Weill Recital Hall in Carnegie Hall. I had also just auditioned for, and won, a position in the United States Military Academy Band at West Point. So, four days after my New York recital, I shipped off to basic training. Imagine my surprise when the Drill Sergeant didn’t really care that I had performed in Carnegie Hall, or my chagrin when the 1SGT informed me that there was “no place in today’s Army for an ‘entertainer’.”

I reported for duty at West Point following basic training. I proudly served as a saxophonist in the West Point Band – performing concerts, marching reviews with cadets, playing football games, funerals for Veterans, saying “Job well done, Be Thou at Peace,” performing at state dinners and countless other events. All the while, giving a little wink skyward to my Dad, as I stood at attention and played “The Army Song”. Dad is buried at Arlington and he never got to see me in my uniform or watch me perform with the West Point Band. I knew he was so proud. I loved being in the Army. I loved the physical fitness aspect – feeling strong and looking strong in uniform. I loved being a soldier and serving my country with my unique talents and skills. However, sometimes there was a nagging feeling that maybe I wasn’t a “real soldier” because I only played music. I didn’t fight in battle.

I served for 8 years, from 1996-2004. Upon the birth of my second set of twins (yes, you read that correctly), my husband and I, both in the West Point Band and a Dual-Military couple, were faced with a challenging decision. Raising four children with both of us in the Army and with the exact same schedule, seemed an impossible task. One of us would need to ETS and resign our position. I decided it needed to be me. (more…)

– By Mike Erwin, Founder and Chairman

It was April 2005 and the First Cavalry Division had just returned from a tough, 12-month deployment to Iraq.  I knew that Sergeant Miguel Pena had a plan when he exited the Army after five years of committed service to our country.  He told me so, and I asked a few questions to make sure.  But when he signed out on terminal leave, I didn’t follow up with him.  I was busy. After all, we had only been back home in Texas for 3 months, and we were already starting to train up for our next deployment. A similar scenario repeated itself after my second and third deployments in 2007 and 2009.  It’s been 4 years since my boots last touched Afghanistan dirt, though, and it’s given me some time to wonder about some of the men and women I served with.  While I’m very proud of my eleven years of military service, looking back, I realize that I could have done more to help my Soldiers make a successful transition from the military. Much more.

As leaders in the Department of Defense recently announced, the active duty component of our Armed Forces is downsizing over the next four years.  We know that an estimated 1.2 million service members will move to the civilian world by the end of 2017.  This rate is a significant jump from the past decade—a time period when military leaders spent considerable time persuading service members to stay in the ranks.  While these four years will come with some challenges, Team Red, White & Blue fervently believes we have 1.2 million chances to make our American communities stronger.  But to seize this opportunity, many of our soon-to-be veterans need a little assistance in those first few years when they leave the military.  More specifically, when they retire or ETS, we need to connect these men and women to fellow veterans in their new city or town…..but also to the 92% of our nation that hasn’t served in our Armed Forces.  So where does this opportunity start?   I believe the answer is with our military leaders in the Active Duty, Reserves and National Guard.

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A survey conducted by Time magazine several years ago indicated that 92% of returning veterans want to serve their communities upon returning home, and furthermore, almost as many want to stand as an example for others who have not served. Of course, a critical element to enable these veterans to serve as community service leaders is a successful transition from service and integration into the community. Team RWB is facilitating positive transitions into the community by uniting individuals through shared interests. Larry Kelley is one Team RWB member who is setting the example of leading within his community. Multiple Sclerosis is a cause that is near and dear to his heart, and he stepped up within his community to make a difference…

“Sure, I’ll do it” is a response that probably many folks would offer when asked to help raise money and awareness for an important cause.  But, what if ‘it’ was running a marathon, or two, or six; say in a week?  Would you do it? And, then if you still said “yes,” how would you respond when they asked you to repeat that again the next week? Team RWB member and Army veteran, Larry Kelley said, “Yes!”

Larry Kelley kicked off his July by running from one end of Iowa to the other, beginning at the Missouri River and finishing at the Great Mississippi River. His mission: to help raise awareness and resources for multiple sclerosis with the 2013 MS Run the US Relay. The 500 km distance route passed through some of the state’s best vistas, beginning near Council Bluffs, proceeding through Des Moines, then finishing near Davenport . The Nevada, IA resident who is an avid ultra-runner and cyclist had experience with fundraisers and big endurance events.  However, running roughly a marathon per day for two weeks was an enormous task, and he’d need more than just experience to pull this off.

The ‘more’ that would inspire Larry to rise early each morning and grind out the miles would come from the day’s dedication in the form of a name on a race bib. Not just any name, but a person suffering with MS. Larry learned the stories of the individuals he aimed to help by speaking to friends and supporters who assisted with the journey.  These people along with his dedicated support team, fellow runners, and pacers helped motivate Larry. Larry’s commitment also inspired others who contributed over $10,000 for MS.

Congratulations Larry!