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.

The Beginning:

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.

Membership Growth

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!

Chapter Growth

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.

Leadership Growth

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.

Expectations:

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.

Outcomes

– 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

Outputs

– 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

Infograph:

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.

 

 

By Dan Brostek, Team RWB Marketing Director

 

At Team RWB we are extremely motivated about fitness, creating connections and engaging veterans within their communities. That’s why we’re so excited to announce our second annual Old Glory Relay, presented by Microsoft. Beginning at sunrise on September 11, Old Glory will be unfurled in San Francisco and begin a 60-day, 3,540-mile journey across the nation to end at sunset on November 8 in Washington, D.C. 59 teams of runners will move Old Glory throughout the course, passing through the hands of one patriot at a time.

Our Story

Team RWB started in 2010 as a grassroots movement with a simple objective: to encourage veterans to remain active and connect with their community through physical and social activity. Through early member involvement with organized runs, marathons and triathlons, we figured out something amazing. People all over this country are truly inspired by the sight of an individual running, hiking or walking with Old Glory. And the Old Glory Relay was born.

We’re proud to say that 87 cents of every dollar that is donated to Team RWB directly impacts chapter events and programs that enrich the lives of veterans in our efforts to bring together military and civilian communities. When the Old Glory Relay kicks off on September 11, each day will begin with the American flag being unfurled and entrusted to the day’s first runner and will end with the last runner folding the flag and storing it for safekeeping overnight. During the relay, the flag will be passed from runner to runner along a pre-determined route, with no less than 50 miles traveled each day.

If you’re interested in getting a glimpse of the Old Glory Relay from last year, check out this video:

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By Blayne Smith, Executive Director

 

As you probably know, September is national Suicide Prevention Month.  Here’s a startling statistic: nearly 40,000 Americans take their own lives each year, making it the 10th leading cause of death.  Perhaps worse, each suicide creates ripples of pain that extend to countless friends, family members, neighbors, and loved ones.  It is a very real challenge for our society.  So, what can you do to help?

To start, I would just like to note that while many suicides are preceded by warning signs, not every suicide is necessarily preventable.  Very often, in the wake of a suicide, friends and family are overcome with guilt because they “should have done more”.  The truth is, we should educate ourselves on the signs, we should reach out, we should have the courage to ask if someone is considering hurting themselves, and we should lend an empathetic ear.  We should do all of this knowing that we can only do our best and that the outcome is not solely ours to bear.

The very best thing you can do is to simply be there, as suicides are often the result of overwhelming feelings of hopelessness.  This is why we focus so much on connection at Team RWB.  Each month we count up the number of Unique Veteran Interactions (UVIs) that take place across the organization.  This is a simple measure of how many times a veteran actually shows up to one of our local activities.  It may not sound like a sexy stat, but we understand its power.  Spending time with members of our community, especially through positive activities like exercise, builds trust, friendship, understanding…and sometimes, much needed hope.  If you’re an active member of our team, thank you for showing up and being there for one another.  You may not realize it on a daily basis, but what you’re doing is extremely important.  If you’ve been thinking about getting involved, but aren’t sure how to start, just show up.  Find the nearest Team RWB chapter and join the team.  Finally, if you are concerned about someone you love, please, ask the question even if it is uncomfortable.  You may not be an expert or a doctor, but you can be there for someone, and being there is a big deal.

If someone you or someone you know needs to talk to a professional, please visit our amazing friends and partners for free, confidential mental and behavioral health counseling.

Give An Hour is a nonprofit organization that provides free mental health services to military personnel and families affected by the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Vet Centers provide free and confidential readjustment counseling and other services to combat veterans and their families in more than 300 local communities.