Blog written by: Kevin Rosenblum, Triathlon Coordinator, Richmond, VA

Our bus rolled out of the hotel parking lot just as the sun was starting to break in the West Texas sky. The relative expanse of Waco soon gave way to small towns and rolling prairie broken up by cattle fences and mesquite trees. The bus was quiet; most of us letting the caffeine from the morning coffee work its magic. All 34 of us, 17 Post 9/11 veterans and our guests, perked up as the bus took a right turn onto the dirt road that led to Prairie Chapel Ranch. We moved through the Secret Service checkpoint and drove up to the helipad covered in large white tents packed with mountain bikes. The crowd gathered around our bus and broke into cheers as we stepped off. The 2015 W100K was about to begin.

The W100K is an annual three-day mountain bike ride hosted by former President George W. Bush (and the Bush Institute’s Military Service Initiative) at his ranch in Texas. Each year, a small group of Post 9/11 veterans who have been wounded in combat are chosen to ride with the President, and offered the opportunity to share in the camaraderie of service and the mutual love of the sport of mountain biking. The aim of the ride is to highlight the service of Post 9/11 veterans and to bring attention to the resiliency of all veterans, particularly ones that have suffered both visible and invisible wounds.

The experience is surreal. It’s not every day you get to ride mountain bikes with a former President of the United States. President Bush rides every kilometer, usually hard, and always at the front. He relishes in the chance to connect with the men and women he once led. As cool as it is to meet and ride with the President, what really struck me was the bond between the riders and our guests (mostly spouses or close family and friends). On Thursday we arrived as individuals, and by the end of the first day’s ride we were already a team.

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As a busy adult with a family, I don’t get to engage with the team as much as I’d like these days, but it doesn’t mean I don’t still feel connected. It’s that feeling of connection, within Team RWB and beyond, that has been the most important factor in my transition. When I first got out of the Army I thought I could go it alone. I didn’t want anything to do with the military or veteran community. In fact, I didn’t really want anything to do with any community. It took me a while to realize that my monastic lifestyle was not going to lead to the fulfilling life I’d hoped for. I needed to put myself out there if I wanted any shot of making a successful transition to civilian life. It was difficult at first. I still wore the mental armor I’d built up from my time in service, but as I’ve grown older and more removed from those days I’ve found it easier to take some of it off. It can be a hard thing to do, to be vulnerable, but it means that you get to form real, meaningful connections with people. Those connections are what make the good days better and the bad days seem shorter. They are what separate me from who I am now and who I was in 2009 when I was walled off and alone. Even eight years on, I think I’m still transitioning in some regards, and there are still moments of struggle. Moments when the armor goes up and I withdraw, but I also know that there are supportive people in my life who I can turn to for help and understanding.

It’s been over a year and a half since I first rode the W100K and I think I’m still processing what it means to me. Since then I’ve been back to the ranch as an alumni rider and gotten to see most of the friends I made in 2015, as well as make new ones. Reinforcing these relationships is the most important part for the W100K to me. There’s also the incredible honor of having my portrait painted by the President and being included in his new book, Portraits of Courage. The collection of paintings is beautiful and speaks to the unique relationships the President has built with each of the veterans portrayed in the book. I’m incredibly grateful for these experiences and my biggest take away is a continuation of what I’ve come to realize since I left the military; cherish the relationships in your life. It’s the people in our lives that make it worth living, and I’m lucky enough to have some great ones in mine.

By Blayne Smith, Executive Director | Team Red, White & Blue

I am absolutely thrilled and honored to share our 2016 Annual Report.  Looking back at the past 12 months fills me with a tremendous amount of both gratitude and pride, and I feel confident that reading this will have you feeling the same way.
While this report is merely a snapshot of the amazing work being done by our members and volunteers, it tells a remarkable story.  I never would have imagined that in a few short years, Team RWB would become an organization that hosts over 43,000 events and delivers over 250,000 hours of volunteer service in a single year.  The numbers are truly staggering, but they don’t come close to capturing the real impact of our mission… because our organization is not built on numbers, it is built on people.
2016 Annual Report Blog Graphic
Behind every Unique Veteran Interaction (UVI)  there is a military veteran that chose to put on the red shirt, walk out the door, and show up.
Behind every Unique Civilian Interaction (UCI) there is a community of support that decided to take action and do more than thank a veteran for his/her service.
Behind every hour of volunteer service there is a leader that stepped forward and committed to making their community a better place.
Behind every dollar donated there is a supporter that believes in our mission and our team.
Sure, we can run events, create awareness, and raise money, but this is about so much more.  Team RWB is 100% committed to enriching the lives of veterans and building stronger communities.  It is hard work and there is much more work to be done, but in reflecting back on 2016, I am damn proud to be a part of this Team.  There’s more come, and I know we will all see it soon.
Eagle Up,
Blayne Signature

 

You probably haven’t heard of Donovan Haggas, but you should definitely hear from him.  His professional journey has taken him from Air Force Special Operations (CCT), to corporate America, and finally back to the military community as a DOD contractor.  However, his personal journey is even more interesting.

Through years of ups, downs, and hard choices, Donovan has emerged as one of the calmest and most balanced people I know.  And, it hasn’t happened by accident.  On this week’s episode, we cover a ton of important topics, including:

• Learning to accept the world as it is

• Committing to growth in times of struggle

• Focusing on quality and fighting the fear-of-missing-out (FOMO)

• “Extreme balance”

• Being a great parent in sub-optimal circumstances

• And much more

You may walk away from this episode with a few answers, but you’ll definitely walk away with some questions.

 

  

By JJ Pinter, Deputy Director | Team Red, White & Blue

One thing I’ve learned about Eagle Nation in the last few years is that they are rabid about their Team RWB Gear…in a really awesome way. As such, we’ve found it’s important to communicate far and wide whenever we make a change that relates to gear, so please read below.

To begin – here’s a bit of context:

• In 2013, we opened the first Team RWB owned store. We did it to provide our members a chance to get high quality Eagle gear, at reasonable prices – it was never about generating revenue.

• Due to our amazing members, the store grew massively over the last few years – it’s turned into a very substantial e-commerce business.

• Our mission and focus is enriching Veteran’s lives, and the gear operation has become so big that it is taking large amounts of our organizational resources (manpower and capital) to operate it, and thus away from our programs.

• Hence, we made the decision to move away from owning our own store, and work with a partner that is not only an expert in e-commerce, but also a huge supporter of our mission. This will allow us to focus on what we do – Enriching the lives of America’s Veterans.

Therefore, we’re excited to announce that our amazing friends at GORUCK will be taking over our Team RWB gear operation, starting May 15th. This will be a big win for us, as it removes financial burden and allows us to focus on our programs, and will be better for our members as our store will be run by GORUCK’s team that lives and breathes this every day.

If you’re not familiar with GORUCK, check them out. They are a veteran-owned, American business that knows and serves the veteran community. They are already a great partner of ours, and we’re excited to deepen the relationship.

Here’s the important stuff:

• We will still be working with our partners at Nike, and plan on continuing to send Nike shirts to new Veteran members as long as we are able. Our plan is for these same red shirts to be sold via our new store as well so that members can buy our standard red Nike shirt if they want.

• Over the next 60 days we will be selling all of our remaining Team RWB owned inventory and shutting down our store. Go here for some big sales in the coming weeks.

• GORUCK will be designing, producing and selling an updated lineup of Team RWB gear via a new storefront that they will run. Their merchandise is awesome, and we’re excited. I know everyone is going to love it.

There are likely a lot of questions out there about the specifics of what will be available via the new GORUCK site (color, size, etc.). Those decisions have not been made yet, but we will share widely as soon as they are finalized.

In closing, this is an exciting time for Team RWB. We’re more excited than ever about our programs, and expanding our relationship with GORUCK will allow us to attack them with more ferocity. Thanks for all you do to be a part of it.

Chapter: Team RWB Las Vegas

Member Since: 2014

Motto: “To be a positive force in my community and correct the errors that stand in my way”

Why Did You Join Team RWB?

“I was looking for motivation to be active again since separating the Air Force in 2007. A friend of mine kept posting pictures on Facebook of himself running with the flag. He told me why. He was running in races representing Team Red, White, and Blue. I’ve always been a proud patriot of this country and the flag that represents it so I signed up because I wanted to run with the flag.”

What has Been Your Favorite Event or Experience with Team RWB?

“My favorite event with RWB is hands down The Old Glory Relay. I loved being a part of carrying one American flag across the country to support our Veterans. Plus the bond I made with my teammates during those days is immeasurable.”

How Do You Serve Your Community?

“I am the Athletic Director of Team RWB Las Vegas. I am also a volunteer Fire Fighter at the Hoover Dam and am the Treasurer of American Federation of Government Employees Local 1978 Union at the Hoover Dam.

How Has Team RWB Impacted Your Life?

“Ever since I separated from the Air Force I was missing something in life. I struggled to find a greater meaning to my life than just going to work every day to make money. I isolated myself. I didn’t have many friends after leaving the military that I had a solid, meaningful relationship with. I missed the camaraderie in the military. I missed the structure and leadership. I missed mentoring and feeling accomplished when I was home at the end of the day. I needed to make larger impact in life again. RWB has done that for me. Being a leader and helping other Veterans connect in our community has been so fulfilling. I still struggle sometimes with getting out and making it to events, but it’s the Veterans like myself that I do it for. I don’t want to miss a chance at connecting with a Veteran that is struggling to find their meaning again.

What Would You Say to Someone Who is Thinking of Joining Team RWB?

“I am a walking example of how RWB’s mission works. My life has absolutely been enriched since joining. I lacked a purpose and overall life satisfaction until I joined RWB.