Blog written by:  Isaac Fox Team RWB, Houston Chapter
I wanted to share a story about my experience at Team RWB’s Eagle Leader Academy.  For those who don’t already know, Team RWB is a largely volunteer-run organization whose mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity. The team logo is an image of an eagle, and we refer to each other and cheer each other on as “eagles.”  If you’ve been to a running event you might have noticed the eagle shirts or heard people yelling to each other “go eagle!” as Team RWB members run past.  You may even have seen a man with an eagle shirt running onto the field during the NFL championship game in 2016, but if you weren’t already familiar with Team RWB you might not have noticed what was going on.  Every member of Team RWB has his or her own reasons for being part of it, but not everybody is comfortable sharing their “why” story.  These stories figure prominently in my experience over the weekend, and I’ll talk about that later.
I’ve been a member of Team RWB since 2014, and I’ve taken a progressively more active role within the organization during that time.  This year I was honored to have Team RWB invest in me as an “Eagle Leader” by sending me to their Eagle Leader Academy (ELA) in El Paso, TX where I met a couple dozen amazing leaders to share our stories and grow stronger and more competent together. My weekend adventure began with a trip to the airport and a flight to El Paso.  I met one of my fellow eagles as I got onto the plane, and met several others in the El Paso Airport as we waited for the shuttle to take us to the hotel.  Even as the introductions were being made (“Isaac, Houston Chapter”) we were laughing together and telling stories about the little things that had already happened to us on our way to ELA.  Andy had missed a flight (I hadn’t met him yet, but I recalled seeing him waiting in the hallway as they filled our plane and closed the door), and several of us had seen a man in a long trench coat entering the airport as we were leaving.  There was some debate about whether we’d seen the same man, as I took him for a monk with a stylized haircut and outfit, and others saw a regular man with very unusual clothes considering the warm and sunny weather.  We also talked about whether we should bother waiting for the shuttle or simply walk to the hotel, which was less than a mile away.  Eventually the shuttle arrived and a few minutes later we arrived at the hotel and met even more Eagles.
The weekend consisted of periods of classroom training broken up by exercise sessions, meals, and a service project.  The classroom training focused on how to be “EAGLE” leaders, meaning Engaged, Authentic, Genuine, Loyal and Effective. The training involved both lecture sessions where we learned basic concepts of EAGLE leadership, and breakout groups where we shared our own experiences with leadership and what we had learned from them. Authenticity and Genuineness were the elements that received the most focus, and I would explain them as follows:
 – Authenticity is knowing yourself so that you are able to be true to yourself and your values as you interact with others.  You may feel more comfortable putting forward a guarded version of yourself, but putting the “real you” out there is important because if you don’t then others will detect and be put off by your facade.  Being authentic will often require feeling vulnerable.
 – Where authenticity involves looking inward to understand yourself, genuineness involves listening to and empathizing with the others in your group. To be genuine you must try to understand the back story and motivations of the people you’re leading, and be empathetic toward them. People will respond differently to leadership styles and you should try to find ways to engage and motivate each of them individually.
In our groups we shared stories of past leadership experiences, why we’ve sought leadership and why we’ve avoided it.  We talked about some of the most important lessons that other leaders have taught us (mine was “the difference between the master craftsman and the beginner is that the master can recognize and fix his mistakes.”) In the room we had some very experienced and accomplished volunteer leaders with decades of service experience, and it was wonderful to hear their perspective on these topics.
Our meals together were where some of the strongest bonds were forged within the group, and arguably where the bulk of the personal growth happened.  We were encouraged to think about our “why” stories: the personal reasons we joined and stayed with Team RWB.  As the group became more comfortable with each other, and through the encouragement of the academy leaders, we also became more comfortable with the importance of vulnerability and shared parts of the deeply emotional experiences that brought us and bound us to Team RWB.  Many within our group had left the military with mental and physical scars, and quite a few had struggled with substance abuse as a means of coping with these issues.  There were stories about caring for loved ones with serious injuries, stories of separation from spouses, friends, children, and sharing of many other painful experiences.  A common thread in the stories was that through Team RWB we each had found a network of support and a way to engage ourselves in something larger which in the end was helping us to overcome our challenges and heal ourselves.  By understanding and being able to share our own stories, we took steps toward comfort in our vulnerability and moved down the path to greater authenticity.
On the final morning we had our service project at the El Paso Food Bank, and one by one we said our heartfelt goodbyes before departing for home.  It was hard to believe that in such a short time we could form such strong bonds with each other, and it was hard to let go of the group and go back to our everyday lives.  I know that I learned a lot over the weekend, but more importantly I was shown a direction for further growth and development and can begin to practice the harder stuff as I go forward.  Those who know me will (I hope!) attest to my authenticity, and when the situation demands it I can definitely be vulnerable without oversharing.  Understanding and showing empathy towards others will be the harder part for me.  I can be empathetic but sometimes struggle to find the right words for a situation.  Thanks to the ELA I understand how important it is to express empathy (not sympathy) and can work on getting the right words out.  As an example, the day after I got home from ELA a friend shared via Facebook that her parent had been diagnosed with cancer.  Instead of just saying “so sorry,” I said “I don’t know how you’re feeling but I’ve had a parent diagnosed with cancer and I’m available to talk if you ever want to.”  There was a little voice inside telling me that I’d better hope she doesn’t come around to talk – but I’ve learned the importance of taking those hard steps and being vulnerable or uncomfortable so that you can help your friends or team.  I heard at the ELA about people whose friends simply disappeared when they were in need, and I know that I want to be a better friend than that… even if it’s hard.
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Here’s to continuous self-improvement, and a big thank-you to Team RWB for their investment in us as leaders and the great experience.

Chapter: Team RWB McAllen-Edinburg Texas

Member Since: 2011

Motto: “The mind will always believe everything you tell it. Feed it faith. Feed it truth. Feed it with love.”

Why Did You Join Team RWB?

“When I lived in CA, I would see Team RWB at all the running event that I would participate in. Team RWB was always the loud friendly group that stood out and exuded positivity. It was always a good time when I engaged with the team so I became a member, but was not active in many events because I still had many military friends to look to for support. It wasn’t till I moved back home to South Texas, Rio Grande Valley (RGV) area that I started to feel the struggles of transitioning from military to civilian life. Most of my military friends were living in states and cities too are to travel, and there weren’t many military support groups in my hometown. I remembered that sense of belonging and camaraderie that Team RWB displayed and wanted to bring that to the RGV. I rejoined Team RWB to give me a sense of purpose and a way to connect to other like minded individuals on a social/physical level.”

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

“Its really hard to choose just one favorite event or experience, but if I had to it would be the Healthy Hearts 5k. This was the first event we ever participated in that was Team RWB. We had a Navy veteran with limited mobility complete the 5k w his walker! The dedication and perseverance that this veteran displayed is something embedded deep within veterans. He never gave up or took a short cut. He pushed through the pain and accomplished what he set out to do that day. He may have been the last to finish but he was definitely not alone. The entire Team RWB gathered around and cheered him on all together as one big supportive family. The love, passion and camaraderie that Team RWB gives to each other is unmatched by anything I’ve ever seen! That day we also had about 10 eagles run their first ever 5k, and a few veterans overcome their anxiety of being in large crowds. I’m so blessed to have been able to witness the eagle fire in action.”

How Do You Serve Your Community?

“I am currently the Chapter Captain for Team RWB McAllen-Edinburg Area. Through this amazing opportunity I have been able to witness genuine friendship develop and grow stronger with each succeeding event. I also serve as the Veterans mental health counselor at the University of Rio Grande Valley and the the lead member for the Veterans and Family Advisory Council (VFAC) for the VA Coastal Bend.

What Inspires You?

“I am inspired by individuals who can overcome adversity, who embrace the struggle and allow it to make them a stronger person. Its even more inspiring when Team RWB facilitates that process. Something very beautiful happens when an Eagle is struggling, whether it be physically in a run or mental in life, Team RWB has proven time after time to be there for their Eagles. Team RWB in the epitome of IGY6!”

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How Has Team RWB Impacted Your Life?

“Team RWB has made a huge impact on my life. Team RWB gives my life meaning. I live with a stronger sense of purpose. It has truly enriched my life and allowed me to share this experience with my children. They are learning first hand what it means to serve others and give selflessly. It has also motivated me to get my butt up and moving again :)~

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

“Just do it!!! We are all-inclusive, you don’t have to be a veteran, the fittest athlete, or the social butterfly. Just come as you are, join the team and wear that Eagle proudly!

 

Team,

My heart is full, but heavy, as I embark upon my last six weeks as Team RWB’s Executive Director.  For the past five years, it has been my absolute privilege to work for the best Board, staff, volunteer leaders, and members on the planet. Collectively, we have built more than an organization. Team RWB has become a movement that inspires people to strengthen communities, live richer lives, and support others in doing the same. I’ve been on some pretty great teams, but this one is by far the best. And though I am transitioning out of the ED role, I am proud to remain an active volunteer leader and member.

The great news is, on June 15th, JJ Pinter will take the reins and the team will thrive as we continue to enrich the lives of veterans and their families. We have an amazing team in place and they won’t miss a beat.

As for me, my first order of business is to facilitate a smooth and successful transition between now and my last official day on the job. Then, my family and I are going to take some time to re-charge over the summer. After that, we are headed up to Jacksonville Beach to join my close friend Jason and the good livin’ folks at GORUCK.  They are a fantastic company that is committed to making the best gear in the world while building better Americans and giving back along the way. I’m stoked about the opportunity and think I’ll fit right in.

I cannot possibly sum up my thoughts and emotions in this note, but I hope to connect with all of you more over the next month or so. There are a million people to thank, but I would like to specifically express my gratitude to my friend Mike Erwin for giving this opportunity and trusting me to grow and safeguard his vision.

In addition to my transition with JJ, I’m excited to announce that Paul Bell has been elected Chairman of the Board for Team RWB. Paul has served on the Board for the past two years and prior to that he was a member of our Advisory Board since 2012. Paul was previously the President of the Public Sector and Large Enterprise at Dell and is currently an Operating Partner at Lead Edge Capital. Mike Erwin will remain on the Board of Directors and actively involved with Eagle Nation.

If you have any questions or need anything from me, please don’t hesitate to ask.  Again, it has been an honor to serve this community in my current capacity, and I look forward to staying involved.
Best,
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Blayne Smith, Executive Director | Team RWB
Tim Bomke had an appointment with his Army recruiter on the morning of 9/11/2001.  The events of that morning only strengthened his resolve to serve.  A few years later, Tim and his platoon were patrolling in Iraq, when a massive IED hit his vehicle.  Badly wounded, he started on a new journey of recovery, resilience, and continued service.
Over the past several years, Tim has advocated for veterans and military families in both education and employment.  He is a co-founder of Microsoft’s Military Systems and Software Academy, spent three years working in veteran/spouse programs at Starbucks, and currently leads the effort at Amazon.
We have a great discussion that covers:
• Tim’s mindset during his recovery and rehabilitation
• The power of finding a purpose
• Why veterans and military spouses are great assets
• And so much more

  

Blog written by: Blayne Smith
Volunteering is nothing new for America’s veterans.  Each of them voluntarily stood, raised their right hand, and took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.  Many of them did this during a time of war, fully knowing that they were signing up to deploy and faced our nation’s enemies in close combat.  These amazing men and women comprise the largest and most capable all-volunteer military that the world has ever known.  They, and their families, have shouldered a mighty burden not because they have to, but because they choose to.
So, we shouldn’t be surprised to see veterans, along with their families and friends, volunteering in our communities when they take off the military uniform.  Service is in their DNA.  It is an I tch that must be scratched.  A call that must be answered.  Veterans are assets to the country and to the communities in which they live, and they possess the ability to inspire others to serve as well.
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Team RWB is fueled by, and completely dependent on, this spirit of volunteerism.  More than 2000 volunteer Eagle Leaders are running chapters in over 200 cities are taking action and making a difference, not just for veterans, but for the communities where they live.  Collectively, they contribute more than 250,000 hours of community service every year!
This National Volunteer Week, please let me be the first to say THANK YOU!  You embody the spirit of volunteerism and your service continues to inspire a nation.