Blog written by: Greg Hitchcock | Communications Director, Albany Chapter

With hands sweating, breath panting, and hearts pounding, we went on the attack. It was the fight or flight response in action as we charged each obstacle one at a time over and over again. When it was over, heads held high, we were the better for it.

Amnesty CrossFit, located in a converted church in the sleepy Great Lake city of Oswego, NY, was my introduction to a lifetime’s worth of fitness and exercise.

I thought exercise was a solitary thing, something you did alone. For this reason, running on a treadmill, lifting weights, swimming laps, or completing pushups was something I did not like to do. By pushing beyond our boundaries alone without the encouragement of friends, many may easily give up.  That was my trend; I would join a gym, work out, and after a month drift away from exercise. However, that Friday during Eagle Leader Camp was different. I found out how much we could push those limits if we chose to with courage and the teamwork of other Eagle Leaders.

And so the weekend went.

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Whether it was a sunset kayak ride, a dragon boat ride, yoga, a lighthouse tour, or a gentle hike along SUNY Oswego’s Rice Creek Field Station, Team RWB’s Northeast Region Eagles worked in unison while remaining authentic to themselves.

By learning each other’s ‘perfect day’, we found out how much we mattered. One dreamed of ending veteran homelessness, some ending emotional pain, and another simply lying naked on a beach. For me, reliving a moment when I first climbed a mountain with my Team RWB family at Lake George would be my perfect day.

According to American scholar, author and researcher Brené Brown, “You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.”  With a fractured and polarized world, ever-present and looming wars, and deadly massacres, Brown’s message of being worthy of love and belonging is more important than any other message.

We showed love and belonging during that weekend at Eagle Leader Camp.

For example, when our kayak instructor dropped her mobile phone in the waters of Lake Ontario as she was safely guiding us onshore, we stood as a team searching for that phone; One of us even dove in head first. Alas, no phone was ever found that evening.

And so the weekend went with acts of love and courage, the Eagle way.

At the end of the long weekend, so short for many of us, with hammocks strung across trees like spiders in a web, we reflected on our shared experiences and said our farewells.

As we stood in our inner circle of friends, with sweaty hands and pounding hearts, we tearfully closed our eyes as other Eagle Leaders circled around us and showed their gratitude for us by touching our shoulders, confirming we were worthy of love and belonging.

So, what did we learn during our Eagle Leader Camp weekend? What were our take home lessons?  Certainly, the meaning of being an Eagle Leader was reinforced since our last time spent at Eagle Leader Academy: Empathy, Authenticity, Genuineness, Loyalty, and Effectiveness.  But, for me there was an even greater lesson, a game changer so to speak, and an eye opener.  When I was medically discharged from the U.S. Army in 1987, I thought I let my fellow soldiers down. The military takes pride in never leaving another behind.  It took me years to fully recover from a debilitating mental illness, one that saw demons, real and imagined, lurking behind every corner.

My mental health suffered, my physical health suffered, and my emotional health suffered.   It wasn’t until I found out what I was capable of as a writer and journalist, that I finally saw the light – being genuine to others and authentic to myself.

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Team building and shared experiences at Eagle Leader Camp reinforced my sense of belonging that was lacking for so many trying years.

Today, I am a better man, role model, and Eagle Leader. Today, I continue my journey of health and happiness, self-worth and self-esteem. For that I am grateful to Team RWB. Thank you for being in my corner.

Many people spend too much time trying to be the captain of someone else’s boat. Learn to be a lighthouse and the boats will find their way. Thanks for letting me learn to be a lighthouse.”

Thomas Beers left the Army two years before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. For over a decade, he battled bouts of survivor’s remorse until he agreed to help lead a chapter of a veteran nonprofit organization few had ever heard of. Recently, Thomas handed off the reigns to one of the most successful chapters of Team Red, White, and Blue to a new set of leaders, and he’s hoping you might also have what it takes to accept the risk of leadership.

Blog written by Thomas Beers

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I am letting go…

I’m not leaving, just “letting go.”

And it is not easy…

I started going through old pictures on my Facebook page of when I first started running again, back in 2013, just after I had found Team RWB.

I was searching for motivation—something that made me run for a larger purpose. At the time, Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) was the only veteran group I knew about. I looked up WWP running groups on Facebook and found some guy in upstate New York, a dentist who had a “13.1 for Wounded Warriors” group. It was a cool little piece and I started to run around Cleveland—through a dentist in Rochester who was trying to raise money—so I could raise awareness of veteran issues.

Let me back up for a moment. I served in the Army for a brief time in the 1990’s and left in 1999. Like many other veterans, I was in a love-hate relationship with the Army. Uncle Sam and I parted as “just friends,” and then I started moving straight to another uniform: firefighter. A decade and a half later, I found myself wanting to get back into running to give back to those who served in the war that I “missed.” I had some demons about that…the failure to serve with my friends in combat. In a way, while I wanted to help through advocacy, I didn’t realize at the time that I was running to help me, too.

One day in 2013 I went back to the dentist’s Facebook group only to find what looked like a psychedelic stencil of an Eagle. I called the dentist and asked what this change was all about. He was between patients so the good doctor gave me a few minutes of talking points about Team RWB, a whole new group I had never heard about before. He told me he had run across (pun intended) them at some race in the Midwest. He gave me their address and I went to work.

I made some spreadsheets, picked some races, and began asking friends and family to “sponsor” me as I ran with a new shirt I received in the mail—a red Brooks brand tech shirt that I wore everywhere. I was the only Eagle I knew at the time. I was unaware how that name, Team RWB, was eventually going to consume my life.

After raising a few hundred dollars and sending the money I raised to Florida—and hosting push up contests in our fire station—I received an email from one “Blayne Smith” who informed me that there was a whole community of Eagles in Northeast Ohio and that I needed to become an “official member.” Apparently, they were scratching their heads wondering who “this dude” was and thought it best if I left the fringes of the organization and became an “official” Eagle.

I met Matt Kisil, the captain of the Cleveland Chapter, while he was putting together his leadership team. Matt asked if I was interested in giving a little more of my time and leadership to the chapter (technically a “community” in 2013 and 2014). I went home and thought about it. Matt wanted me to be a “Veterans Outreach Director.” It sounded fancy enough. Plus, I found out that they’d be giving me some cool business cards, so I accepted and began my Alice-in-Wonderland-style introduction to the world of Team RWB. I was also Matt’s “go to” for filling in as a chapter captain when he could not, making me a quasi-co-captain. The company “executive officer.”

I discovered that there were so many veterans who were clamoring for “something more,” who wanted to reignite the sense of camaraderie they lost after leaving the service. I learned of veterans who had sacrificed so much for the nation, and I learned that some of their wounds, the unseen ones especially, needed healing.

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Thomas Beers

Never to be the type of person that does anything half-assed, I dove into the role of the new outreach director and began to make connections, both for the organization, and personally. I started to feel rejuvenated. I realized that I had not come to terms with myself for serving in a peace-time Army, and as an officer, I felt the need to serve “my soldiers” still and that this leadership role, however small, seemed to fill some of that void and quiet a demon I did not realize I had.

Through the collective efforts of the entire Cleveland/Akron leadership team, the RWB brand was becoming recognizable. We were rolling across Northeast Ohio and picking up “our people” at every race, every WOD, every interaction, week by week.

Then Matt got orders from his reserve unit to deploy (insert record scratch here) and then something even crazier happened. Matt asked if I would like to step into the chapter captain role for the one year he would be gone (restart record but at 10x speed!). Because I didn’t think I was “the right guy” for the job, I hesitated. There was too much at stake. Matt reassured me that I was a natural fit for the job, that all I needed was passion.

My biggest fear was that I would fail miserably and ruin Team RWB for the people in our chapter. They were counting on me in a way I had not experienced before. Peoples’ lives, or at least the quality of their lives, were at stake. Another concern I had centered around the budget. “What if I go over the budget?!?” I laugh at that too now…

Anyway, right about the time when Matt asked me to up my game for Team RWB, my personal life was starting to fall apart. My wife of nearly a decade filed for a divorce and the law firm she worked at assured me that I was headed for a meat grinder. What do I decide to do during this crisis?  Take the reins, of course. Seems logical, right? Little did I know, again, how logical a decision that would turn out to be.

With so much going on in my life, I needed Team RWB as much as Team RWB needed me. A few weeks ago, I listened to Mike Erwin on the Team RWB podcast and he was talking about how volunteering and giving back to others is not as altruistic as it seems because when you give to others, the reward goes to you. You feel better, you act better, and sometimes you get as much or even more out of volunteering than the person you’re trying to help. In the middle of my divorce, between motions and hearings, parenting plans and evidence, I worked on Team RWB. When I had no time to spare between two jobs, the divorce, kids, and meeting my new running partner (who eventually became my wife and biggest Team RWB supporter), I worked on Team RWB. The worries of my personal life, while important, were not so scary when I focused on Team RWB. They became the positive in my life that I could turn to for relief. Giving back kept me sane. Volunteering and meeting other soldiers, and sailors, and airmen, and marines, all kept me straight. I felt like the demon of missing my war and of not being able to take care of “my soldiers” was fading. I realized we all had struggles, and if I was able to keep Team RWB together, and not ruin it, or let it fall apart, then we would all make it together. My team would survive. I would survive.

I had an idea that to continue our chapter’s success, we needed to grow. The leadership team began to map out where we wanted to grow and after the first year at the helm, we more than doubled our size. Ohio has 88 counties, and our chapter now spans 21 of them. We got big fast! So big that I needed to make a smart decision and find a chapter co-captain. Honestly, one of the best decisions I made as Chapter Captain was asking Lexi Grum (Lexi Sharp back then) to step up as a chapter co-captain. I realized Lexi needed Team RWB as much as I did. That’s her story to tell though…

By the way, did you catch that I said the “first year at the helm”? It turned out that Matt’s deployment was extended beyond a year. 2015 was amazing and our members were out and proud and flying the Eagle every day, literally. We rolled and harnessed that energy into 2016 and came out swinging with more activities, expanded leadership roles, more outreach, the right people in the right roles, and we continued to collect more civilians and more veterans into our chapter.

If raising our chapter were akin to childrearing, Matt gave birth to our baby. It was my job to see it through adolescence (the teens), and now that the baby has grown, I realize it’s my job to let it go. The last thing I want is to be a dictator seeking a third term.

In 2017, one of our members got lit up with some Eagle fire and started seeking responsibilities and asking the right questions. If I had to let “my teenager” go off to college and be mentored by a professor, Nick Billock was the right man for the job. I asked Nick if he was interested in being the next chapter co-captain. Lexi and I both began to plan for a leadership change and map out a process for the future that would allow us to never deplete both co-captains simultaneously and hurt the chapter.

And now this…This writing process. The cursor is blinking and I don’t know how to end this story. All I can hear is the air conditioner droning. Maybe this is the way to end.

At one point on this trip, I had to give a lecture on Team RWB to a national medical conference at the Cleveland Clinic. They wanted to know how Team RWB was succeeding at helping veterans transition into civilian life. What was our formula? There were Admirals from the Public Health Service in the crowd, as well as Kevin Laci of American Sniper and my Veteran Outreach Director and consigliore, Jeremy Komasz. At one point, I mentioned that I had worn many uniforms in my life: Eagle Scout, US Army Officer, Firefighter, Paramedic, and Team RWB member and that in reflecting on those uniforms, wearing the Team RWB Eagle was by far the uniform I am most proud of. That was true then and still is to this day.

Why? Because even though “my baby” is in good hands and I am leaving “my baby” behind, “my baby” will always be there for me—and for so many others. While this little story is mine, the story of Team RWB is not. It’s not Mike Erwin’s or JJ’s or Blayne’s. It is all our little stories together, from peace-time to conflict warriors, from veterans to civilians, from West Coast to East. The Eagle is a tapestry of stories that make a community, a chapter, a team, a nation.

Thank you Team RWB. Thank you…

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Are you ready to accept the risk of leadership?

If you’re not a member of Team RWB and would like to join, you can sign up here.

If you’re already a member and are interested in taking on a leadership role in your local chapter, you can reach out to Team RWB leadership here.

When you’re ready to lead, Team RWB will be here for you. It’s never lonely at the top when you fly with Eagles!

Blog written by: Maureen Slotnick

“Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.” – Steve Jobs

I’ll never forget when Blayne Smith, former Executive Director of Team Red, White & Blue, talked with us about integrity.  It was the kick-off for the new Eagle Leader Fellows for 2017 and the graduation of the Fellows from 2016 in Tampa, FL.  I was one of the new fellows, at the time I was very nervous and excited, nervous because of the talent in the room (there were hundreds of applicants and 17 of us got chosen) and excited for the year ahead.  The discussion on integrity stuck in my head because many leaders don’t value it nowadays or if they do avoid the topic.  He also talked with us about always remembering to pause for a few moments, hours, or even days before we react to something.  Interestingly enough this parallels with what Mike Erwin teaches us in “Lead Yourself First” and as I continue my journey to become a certified yoga instructor I hear the same sentiment– remember the pause.  We live in a country divided right now – I feel as though years ago Republicans and Democrats were friends, now it seems even people in the same parties are snarling at each other.  When did the divide happen?  Even if you don’t agree with someone on something you can still work together to collaborate.  On a positive note, there are Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) who are creating community and narrowing that divide while working together to serve the greater good.  Team RWB is one of those organizations.  The theme of their current Old Glory Relay is Unity and that is something we could all use right now.  This world needs more leaders and that is what the Eagle Leader Fellowship is all about, building better leaders.

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I’m grateful for this past year as an Eagle Leader Fellow within Team RWB.  It’s a year filled with unlimited experiences, leadership training, education and action.  I actually applied the first year of the program (2016) and didn’t get accepted.  I was upset but not devastated, there is a big difference.  But I became more engaged with my local chapter and the growth I’ve learned will never be forgotten.  I knew I’d try again.  For me it’s always been, how can I continue to grow as a leader and then how can I give back to my community?  Team RWB has given me that opportunity and this fellowship is all about training and action.

Let me back up a step, I’m actually not a great writer (so I’ll have a few eyes review this before I send it off to the awesome communications team) and I’m just glad I’m not doing this in public – I am not a great public speaker either (trust me, I’ve had to take public speaking classes).  Luckily I’ve taken a few trainings through this fellowship that have helped with the public speaking part.

Team RWB’s mission is to enrich the lives of Americas Veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.  Their Enrichment scale is Enrichment = Health + People + Purpose.  It is an all inclusive organization so anyone can join and membership is free.  The Eagle Ethos are; People, Passion, Positivity, Community, Camaraderie & Commitment.  There are two main focuses of the organization; leadership development and community chapters at the local level.  Engage Veterans, create community, serve others and give back.  The Eagle Leader Fellowship is part of the leadership development.  I encourage anyone and everyone to apply.  This organization does not want you to be good, they want you to be great!  Build better leaders, build better communities and build a better America.

As one of the three Mid-Atlantic Fellows this year, my two paths have been; how can I grow as a leader and how can I give back to my community?  I felt we could use more yoga classes within our Richmond & Tri-Cities chapter so I chose to use some of my fellowship opportunity to get my 200-hour yoga teacher training so that I’ll be able to give back to our chapter and provide yoga classes – this is something I could also provide wherever I move across our great nation (to Team RWB & anyone in the community).  Team RWB has over 130,000 members and 200 chapters across the nation.  One of our yoga instructors gave his definition of yoga and it is “to help an individual reach their fullest potential spiritually, physically & mentally” – I think it’s also to just accept yourself and learn to “let go” of things you can’t control – and sometimes life isn’t great.  Anyone can benefit from yoga.  My 6-year-old son has even started to do it with me at night to relax, it’s a lifelong practice, similar to being a leader.  For me, especially through recent work I’ve always felt as though mental health was the same as physical health, yet we don’t treat it as such in our society.  To nourish the mind, body and spirit of any individual we should never settle for a little happiness, one should always be striving individually to create that mind, body and spirit connection.  Team RWB encourages individuals to reach their fullest potential through service and enriching the lives of Americas Veterans.

Each month during the fellowship, I’ve been able to engage with Team RWB volunteers, members and staff and take part in experiences.  Some of the highlights include; February was the ELF kick-off and we reviewed empathetic, authentic & genuine leadership – these leadership modules will be rolling out to leaders online soon and we have had hands-on experience with the program.  We also participated in the Gasparilla Distance Classic as a team.  March was the Mid-Atlantic Leadership Conference in Kentucky that focused on development within our local chapters, it was eye opening to see what opportunities and challenges you face at a local level, all chapters across the nation face the same issues so it was good to brainstorm and work as a team.  In April, Henry (a Fellow from the Northeast Region) and I attended the first ever Simon Sinek 2-day workshop in NYC, Speak like a Leader.  I’ll never forget when we met Simon and he saw our Team RWB logo and goes, “how is Team RWB? We love them!”  Next, I attended Mike Erwin’s (the Founder of Team RWB) 2-day Character & Leadership workshop.  It was extremely eye opening to learn about all the character strengths – and how to play to your strengths and develop your weaker ones.  Furthermore, this fellowship is great for self-awareness.  We also got to hear more about the book he co-wrote – Lead Yourself First,  I highly recommend it for anyone who craves a little solitude in a world that often does not stop talking.

During the summer the Mid-Atlantic region hosted an ELA (Eagle Leader Academy) and Triathlon Camp.  It was impactful to become engaged with our regional staff and other members across the region.  I’m always amazed how impactful a Team RWB weekend can be for individuals and send you back to your community with that right amount of Eagle fire.  Furthermore, I ran my first 50k with about 8 other members of the Richmond, Tri-Cities & Delaware chapters.  We all attempted the 50k and I’m happy to report we all finished.  This is something I would not have done without the support of other Eagle teammates – surrounding yourself with positive people can change the course of your life and just give you that encouragement to get out of your comfort zone and try something new.  Currently, I’m in yoga teacher training and that won’t conclude until end of December 2017.  It’s pretty life changing to learn about the study of yoga and how transformational it can be.  Most recently I attended Kara Goucher’s Podium Running Retreat which included self-defense, strength training, workshops on women’s development and lifting each other up.  We had to discuss an intention and goal before we left that weekend.  My intention was to continue to spread positive energy and my goal was to complete yoga teacher training and provide weekly yoga classes to our chapter members & community.  Reflecting more after the weekend other local leaders and I discussed hosting a trail running and yoga weekend at a local park, Eagle Outdoors we will call it.  There must be action after the fellowship to continue to spread the mission of Team RWB.

I used to think you could always apply the 80 / 20 rule to anything.  For example, 80% of the time I wear 20% of my clothes –  I actually now think it’s a 95 / 5 rule, 95% of the time it is really just about showing up, giving the best version of yourself, the willingness to serve others – be your authentic self, surround yourself with positive, genuine people who believe in the mission of the organization and that 5% just connects itself.  This is the key of how great teams come together to perform something exceptional.

Sebastian Junger writes in his book TRIBE, “Today’s veterans often come home to find that, although they’re willing to die for their country, they’re not sure how to live for it.  It’s hard to know how to live for a country that regularly tears itself apart along every possible ethnic and demographic boundary.  The income gap between rich and poor continues to widen, many people live in radically segregated communities, the elderly are mostly sequestered from public life, and rampage shootings happen so regularly that they only remain in the news cycle for a day or two.  To make matters worse, politicians occasionally accuse rivals of deliberately trying to harm their own country – a charge so destructive to group unity that most past societies would probably have just punished it as a form of treason.  It’s complete madness, and the veterans know this.  In combat, soldiers all but ignore differences of race, religion, and politics within their platoon.  It’s no wonder many of them get so depressed when they come home.”

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There is one thing about military culture I’ve always admired, you might not agree with the person to the right or left of you but you’d sure defend them.  I feel the same way about the bonds I have created with other 2017 Fellows.  The relationships you make during the Fellowship are life changing but also life-long.

Good people, good friends, great adventure – that is something to treasure.  Hands down the number one thing about this fellowship has been the relationships I’ve made along the way, they actually become a part of you.  The experience of participating in Old Glory Relay, the leadership training we have received from our staff, the continuing education that we can engage with even after our fellowship is over, it all becomes a part of us.  There are two types of people in this world, the ones who tell you to apply for the fellowship they are the good ones.  You’ll never know unless you try.  Be the kind of person that encourages someone to do what they love.

This world needs good leaders, and Team RWB builds them.  I look forward to continuing to serve this great organization through opportunities that come along and I’m so grateful to be on the journey with so many leaders who have a desire to serve others and build great community. #EagleFire

Chapter: Midwest Region / Dayton, OH Chapter

Member Since: 2016

Motto: “Never Give Up – Finish Strong!”

Why Did You Join Team RWB?

“I joined Team RWB to honor my father who passed away unexpectedly. He served in the Army. I decided that joining an organization that enriched the lives of America’s veterans would be a wonderful way to honor my father and give back to my community.”

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

“My favorite experience with Team RWB would definitely be attending Eagle Leader Academy in Detroit. What an amazing opportunity to come together with other Eagles across the Midwest Region! We shared our stories and explored our “why”. There was so much positivity and passion in our conference room that it was impossible not to be impacted in a profound way. Each of us left with new friendships, renewed vision, and loads of Eagle Fire!”

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How do you serve your community?

“I serve my community through volunteering at the VA nursing home. I have established relationships with a large majority of the residents and staff. I also serve at our community food pantry every week. I’m also part of an outreach group that provides complimentary face painting throughout our community to spread seeds of kindness & smiles!”

What Inspires You?

“I am inspired by disciplined people that refuse to give up during difficult times. I am also inspired by people that find beauty in the ordinary.”

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How Has Team RWB Impacted Your Life?

“Team RWB has impacted my life in a major way! At a time in my life when I desperately needed positivity and camaraderie…Team RWB was there. The other members of Team RWB have been a constant encouragement in my life. Through this organization, I have forged friendships that will last a lifetime. Our veterans have enriched my life, when my mission was to enrich theirs. Team RWB has also helped to keep me on track with my fitness goals. Joining Team RWB was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

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

“If I met someone that was thinking about joining Team RWB I would tell them to go for it! Live life to the fullest with no regrets!”

 

In 2010, Rob Jones walked slowly down a dirt road in Afghanistan.  Holding a metal detector, he scanned the path for IEDs and, unfortunately, he found one.  The explosion severely wounded him, taking both his legs instantly.  Since that time, Rob has been on a new mission: to recover, return stronger, and inspire people to overcome their setbacks.  He’s earned a bronze medal in the Paralympics, ridden his bike across the country, and is now running 31 marathons in 31 days…all despite the fact that he is a double, above the knee amputee.

On this week’s podcast, we have a great conversation about:

• His mindset during recovery

• How he stays healthy during such brutal physical events

• What he’d say to Veterans who are currently struggling

• How you can get involved and help.

You can support Rob and learn more about it at www.RobJonesJourney.com.  More importantly, you can find opportunities to come out and be a part of the journey yourself!