Blog written by: Tejas Patel | Team RWB Eagle Leader Fellow

I carry light for everyone that has brought me to where I am; my ancestors, my teachers, my colleagues, my students, and my Team Red, White & Blue teammates.  Without the collective efforts of each and every one of these people, I would not be where I am today.

I am Tejas Patel and I am a current Eagle Leader Fellow and member of the Team RWB Washington, D.C. Chapter.  I am a veteran and a Marine.

My father emigrated to the United States to build a better life.  I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to grow up in the United States as a first generation American and observe what this country has done for my parents and extended family.  My father always told me to serve, stressing “Serve your community, serve your friends, serve your country…and always remain humble”.

Those are words that I have taken to heart and lead my life by.  I carry the light for him and my Mom.

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My career in community service began with volunteering while in middle school.  I took the opportunity to serve my country overseas by joining the U.S. Peace Corps and working as a Secondary Sciences Teacher in Botswana, Africa.  I immersed myself in the culture and community just as I did Stateside.  It provided me with a perspective of what my students and people of my village, Mmadinare, go through on a daily basis.  My students taught me more than I could ever teach them.  I took it upon myself to learn as much as I could about each of my students and the life that they led.  I learned how some of them walked to school for over five kilometers with no shoes.  School provided them with breakfast and lunch before they had to walk back home to prepare a meal for their families.  Many of them have struggled in their short lifetime more than I will ever struggle.  I carry the light for them.

After 27 months in Botswana, I joined a different Corps, the Marine Corps, and continued to serve my country in another capacity.  This experience was invaluable as I was able to learn so much about others from different parts of our country and the experiences that lead them to be Marines.  I carry the light for my fellow Devil Dogs.

Now, as an Eagle Leader Fellow, I hope to be able to continue to contribute to my extended family.  It is about spending time in the community and building genuine connections with fellow Team RWB Eagles.  I carry the light for each one of my fellow Eagles.

Blog written by: Lani Faulkner, 2016 Eagle Leader Fellow

My name is Lani Faulkner and I am the wife of a Navy veteran, mother to a son on Active Duty, and a daughter born and raised in a military family. I live in Ormond Beach, Florida with my husband, Vince. We have three children and seven grandchildren. I was born to very patriotic parents, Dan and Sina Waldrop, who both served our country. My father was a proud career Navy man for 23 years. Although my mother was not in the military, she served our country through her incredible and dedicated support of my father as a military spouse and our family.  She and my father taught us from birth true patriotism, love for our country and high respect for those who wear the uniform.

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One of my regrets was not joining the military. I carried that regret for many years until last year during my Eagle Leader Fellow experience. Army veteran and Team RWB teammate, Andrew Hutchinson shared a story when he transitioned out of the military. He was told that you don’t have to wear the Army uniform to serve your country. I took that comment to heart as it made me realize, I am serving my country and my uniform is my Team Red, White and Blue red shirt. My passion for veterans started with my father’s military service and the sacrifices he made all through his career. My mother was the epitome of a military wife, taking on the commitment of ensuring that my father could do his job well knowing his family was taken care of. My husband is a veteran and together we run the Team RWB Daytona chapter with a commitment to strive to enrich the lives of our veterans in our community. Our participation in Team RWB continues to make a positive impact on his life as a veteran and for that of my son and his family.  Being a part of Team RWB has shown our children and grandchildren that actions speak louder than words, to understand and recognize the importance of engaging and connecting to our active duty military and veterans.  All it takes is that one spark of inspiration, to build genuine relationships, to carry the light for others and enrich others lives. I proudly carry the light for all of them.

As a Team RWB Chapter Captain for the past five years and in completing my Eagle Leader Fellow program, I am honored and humbled to be a part of Team RWB where I am afforded the opportunity to “carry the light” to make a positive impact on our local veterans and community members. Being involved with the Eagle Leadership Development Program and Eagle Leader Fellows, I’ve grown so much personally. I carry the light for Team Red, White and Blue and for the Eagles who carry the light with me.

I am extremely grateful to ALEX AND ANI for creating the “Carry Light” campaign and for their support of Team RWB. When I think about carrying the light, I think about how that light is the core to my heart. It allows me to always think about my maxim. It grounds me and is who I am. I can pass it on to others and encourage others to carry the light… bravely; with honor, pride and dignity.

Blog written by: Amanda Charney 

I have been fortunate in my life to travel the globe and live and work in several countries that others will never get to see. Throughout my travels, I never really considered how grateful I was to always get to come home and live as a free American. What reminded me of this?  Lady Liberty, herself.

To me, that woman holding the flame, coming into America’s favorite city, resembles strength, peace, love, and freedom for all.  She’s holding a book of wisdom and carrying knowledge to help guide her.  She moves without fear because she carries light, she carries the world, and she lights our path when we are in fear and darkness. Most importantly, she represents Hope. She is indestructible. After the tragedy that hit our nation on September 11, America looked up to her for Hope.  For me, as a woman trying to make it in this world, I personally look up to her for guidance and Hope for my own future in America.

As I watched the Carry Light video from ALEX AND ANI for the first time, I saw the faces and reactions of people coming to America, and seeing the light for their future. As the one woman kept saying, “America is Golden…” In the current times of watching news of poverty, disgrace to our flag and our officers, tragedy upon tragedy, Lady Liberty continually delivers Hope. In that video, I loved hearing how when you start from the bottom of Lady Liberty, she is moving forward, she broke through her chains,  she is looking up to the heavens and taking the steps to move forward.

There was a time, I was upset with Old Glory.  I still remember when it was placed in my arms in a way I would have never wanted, nor wished on anyone else. Looking down in their lap so nicely folded, I lost all Hope. I held the flag so tight when it was given to me, and then would just stare at it when I was home alone thinking, “Why?”  “How?”  But then… Hope came back again.

When I bought my house several years ago, Old Glory was the first thing I hung outside of my front door. She continues freely blowing proudly, high in the air. She reminds me that just like Lady Liberty, I had to move forward and change tragedy into Hope for myself, my family, and for children all across our country helping to give them a voice.

 

I love my country, I love my flag, and I love my Lady Liberty!  Getting together with family from Team RWB either in my city or traveling for races out of state, it is an instant bond of community and we just smile. That smile alone, of a stranger wearing the Eagle, is a smile of light and Hope that I am so proud to be apart of.

I love being an American with my whole being, and every summer when I come back to the states it does something to my core just knowing that I am home.

Blog written by: John Valley

When I left for deployment, I left everything behind.  I separated myself from things back home to stay focused on the mission and my brothers in arms.  I didn’t realize how separated I was until I returned home.  Everything that once meant the world to me no longer gave me feeling.  On the surface I smiled and held conversations with friends and family.  On the inside, I was torn with where I was and where I should go.

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On one side, I knew a job, house, wife and family was the route that made sense.  I had served my country and was free to live my life.  On the other side, I missed my brothers and the simplicity of living in a war-zone.  When I returned from Afghanistan I didn’t handle assimilation well.  I became a workaholic and an alcoholic.  I worked 60-70 hours a week and when I wasn’t working, I was drinking alone or with my brothers.  With this lifestyle I started to put on weight and eventually I no longer passed the weight standards.  When re-enlistment came up, I talked myself into the idea that I wasn’t re-enlisting because I was done with the Army.  I was afraid and disappointed.  I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get myself in shape again to re-enlist.  I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to live without the bottle to numb reality. And I was disappointed with myself. I let myself go. Because of this, I would no longer be able to be a soldier.

I numbed my feelings of guilt, loneliness, and depression with more alcohol. I had no control, and this made me fall even deeper into the hole I was digging for myself.  I burned a lot of bridges during this part of my life, some I have repaired and some are gone forever.

Through all the ups and downs I had coming home, the one thing that never changed was my wife, Sarah.  She was the foundation of our family’s future.  She was there to support me on my worst days and happily enjoy my best days.  She shined the light at the end of the tunnel and through her compassion, support, and never-ending love, I knew she was going to be there for me as I climbed out of the tunnel.

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I have now been sober for three years. I have re-enlisted and returned to my brothers, I have found that with fitness (mainly endurance sports) I’m able to enter a therapeutic state and think clearly to find guidance within my mind.

Since we joined Team RWB, I have been able to reconnect with the feeling of brotherhood, and this time, Sarah can be a huge part of it.  We continue to share our story, and listen to others.  This has helped us build long-lasting friendships and become a community full of positive and supportive people.  People who come from different walks of life.  People who come together with one goal.  The goal to enrich the lives of American Veterans.

The journey to home is a long one, and as a member of Team RWB I have a role…we all play a part.  Hopefully together, we can continue to help other veterans out of their tunnel and find their light.