By Dan Brostek, Director of Marketing and Communications

Since 2014, Brandon Young has served as the Director of Development for Team Red, White & Blue, developing and maintaining strategic partnerships and identifying growth opportunities to ensure the success of veteran enriching programs.  Over those three and a half years, Brandon has completely dedicated himself to Team RWB and Eagle Nation and I’ve been able to witness firsthand the impact he has on had on this organization at every level.  From the strategic relationships he shaped…to the community he impacted as a Chapter Captain in Denver…to the individual lives of both veterans and civilians he touches on a daily basis, his presence is always felt and will surely be missed.  This quote epitomizes Brandon’s personal mission as both a veteran and Team RWB employee.

“I work with and for veterans every day and it is one of the greatest honors of my life. I humbly submit that veterans are the leaders America is reaching for right now… Today, as veterans, we have the opportunity to speak our minds. To opt in or out on a topic. Our countrymen are starving to hear from us and in some respects, we have a responsibility to them still, to serve and to lead.” – Brandon Young

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Brandon’s experience in the Army and Corporate America provided an amazing foundation of knowledge and experience that helped Team RWB become what it is today.  Brandon enlisted in the U.S. Army directly out of high school, serving 11 years, primarily with the 2nd Ranger Battalion and 75th Ranger Regiment. He conducted 4 combat rotations to Afghanistan and competed in the 2006 Best Ranger Competition, placing 3rd with his partner. He’s conducted Special Operations missions in support of the Global War on Terror, and was the Operations Planner and Personal Security Detachment to the Commanding General of West Point during his last deployment. Upon leaving the military, Brandon spent the next six years with Quest Diagnostics in Cancer Diagnostics and Commercial Leadership.

“I have seen Team RWB blossom from a young, hungry movement into a sustainable impact organization enriching veterans lives across the country. We have grown to over 125k members, 217 locations and begun a compelling body of research to uncover insights that will ultimately serve veterans, military families and all Americans through improved health, authentic relationships and sense of purpose. I am so proud to have been a part of this journey!” – Brandon Young

July 31st, 2017 will mark Brandon’s last day with Team RWB to pursue an opportunity of service with another community.  Effective August 15th, Brandon will become the first Chief Advancement Officer for the Tennyson Center for Children, serving severely abused, neglected, and traumatized kids in Colorado.

“In the coming years, we will reimagine the way we serve youth in crisis, inspire and empower them to live full lives and then give away the model to any state that chooses to replicate success. Additionally, I will fully embrace the opportunity to be home with Kelly, Jaden and Elliot (every night) after a 20-year career full of travel.” – Brandon Young

Brandon has been my battle buddy since I joined Team RWB over two years ago. We’ve worked closely on a variety of initiatives, talked shop all the time…and discussed personal challenges we’ve faced within our own lives.  Brandon is more than a colleague. He has become a dear friend that I admire and seek advice from on a continuous basis.  I know I speak for Eagle Nation when I say, “Thank You!” for everything you have done for our team and America’s veterans.  Godspeed, brother! We wish you and your family the best of luck in your future endeavors.  We know you won’t be too far away…and will always continue to rock the Eagle!

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For those of you that may not know Brandon as well as I do, he has contributed a significant amount of thought leadership to the veteran space. These are just a few examples of powerful pieces that Brandon has written through the years.  Definitely check them out if you haven’t had a chance.

 

 

 

Blog written by: Alley Smith, Veteran Engagement Director | Team RWB Central Maine

If you want to do something useful with your life, to contribute, to make a difference, and find happiness – just show up. 

Over the years, I, like so many other service members, attended various military leadership and civilian leadership schools.  However, none so empowering as the Northeast Team RWB Leadership Academy.  I feel so grateful for the organization and to the men and women who have shared their inspiring stories of warrior resilience with me.  I also feel tremendously grateful for being reminded of my worth.

I’ve been in the military for over 12 years and continue to serve in the Navy Reserve. In my civilian career, I manage a veterans’ service organization and statewide programs that assist homeless and at risk veterans and their families. I am deeply invested in promoting positive psychology, personal accountability, responsibility, holistic health and peer support.

After my last deployment in Afghanistan in 2013, I struggled immensely with survivor’s guilt and PTSD.  I missed the intoxicating feeling of being at war with my shipmates and friends – and connecting with people who had virtues of honor, selflessness, loyalty, commitment, courage, and 100% Americanism. However, I found my new family, with the same virtues, when I joined Team RWB.

There was a healing and transformative power of being “connected to my community through physical fitness and social activity.”  It was no longer dispiriting to be home – navigating the transition from combat.   “When the vets need us, we will be there,” said Amanda Rondon the Northeast Regional Director. This is true.

In one weekend, I learned a tremendous amount about the need to feel connected to others, the need to feel authentic, and the need to do something that matters. These needs are often connected to something called self-determination theory.  The leadership camp taught us that veterans are not alone and we can be part of something bigger, always. We are here for each other and connected to a remarkable civilian community that cares deeply.

Team RWB teaches Eagle Leaders to become empathetic, authentic, genuine, loyal, and effective.  Leadership means you are invested in relationships. Relationships can impact each individual, the organization, community and nation in a positive way. Eagles have the ability to build strong connections with each other. Engagement is the key.  Engagement happens when we challenge military members, veterans, their families and our civilian supporters to have the courage to attend one of our events. “Sometimes the bravest and most important thing that you can do is just show up,” Brene Brown.

The best way for you to see what I’m talking about is to join Team RWB. Experience it for yourself. Join a chapter, become a member, become an Eagle Leader, and allow yourself to transform into the person that you’ve always wanted to become.  As Amanda Rondon challenges us, “choose courage over comfort,” and see what happens next.  It is very likely that you will experience and increase in your physical, mental, emotional health. You may run or walk your first 5K, ruck, swim, bike, volunteer, or do something you never imagined. For example, this year, I ran my first ultra-marathon.

 

Blog written by Nate Blackler, Team RWB Manchester

The weekend of May 19th I had the privilege of attending the Eagle Leadership Academy (ELA) in Silver Bay, NY. I can’t even put into words how amazing this event was! I met some of the most loving and inspirational leaders in the Northeast. When I first received the invite, I was excited, but also nervous. I wasn’t sure what to expect and didn’t know a lot of the people going. As the weeks creeped closer, I started to get excited. I had stepped up to take one of the Captain positions in my local chapter and was eager to learn more about leadership in the organization. I had the privilege of riding up to the ELA with one of the 2017 Eagle Fellows. It was a great opportunity to connect and gain a deeper understanding of Team RWB before even getting to ELA.

We arrived on a Friday afternoon and were immediately welcomed by so many happy and eager leaders from chapters all over the Northeast.  We may have come from all different areas, but were all there for the same reason. Instantly, I knew I wanted to get the most out of this experience. I decided to shut myself off from social media and pushed myself to try many new things. The weekend was led by our Northeast Regional Staff, Amanda and Jessica. Some of the key leadership traits they touched upon were the difference between authentic and genuine, as well as sympathy versus empathy.

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Usually when meeting new people, I am nervous and shy, but this time; it was different. I felt safe and very welcomed by everyone. I opened the weekend with a game of corn hole with some folks from Rhode Island and Connecticut. From there, we dove in with many activities including ice breakers, hiking, yoga, team building rucks, and stories around a camp fire.

It is hard to put into words the authenticity everyone showed and their hunger to learn. Over the weekend, I opened up and talked about things even my closest friends and family don’t know. I was inspired by how everyone was so loving and understanding. Upon leaving the weekend, I had gained 30 new lifelong friends. I knew I had a support group like I used to have in the Infantry. These people truly cared and understood. The week following the ELA, I went to Arlington National Cemetery and visited a few comrade’s sites. I had the entire team behind me reaching out with support and checking in on me. After 11 years, I had gained the strength to do this and their support was truly amazing.

The one thing that I find inspiring about Team RWB is that everyone treats each other the same. From this experience, I gained a deeper understanding of what the organization is about. Many of us take part in events and promote Team RWB, but after that weekend, I saw things in such a different light. It truly was one of the most impactful, amazing weekends of my life.

Being a part of Team RWB has been a life changing experience for me. I have gained new friendships and a true support group. I had spent years after the Army trying to fit in and find my tribe again. As a Veteran, it’s important to me to be able to continue to serve in my local community. It’s my heart’s desire to reach out and help other veterans feel connected, as well as connect with civilians. Bridging the gap and becoming one team in our communities is important as veterans integrate back into civilian life. Team RWB has allowed me to not only feel like I have a family again, but also gives me unlimited opportunities to give back and be active.

Team Red, White and Blue is such an amazing organization! I’m so blessed for the opportunity to help lead in my local chapter. I’m excited to take what I learned and bring it back to my chapter and community. We are growing in leaps and bounds, and I’m honored to be a part of it.

Blog written by: Robert Walls

I was very excited about the chance to go to storytelling camp. A chance to see old friends, and a chance to meet new ones.

Leading up to camp I started getting very nervous, I started to realize…wait, this is happening. Several things were going through my mind, first I would have to get on an airplane. I have flown once since leaving Iraq a decade ago, so that in itself was enough for me to stress about. However, the instant I landed, another realization kicked in, I wasn’t just out of my comfort zone, I was states away, about to talk to a lot of people I had never met; yet I am going to tell them some of my deepest struggles?!

I have told my story many of times, each time with a little more detail, but I knew this one was going to be different, I knew I couldn’t put on a façade of comedy, I couldn’t blame it on alcohol, the only thing I could do was be me, and hope that was enough.

I was pretty nervous on the first day at the camp. We were all in a single room, which I now refer to as the storytelling room. One of the first things we were asked to do was to write on a small notecard and give ourselves permission to do something at this camp. This was odd to me, but for the sake of the exercise I decided to give it a try. I gave myself permission not to hold anything back, embrace everything that is storytelling camp and everything that is Team RWB. Didn’t seem like a big deal at first. I volunteered to read aloud what I wrote, but then it dawned on me. Wait, don’t hold anything back? Embrace everything and fully participate? Leave myself open and vulnerable? This just wasn’t me, this just wasn’t going to work.

Later that day I decided to let the comedy start doing its “magic”. I mean, I have held the emotional wall up for so long what was another weekend, right? So that evening I kind of just joked around with people and decided that even though I gave myself permission, it didn’t mean I had to actually do it.

Day two came around and we started writing a few sentences that would be in our story. I was like, “Alright, that is fine, I can jot a few things down.” But then something happened, I actually started being vulnerable, but this was only on paper, so it didn’t really count, right? At least that is what I told myself. I read my sentences multiple times and then we were asked to share in groups. No big deal, they knew me as a comedian, I could just wing it. However, once I sat down in our group, and looked at their faces I knew there was no way I could “wing it”. I had no choice. I had to be genuine. I had to be authentic. So I was. I told my one sentence like I had been rehearsing for a play; but what I didn’t count on is what I actually wrote, how vulnerable it really made me, how I actually put myself out there. Then something amazing happened, in return I no longer felt alone. Although it was just a sentence, it was me. The real me.

The rest of the second day I actively participated, listened intently as a few of our leaders showed their vulnerability and told us their stories, I listened as everyone hugged and thanked them for everything they were doing, I listened as opinions clashed over the ways stories should be told, and then, then I started to listen to my little notecard, my permission slip, the permission slip that told me that I could listen to me. Listen to me? Why would I do that? This is what I have been pushing away for so long, could I actually face myself?

That night I didn’t sleep very well, you see… the next day we were going to tell our stories. I have done this before, I knew what type of emotional toll this was about to take, and I knew, for the first time I had to truly be me. I had to say what I was feeling, I couldn’t just hide behind my wall of comedy or dull the emotions. Maybe even worse, I had to listen. Not just to my story, but the stories of those who I now consider family. Imagine 30 of your family members lining up and telling you about the worst moments in their life. This was not going to be an easy day. I knew I was going to leave Sunday, heartbroken, confused, and worst of all, alone.

Sunday came and I decided to tell my story first. I needed to get it over with. I knew if I didn’t go first, I might not do it at all. I also knew that by getting up there and being vulnerable, it may just start what Sarah Roberts calls the ripple effect, it may just allow us to be us. I mean if the “comedian” with the wall around him can tell his story, then why can’t I?

The time was now, I went up front, took down my wall and told one of my defining stories, my story of why I got involved with Team RWB. A story of struggles, pain, loss, and despair. I am not sure what I expected when I was done. Judgement, stares, disdain even? But instead I received love, support, and sadness that those things had happened in my life. Then something amazing happened. The ripples started forming, person after person started going up front, started being vulnerable, started telling stories that they have held in for so long. All of a sudden, I wasn’t alone, I didn’t need a wall. As it turns out, all I needed was a family.

I have an awesome wife and two wonderful children, but that is not the family I speak of. The family I found, the family I needed was there all along. I just had to open my eyes and see that it wasn’t about me, it was about us.

When we started camp they told us to write one true sentence about ourselves. Wow, I thought, one true thing? How can I pick just one thing? What would that one thing be? Several days after camp I finally figured out my one true sentence. I am selfish.

You see, when we came back from camp there was a slap of reality. There was this feeling that we were no longer in the company of our family. We now had to go back to the real world, and face our everyday problems, a real world that is unforgiving. A real world that you are just not ready to embrace yet, not because you are scared, but you are emotionally drained. You have this sense of pride that you are now starting to take control of your story, but that is still a hard reality. That is when I realized my truth, my truth that I am selfish.

I missed my new family, I missed what we had together, I missed being me. However, I realized it didn’t have to be that way. So, I started randomly sending messages to people from camp, telling them they are awesome, telling them I missed them, telling them to keep fighting the fight. That is when I knew I was selfish, that is when I realized that I wanted to make everyone happy. By making others happy, in return I found my happiness. So I just keep on trying to help others find their happiness, give them that smile they need in the middle of the day, so in return I could have mine. However, once I found my happiness I realized I wasn’t away from my family at all, in reality my family has always been here, all 113,000 of them. Anywhere I want to go my family is there. It may not be the same ones I laughed, learned, and loved with over the past weekend, but they are still my family. Even better I get to share my experiences with my team, with other Eagles across the country. All of a sudden I have the tools to be a better me, and in return the ability to better help others.

You may have noticed I used common words to describe people, I didn’t say veteran or civilian, I said person, people, humans, Eagles – because that is what we all are. You see, it turns out emotions aren’t as picky as some of us have always believed them to be. They don’t affect you one way because you are a veteran, and another because you are a civilian. They are just as cruel, real, and as harsh to all of us. Our experiences may be different, but our emotions are not. Team Red, White and Blue may be made up of veterans and civilians, but more importantly it is made up of people. People who all have an emotional connection to each other whether we know it or not. We just need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and see each other as people, not as categories. We are all the same, different experiences in life doesn’t make you different, it makes you human. We are all vulnerable, we just have to give ourselves permission. So my question to you is, what will you give yourself permission to do?

Blog written by: Nick Billock

Since attending the Team RWB Eagle Leader Academy in Detroit a few months ago, I have been processing, thinking, and trying to define my “why.” Why do I volunteer with Team RWB? Why do I CrossFit religiously in my garage gym nearly every day? Why did I sign up with Team Rubicon TODAY? Why even bother with so many external things that I don’t have to do and why not just focus on myself? All valid questions.

Allow me to get the CrossFit thing out of the way first: unlike running, CrossFit has the uncanny ability to humble me into a puddle of sweat quite often and without warning. Heck, I think it chuckles at me when I look at a workout and think: “oh, that doesn’t look too bad” and then I get crushed. CrossFit is a routine of mine that pushes me. It’s not the community of CrossFit, mind you. I’m alone in my garage. It’s the difficult and very challenging workouts and since I don’t know anything other than giving all I have, it is brutal and challenges me daily…and I love that. If it were easy, then I’d be done with it. The fringe benefits are: 1) best physical condition of my life and 2) more time with my wife than ever before…running robbed that of me for nearly 20 years. OK…so now that CrossFit is out of the way, let’s move on to my “why.”

Today, we participated in the national Run as One event with Team RWB.  Afterwards, about 10 of us enjoyed some java at Starbucks where some shared why they volunteer with the organization. I didn’t speak up but the wheels were turning as they have been since February. On the way home, I think I finally framed it up and told my wife my “why.” Let me put it into words…finally.

I have always considered myself selfless and giving. I was raised in a Christian home, joined the Navy at the ripe age of 18, got married at 19 and now as I approach my 44 year point in the very near future, I still consider myself to be pretty selfless and giving…to a certain extent, of course. Through the end of 2011 and 19 years of marriage, I felt pretty good about where I got in life, my home life, accomplishments, etc. Then, through a series of circumstances and humility, my entire focus changed. Intangible vs. tangible. Qualitative vs. quantitative. Relationships vs. accomplishments. Obituary vs. my legacy. Yea, I pondered that last one. Who would show up at my funeral and what would they say? Who would give my eulogy and what is it that I would be remembered for? Would it be for my service to my country? My 60+ marathon/ultra-marathon finishes? How I loved my family? My kids? My wife? Or, would I be remembered as a narcissistic, arrogant, angry man? Or person, for that matter. This inward analysis isn’t one of chest-thumping but more a gut check of this question:

What legacy do I want to leave?

As someone who is very Type A, needs a schedule, is a perfectionist at heart, and wears his heart on his sleeve, you’ll find the following ironic: I LOVE the unknown of what new and unknown relationships will bring into my life via volunteerism. With Team Red, White and Blue, I meet someone new at almost every new event I plan or attend. To refresh you…Team RWB’s mission is to enrich the lives of veterans through social and physical activities. That “enriching” has many forms and often, it can be as simple as listening or putting muscle into action to physically DO something. Couple volunteerism with doing it with my wife and hopefully my kids at some point and not only am I helping to enrich the lives of those to my left and right but those under the roof in which I live. My “why?” That’s it. It’s been said that no one ever sees a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer behind it. Things are just that…things. Experiences, though, and the interactions we have with others can not only help others but set off a ripple effect that does way more good than we’ll ever know. So when I think about what kind of legacy do I want to leave, it’s one that most won’t be able to just describe in a sentence or a paragraph. I want it to be felt in their gut, in their heart, and I want my wife and kids to feel the same thing in their own way.

Hands and Feet: I mentioned before that I was raised in a Christian home. My faith isn’t something I brag about, plaster across billboards or my social media timeline, nor bring up in casual conversation. I truly want people to see something different about me and if that makes them curious and perhaps even ask a probing question about my faith, then so be it. When I think about volunteerism and more specifically relationship building and enriching the lives of others around me, I so often come back to the idea of being the “hands and feet” of “something.” As a Christ-follower, I do believe that while we’re here on earth, we ARE to be the hands and feet of Christ. Serve and love others, disciple them and be His representation while here. I believe it with all my heart. What’s super cool about serving others is that no matter what label you slap on it, serving is ultimately selfless and can fit so many molds. I heard it today around the table at Run as One as friends talked about why they were there! In my gut, I want to make an impact. Sure, it feels good but it’s just as spiritual or perhaps even more so. Everyone has their own reason why or why they don’t serve others. It often “looks” the same on the outside but understanding the “why” on the inside can really help fuel forward movement and become even more enriching both on the receiving end and personally.

We were out on the 5 mile Run as One course this morning in the beautiful Cuyahoga Valley National Park and I looked to my bride and said “you know…we Run as One.” She asked, because we were alone at the back of the back where the others had already finished ahead of us, “should we be with the rest of the group?” You see…we were wearing our 20 and 30lb rucks today for the run and we opted for the 5mi vs. the 3mi course so we were lagging behind. I replied: “No, Babe…WE…we run as ONE. We are one.” That’s what it’s all about. It’s not about us. It’s not about you. It’s about the “we” and how we can serve one another but that always starts with the one you took a vow to (if you have). Love hard, serve others, and give life everything you’ve got without regret…but know your “why.”

Read more by Nick Billock on his personal blog.