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.

18622260_10158983820630347_2587700394067637108_n (1)

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.

22046830_10159548319810171_7912705538781803050_n (1)

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.”

Blog written by: Janene Ritchie

When I joined Team RWB in September 2014, I was peering over the edge of a box that was far too small for me. The messages from those around me were that I was asking for too much from life, that I should lower my expectations…and the heart of what I heard in those messages is that I wasn’t worthy of the goals and dreams that brewed inside of me.

And then, in August 2014, I saw a guy in a bright red shirt and flag shorts, running with a flag in a local race, and cheering on his teammates. Once I learned more about this group and joined Team RWB Dayton, I was hooked. For the first time, I found myself among a group of people whose positivity was contagious. Instead of wondering why I would dare to pursue big things, they asked “why not”. The camaraderie and passion I found among Eagles encouraged me to step outside of the ill-fitting box I’d allowed others to build around me, and tiptoe into living the big things that were screaming inside of me. I ran a 50k on my 30th birthday. I started doing Crossfit. And I took the reins of Team RWB Dayton and became the Chapter Captain.

This time last year, I was full of conflicted emotions. The window for Eagle Leaders Fellowship applications was approaching, and I was torn. My husband and I had just found out that we were staring down our biggest challenge yet – becoming parents. Although I badly wanted to apply, the voice that I thought I had quieted came creeping back in. The fellowship sounded amazing, but who was I to think that I could tackle pregnancy, becoming a mom, work, and serving as a fellow all at the same time? I had all but written it off entirely.

And again, I had Eagles to the rescue who wouldn’t allow me to crawl back inside my old box. I volunteered at the Team RWB Midwest Functional Fitness camp last fall, where I met Marissa May. Marissa was a 2016 Eagle Leader Fellow, and we bonded immediately. In countless messages over the following months, she answered my questions – both about the fellowship and motherhood, and encouraged me to apply.

Teambuilding activity at Detroit ELA

On a cold January afternoon, I opened an email from Joe Quinn, Team RWB’s Director of Leadership Development. Finding out that I had been selected as an Eagle Leader Fellow brought an electrifying mix of excitement and anxiety. A large part of my responsibilities as an ELF this year have been to coordinate our region’s Eagle Leader Camps and Academies (collectively known as Experiences). With our first ELA on tap for the beginning of March, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. Being a part of ensuring success for 3 ELAs and 3 ELCs has been incredibly rewarding. These multi-day Eagle Leader Experiences can be life-changing if given the proper enthusiasm and effort, and to be a part of that for other Eagles is an honor; meeting and learning from so many Eagles in my region and across the country is always humbling and inspiring. Our Regional Director and Program Manager, Zack Armstrong and Kian O’Donohue, have been amazing mentors, pushing me to continually give my best and challenging my comfort zone with progressive responsibility; and I’ve been equally inspired by and grateful for Star Cathcart, my fellow Midwest ELF.

If my work with the Midwest Eagle Leader Experiences were all that my fellowship entailed, I’d consider it well worth it. But that certainly hasn’t been the case as I’ve been able to pursue some of my own interests as well. This fall, I became a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, and I am also completing a 6-month long process to become a certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide – the perfect complement to my background in adventure guiding and outdoor leadership. I look forward to using these skills to continue to serving my local chapter, the Midwest region, and beyond.

My 2 years as Dayton’s Captain were amazing, filled with too many memories to count. Through becoming vulnerable, discovering my authentic self, learning how to fully express that to others, and building genuine relationships, I have learned how to live big. While I could talk for days about how equally amazing the Eagle Leader Fellowship has been, the most meaningful thing it has allowed me to do is to speak truth to my experience – to be the same voice for others that pulled me out of my too-small box. Whenever possible, I try to remind those around me that they are worthy not only of dreaming the big dreams, but chasing them down too. I owe everything I am today to the people who reminded me of my worthiness while I was still hustling for it; to be that person for others is the least I can do to repay what has been given to me.

Trail Running Camp

If there’s one thing that Team Red, White & Blue, and my Eagle teammates have taught me, it’s that living big is why we’re all here. Keeping yourself small enough to fit inside of others’ expectations serves no one – least of all, yourself. By not allowing yourself to live up to your own expectations, you’re holding back talents and skills that the world needs. And on the days when I doubt myself, I remind myself that my son will always be watching. If nothing else, I want him to know that with hard work, perseverance, and integrity, he is capable of pursuing his wildest dreams – and it’s my responsibility to show him how.

If you crave to serve others, to work as part of a team, to grow as a leader, and to pour yourself into an experience – APPLY! If you have doubts, apply anyway. I can promise that it will challenge you and change you if you let it, and it will be worth every ounce of effort you give it.

Ultimately, my advice should come as no surprise: Don’t be afraid to LIVE BIG. It’s by living as big as we can possibly imagine that we best serve others.

Blog written by: Caitlin Pollard

I first learned about the Eagle Leader Fellowship while attending the 2016 Northeast Yoga Camp. Attending the camp changed my life in a period of just two days; it made me want to delve deeper into what type of leader I was and become the leader I knew I could be. I was in a rut prior to the camp, constantly upset and frustrated, but not doing anything to change the situation. Attending camp was a turning point for me–while I had been a member of Team RWB for over two years at that point, and on the leadership team for the Oswego, NY chapter for almost a year, I hadn’t been as involved as I could be or wanted to be. I kept myself at the edge of fully committing to the team, unsure if I was willing to be vulnerable, put myself out there, and show my authentic self. One weekend with other Eagle Leaders and I found myself all in! I was voluntarily opening up in our discussions and wanted more of that experience. I felt at home with the team and realized that I was holding back with my chapter and outside of Team RWB. I knew that the fellowship was one way to develop myself as a better leader and to continue working on being more open and authentic. I also didn’t think I had any chance at being selected. As I submitted the application, I was already preparing myself for the disappointment of rejection. I had created a backup plan for when I wasn’t selected; I was so sure that I would have to pursue leadership opportunities on my own that I began creating a plan for my own ‘mini-fellowship’.

When I received the email from Joe Quinn saying I was chosen, I was floored. I didn’t feel I deserved to be selected. I’m a civilian and I had only just started the Eagle Leader journey. I was experiencing major imposter syndrome. But I was honored that I was selected and determined to prove that I was the right choice, both to Team RWB and to myself. I knew that if I wanted to do the things I said I wanted to do in my application, I needed to work on myself. A lot. So I decided to use this fellowship to do just that. I’ve spent 2017 working on improving myself and building my confidence as a leader both through the fellowship and on my own. I’ve done this through yoga teacher training, a non-fiction writing class through Stanford, the Brene Brown Daring Leadership course, a class on character strengths through VIA, and more. I’ve pushed myself well outside of my comfort zone and I look forward to finishing out the year with Peer Support Training, Midwest Storytelling Camp, and Mike Erwin’s Character and Leadership Center seminar. Each training, camp, and class I’ve chosen to do had a specific reason behind it; I didn’t want to sign up for something that wouldn’t have a direct purpose to me. I didn’t want to waste the funds or go into something half-hearted. I wanted to make sure that I was giving it my all in every single component of my fellowship.

As I started planning out my year as an ELF, I was sure the yoga teacher training would be the highlight of my fellowship. I would be certified in yoga and come full circle from that camp experience. While the training was certainly a highlight, it wasn’t just because I received my certification to teach. It was because of much, much more than just the physical yoga practice. I did my training through an intensive program with Grace and Glory Yoga in Northfield, NJ and found that the physical practice was just a start. While the training is in Baptiste Power Yoga, owner Allie Nunzi focuses on leadership and the whole self throughout the program. It’s not just about the yoga! There were videos from Brene Brown and exercises meant to help us work on the ‘tough shit’ – the things that hold us back in life. It felt like I was back at an RWB camp and I felt right at home. I committed myself fully to the experience and realized that I was holding myself back quite a bit; to move into the person I needed to become I needed to own my experiences and the role I played in them. The Yoga Teacher Leader Development Program was easily the toughest experience I’ve had, both physically and mentally, but I was so proud of myself and my new family when we finished that first intensive week. One of my classmates said at the end that she was surprised how quickly everyone had bonded, and that she didn’t think she’d feel this close to people she had known for such a short time. I remember thinking how lucky I was to have these experiences over and over again with Team RWB.

Another highlight of my fellowship was helping plan and execute our Eagle Leader Academies. In both academies I was given a chance to step up and do something that pushed me. In Lake George, I led an optional, early-morning hike. For something I was so familiar doing, I was incredibly nervous. I wasn’t sure if anyone would wake up early after such a full previous day. To my surprise, every single attendee came on the hike, including one leader who had never hiked before. Seeing him push himself showed me the impact that we as leaders can have on others. At our Philadelphia academy I was given the opportunity to share my story. I’ve always been comfortable presenting, but I’ve never had to present about myself! I expected to be terrified, but found instead that I was confident. I never would have expected to feel that way; if I had had to share this time last year, I likely would have walked out. Being an ELF has pushed me outside of my comfort zone, but also has given me the tools to succeed and the support to know that if I did fail, it would be okay.IMG_20170520_073158

What I’ve loved most about this fellowship is the flexibility; you get out of it what you put into it, but you also can choose your own path throughout. We had guidance from our regional directors and program managers, but really it was about what we wanted to do in the end. Some of the things that I’ve seen the others in my cohort do have been absolutely amazing, and so different than my path. I found myself committing to a lot with the fellowship, both in educational opportunities and with helping with regional projects, like data management and planning regional leadership experiences, but I was able to work it around commitments in my personal and professional life. I work for a college and travel a good amount during the academic year, so for me it meant doing a lot for my fellowship over the summer. At one point in July I found myself on an overseas work trip while in two online classes, starting my yoga teacher training program, and helping prep for our Philadelphia Eagle Leader Academy. It was definitely hectic, but I thrive under pressure and found that I’ve been able to accomplish everything I had hoped for this year and more, thanks to the support of the other fellows and RWB staff.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from the classes, trainings, and ELAs is to lean into the uncertainty of trying new things. Sign up for yoga training in a different state, reach out to a chapter when traveling and see if you can join them, agree to a Trail Ragnar 36 hours before it starts (ok, that one may not have been my brightest idea). If it’s going to make you happy, stop doubting and overthinking and just do it! I’ve always been more cautious and an over planner, but I’m learning to give things a try and not let the story in my mind of how things should or might go get in the way of truly experiencing life.

As I head into the final few months of my fellowship, I’m sad that the year is coming to an end, but excited to start bringing some more of what I learned back to my chapter and continue to support my region. I encourage everyone to apply for next year’s Fellow class — the education and travel are amazing, but beyond the funds you’ll get a unique experience to see how much goes into keeping the organization moving forward. For those of you who are chosen for the 004 Class: Take advantage of it. Explore all the different opportunities and do what you need to do to get the most out of this program. There will be challenging days, but you won’t get this experience again.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to be a 003 ELF. The fellowship has completely changed my life path and I can’t wait to continue my personal development beyond this year.

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

Skiing

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!

OGR

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.