– By Mike Erwin, Founder and Chairman
It was April 2005 and the First Cavalry Division had just returned from a tough, 12-month deployment to Iraq. I knew that Sergeant Miguel Pena had a plan when he exited the Army after five years of committed service to our country. He told me so, and I asked a few questions to make sure. But when he signed out on terminal leave, I didn’t follow up with him. I was busy. After all, we had only been back home in Texas for 3 months, and we were already starting to train up for our next deployment. A similar scenario repeated itself after my second and third deployments in 2007 and 2009. It’s been 4 years since my boots last touched Afghanistan dirt, though, and it’s given me some time to wonder about some of the men and women I served with. While I’m very proud of my eleven years of military service, looking back, I realize that I could have done more to help my Soldiers make a successful transition from the military. Much more.
As leaders in the Department of Defense recently announced, the active duty component of our Armed Forces is downsizing over the next four years. We know that an estimated 1.2 million service members will move to the civilian world by the end of 2017. This rate is a significant jump from the past decade—a time period when military leaders spent considerable time persuading service members to stay in the ranks. While these four years will come with some challenges, Team Red, White & Blue fervently believes we have 1.2 million chances to make our American communities stronger. But to seize this opportunity, many of our soon-to-be veterans need a little assistance in those first few years when they leave the military. More specifically, when they retire or ETS, we need to connect these men and women to fellow veterans in their new city or town…..but also to the 92% of our nation that hasn’t served in our Armed Forces. So where does this opportunity start? I believe the answer is with our military leaders in the Active Duty, Reserves and National Guard.