Blog written by: David Chrisinger

An Afghan war veteran named James Clark recently wrote an article for Task and Purpose on fictional military leaders he’d gladly follow into combat. One of the leaders he highlighted was Saving Private Ryan’s Captain John Miller, played by Tom Hanks, because Captain Miller was a “quiet, humble, and self-assured commander” who doesn’t ask his men to do anything he wouldn’t do himself. “That’s a leader,” Clark concludes.

I agree, of course, but Clark left out what I think is Captain Miller’s most important skill as a leader. Above all else, Captain Miller is a tremendous storyteller. He understands the power of storytelling and uses his own story to inspire action and provide hope to his men when it seemed nothing could bring them back from the brink of despair.

Allow me to explain. When we first meet Captain Miller, we see how experienced and competent he is. “Move fast and clear those murder holes,” he yells over the din of ocean and machine as he and his men approach the beach on D-Day. “Keep the sand out of your weapons. Keep those actions clear,” he reminds them. “I’ll see you on the beach.” Then the ramp drops and the first three or four rows of men are almost instantly mowed down by the German machine gunners on the ridge above the water. “Over the side!” Miller orders.

Me and Joe at TWH

Once Miller finally reaches the sea wall in front of the German fortifications, his mind clears. “Who is in command here?” he asks. A soldier to his right responds: “You are, Sir.” No one is where they are supposed to be. The armor hasn’t made it onto the beach. Nothing is going as planned. “Gather weapons and ammo,” he orders. Then he calls for the Bangalores so they can blow a hole through the German defensive fence at the top of the sea wall.

Once he and his men move behind some cover, Miller orders a few of his men to rush an impact crater where they might have enough cover to take out the machine gun nest that is pinning them down. We don’t see what happens to these men, but we are led to believe they didn’t make it when Sergeant Horvath says, “It’s a Goddamn firing squad.” Captain Miller replies, “It’s the only way we can get everybody the hell out of here.” The second group Captain Miller sends doesn’t make it either, so he calls on Jackson, the sniper. But before sending him out, Miller exposes himself to the machine gunners, drawing their fire long enough for Jackson to scramble into the crater, where he takes two clean shots at the machine gun crew. “If your mother saw you do that,” Horvath tells Miller, “she’d be very upset.” With the crew eliminated, the rangers are in business.

The mission that day was clear: Get off the beach or die.

A day or two later, Captain Miller is given another tough assignment—one “straight from the top”—though the mission isn’t as clear as it first may seem. He learns that he and a small squad of his choosing must find a Private James Francis Ryan whose three brothers have all been killed in combat. After finding Ryan, they’re to bring him back so he can go home to his grieving mother. “It’s like finding a needle in a stack of needles,” Miller tells Horvath.

While on patrol, we learn the men don’t know much about the Captain. We later learn there’s a pool with a prize of $300 to the man who figures out where he is from.

We also hear the first grumblings about the mission from the men. It’s not clear why they’re doing what they’re doing. “You want to explain the math of this to me?” a soldier named Reiben asks. “Where’s the sense in risking the lives of the eight of us to save one guy?” The medic tells Reiben to think about Ryan’s mother, but that logic doesn’t add up. We all got mothers, Reiben says. “Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die,” another soldier responds, quoting Alfred Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” That argument doesn’t seem to work either. Then Miller weighs in: “We all have orders, and we have to follow them.” Even when they don’t make sense, Reiben responds. Especially, says Miller.

Reiben then asks if the Captain ever gripes. Yes, he says. But he doesn’t gripe down, he always gripes up. That’s the way it works. Reiben then asks what Miller would say if Reiben was a Major, and Miller responds: “I’d say this is an excellent mission, sir, with an extremely valuable objective, sir, worthy of my best efforts, sir. Moreover, I feel heartfelt sorrow for the mother of Private James Ryan and am willing to lay down my life and the lives of my men, especially you, Reiben, to ease her suffering.” Captain Miller gets a laugh, but he doesn’t get buy-in. The story he’s told about this mission—the “why are we here?” story—isn’t good enough.

When the men finally reach Neuville, a small French village not far from the Normandy beaches, they find rain and heavy fighting. Caparzo, one of the men in Miller’s squad, deviates from the mission to help a family who’s caught in the crossfire. This decision ultimately costs him his life. “They want us to take the children,” Upham translates. When Miller orders Caparzo to give the family’s young daughter back, Caparzo says, “The decent thing to do is to at least take her down the road to the next town.” Miller is frustrated by Caparzo’s insubordination, even if he realizes Caparzo has the purest of intentions. “We’re not here to do the decent thing,” he says before yanking the child out of his arms. “We’re here to follow fuckin’ orders!” Again, because the mission is unclear, the men aren’t sure what they’re supposed to do. Then a shot rings out and Caparzo is down.

Later that night, Miller and Horvath are talking in a bombed-out church over a cup of coffee. “When you end up killing one of your men,” Miller says, “you tell yourself it happened so you could save the lives of two or three or ten others. Maybe 100 others.” Miller then confides that he’s lost 94 men under his command since Kasserine Pass in Northern Africa and that he justifies this to himself by saying he saved the lives of ten times as many. “And that’s how simple it is. That’s how you rationalize making the choice between the mission and the man.” But with Private Ryan, things are different. The mission is the man.

The next day, Miller’s squad comes across a German machine gun nest, and Miller decides to assault it. When one of the men, Mellish, says it’s not their objective to take out this machine gun—that it won’t help them complete their mission—Miller snaps back that their objective is to win the war.

Let’s take stock. First, the mission is to find Ryan because the men have orders. Because the men haven’t bought into that story, Caparzo makes a costly error. Now Mellish feels strongly they can accomplish the mission—to find Ryan—without subjecting themselves to undue risk, but Miller changes the mission.

During the assault, the squad’s medic is fatally wounded, and the men also capture a German soldier. When Miller decides to cut the POW loose, the squad’s discipline dissolves. Reiben threatens to abandon the mission, and Horvath draws his pistol and threatens to shoot him for desertion.

Just when the tension reaches a fever pitch, Miller asks the men a simple question: “What’s the pool on me up to?” He tells the men he’s a school teacher from Pennsylvania who coaches baseball in the spring. “Sometimes I wonder,” he says, “if I’ve changed so much my wife is even going to recognize me whenever it is I get back to her.”

Then he says he doesn’t much care about Ryan: “The man means nothing to me.” But if bringing him home earns Miller the right to go home, then “that’s my mission,” he says.

For the first time since D-Day, the men have a clear understanding of their mission—to bring Ryan home so that they can go home, too. Reiben then decides to stay. Why? Because he and the rest of the men finally know two things. They know who Captain Miller is, and they know why he’s there.

Who are you? Why are you here? There may come a time when you’ll need to tell a story that answers those two questions. Will you be ready?

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David Chrisinger believes everyone has a story, and he’s dedicated his life to helping people find and share their story in a way that leads to understanding and connection. He serves as a Midwest Coordinator for Team RWB and is the lead instructor for Storytelling Camp. In 2016, David edited a collection of essays written by student veterans titled See Me for Who I Am and is editing a similar collection of stories written by Team RWB leaders from around the country.

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: Jeannine Becerra

It is one of the values of Be the Journey Yoga to give back and pay it forward. Sharing the gift of self discovery with others through yoga and meditation is at the foundation of all our classes.
I first heard about Team RWB back in 2013 when I was teaching at a local studio. A student approached me after class and said she would like to have a private class for a group of veterans. She explained a little of what Team RWB did in our community and how yoga would fit with their mission of enriching the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity. I believe we had a group of about 15 people come to our special class.
Here we are, four years later, and I have had the privilege of sharing yoga with Team RWB several times; through private classes, donation classes, and special events. This past April, I was thrilled to be asked to provide Yoga Nidra Meditation for their leadership conference (ELA) here in Kansas City. It was to be the finale of their weekend, tying together their meetings, special events and team building sessions. I was honored, and I knew I wanted to make it special. I reached out to David Strange, the local chapter president, and ask what were some of the key themes of their leadership weekend. He gave me a list of core values and topics they would be discussing. I wanted to weave those topics into the meditation as much as I could so it would make the closing of the weekend special for each person.
When I arrived they were finishing up a breakout session on empathy. The hotel conference room was packed. As I walked in, all eyes turned to me. Here I was an outsider coming in to meditate with them. Many had never meditated let alone heard of yoga nidra. I’m pretty sure they were thinking, “What’s this crazy lady going to do to us?” After the meeting, we pushed the tables to the walls and everyone found a spot on the floor. With a lump in my throat, I stood in front of this group, mostly veterans and active military, and introduced myself. I believe I said, “First and foremost, I’m an Army Mom!” And I flashed the front of my t-shirt that says, Sleep Tight America, My Son’s Got Your Six. That got me some brownie points and few cheers. I talked a bit about my background and explained Yoga Nidra.I could see the relief in some of their faces. They weren’t going to have to stand on their head that day. And so we began…
I began the meditation and instantly felt a calm come over the room. For about 30 minutes I watched defenders of our constitution, melt into complete relaxation and peace. After the meditation, several people came up to me and thanked me and my son for our service. There were several active duty soldiers in the same MOS as my son who did everything they knew to do to make me feel comfortable and honored as a Mom.

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They presented me with a Challenge Coin and Certificate of Appreciation in a very heartfelt way. It was so humbling. It still brings up emotion today. I believe it has been a Divine appointment that this group keeps showing up in my life. I encourage all of you to check out your local Team RWB chapter and make time to attend some of their events. They bring veterans and community together in activities like running, yoga, game nights, social events, etc.

Learn more about Jeannine and her journey through her website.

Blog written by:  Isaac Fox Team RWB, Houston Chapter
I wanted to share a story about my experience at Team RWB’s Eagle Leader Academy.  For those who don’t already know, Team RWB is a largely volunteer-run organization whose mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity. The team logo is an image of an eagle, and we refer to each other and cheer each other on as “eagles.”  If you’ve been to a running event you might have noticed the eagle shirts or heard people yelling to each other “go eagle!” as Team RWB members run past.  You may even have seen a man with an eagle shirt running onto the field during the NFL championship game in 2016, but if you weren’t already familiar with Team RWB you might not have noticed what was going on.  Every member of Team RWB has his or her own reasons for being part of it, but not everybody is comfortable sharing their “why” story.  These stories figure prominently in my experience over the weekend, and I’ll talk about that later.
I’ve been a member of Team RWB since 2014, and I’ve taken a progressively more active role within the organization during that time.  This year I was honored to have Team RWB invest in me as an “Eagle Leader” by sending me to their Eagle Leader Academy (ELA) in El Paso, TX where I met a couple dozen amazing leaders to share our stories and grow stronger and more competent together. My weekend adventure began with a trip to the airport and a flight to El Paso.  I met one of my fellow eagles as I got onto the plane, and met several others in the El Paso Airport as we waited for the shuttle to take us to the hotel.  Even as the introductions were being made (“Isaac, Houston Chapter”) we were laughing together and telling stories about the little things that had already happened to us on our way to ELA.  Andy had missed a flight (I hadn’t met him yet, but I recalled seeing him waiting in the hallway as they filled our plane and closed the door), and several of us had seen a man in a long trench coat entering the airport as we were leaving.  There was some debate about whether we’d seen the same man, as I took him for a monk with a stylized haircut and outfit, and others saw a regular man with very unusual clothes considering the warm and sunny weather.  We also talked about whether we should bother waiting for the shuttle or simply walk to the hotel, which was less than a mile away.  Eventually the shuttle arrived and a few minutes later we arrived at the hotel and met even more Eagles.
The weekend consisted of periods of classroom training broken up by exercise sessions, meals, and a service project.  The classroom training focused on how to be “EAGLE” leaders, meaning Engaged, Authentic, Genuine, Loyal and Effective. The training involved both lecture sessions where we learned basic concepts of EAGLE leadership, and breakout groups where we shared our own experiences with leadership and what we had learned from them. Authenticity and Genuineness were the elements that received the most focus, and I would explain them as follows:
 – Authenticity is knowing yourself so that you are able to be true to yourself and your values as you interact with others.  You may feel more comfortable putting forward a guarded version of yourself, but putting the “real you” out there is important because if you don’t then others will detect and be put off by your facade.  Being authentic will often require feeling vulnerable.
 – Where authenticity involves looking inward to understand yourself, genuineness involves listening to and empathizing with the others in your group. To be genuine you must try to understand the back story and motivations of the people you’re leading, and be empathetic toward them. People will respond differently to leadership styles and you should try to find ways to engage and motivate each of them individually.
In our groups we shared stories of past leadership experiences, why we’ve sought leadership and why we’ve avoided it.  We talked about some of the most important lessons that other leaders have taught us (mine was “the difference between the master craftsman and the beginner is that the master can recognize and fix his mistakes.”) In the room we had some very experienced and accomplished volunteer leaders with decades of service experience, and it was wonderful to hear their perspective on these topics.
Our meals together were where some of the strongest bonds were forged within the group, and arguably where the bulk of the personal growth happened.  We were encouraged to think about our “why” stories: the personal reasons we joined and stayed with Team RWB.  As the group became more comfortable with each other, and through the encouragement of the academy leaders, we also became more comfortable with the importance of vulnerability and shared parts of the deeply emotional experiences that brought us and bound us to Team RWB.  Many within our group had left the military with mental and physical scars, and quite a few had struggled with substance abuse as a means of coping with these issues.  There were stories about caring for loved ones with serious injuries, stories of separation from spouses, friends, children, and sharing of many other painful experiences.  A common thread in the stories was that through Team RWB we each had found a network of support and a way to engage ourselves in something larger which in the end was helping us to overcome our challenges and heal ourselves.  By understanding and being able to share our own stories, we took steps toward comfort in our vulnerability and moved down the path to greater authenticity.
On the final morning we had our service project at the El Paso Food Bank, and one by one we said our heartfelt goodbyes before departing for home.  It was hard to believe that in such a short time we could form such strong bonds with each other, and it was hard to let go of the group and go back to our everyday lives.  I know that I learned a lot over the weekend, but more importantly I was shown a direction for further growth and development and can begin to practice the harder stuff as I go forward.  Those who know me will (I hope!) attest to my authenticity, and when the situation demands it I can definitely be vulnerable without oversharing.  Understanding and showing empathy towards others will be the harder part for me.  I can be empathetic but sometimes struggle to find the right words for a situation.  Thanks to the ELA I understand how important it is to express empathy (not sympathy) and can work on getting the right words out.  As an example, the day after I got home from ELA a friend shared via Facebook that her parent had been diagnosed with cancer.  Instead of just saying “so sorry,” I said “I don’t know how you’re feeling but I’ve had a parent diagnosed with cancer and I’m available to talk if you ever want to.”  There was a little voice inside telling me that I’d better hope she doesn’t come around to talk – but I’ve learned the importance of taking those hard steps and being vulnerable or uncomfortable so that you can help your friends or team.  I heard at the ELA about people whose friends simply disappeared when they were in need, and I know that I want to be a better friend than that… even if it’s hard.
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Here’s to continuous self-improvement, and a big thank-you to Team RWB for their investment in us as leaders and the great experience.

 

Team,

My heart is full, but heavy, as I embark upon my last six weeks as Team RWB’s Executive Director.  For the past five years, it has been my absolute privilege to work for the best Board, staff, volunteer leaders, and members on the planet. Collectively, we have built more than an organization. Team RWB has become a movement that inspires people to strengthen communities, live richer lives, and support others in doing the same. I’ve been on some pretty great teams, but this one is by far the best. And though I am transitioning out of the ED role, I am proud to remain an active volunteer leader and member.

The great news is, on June 15th, JJ Pinter will take the reins and the team will thrive as we continue to enrich the lives of veterans and their families. We have an amazing team in place and they won’t miss a beat.

As for me, my first order of business is to facilitate a smooth and successful transition between now and my last official day on the job. Then, my family and I are going to take some time to re-charge over the summer. After that, we are headed up to Jacksonville Beach to join my close friend Jason and the good livin’ folks at GORUCK.  They are a fantastic company that is committed to making the best gear in the world while building better Americans and giving back along the way. I’m stoked about the opportunity and think I’ll fit right in.

I cannot possibly sum up my thoughts and emotions in this note, but I hope to connect with all of you more over the next month or so. There are a million people to thank, but I would like to specifically express my gratitude to my friend Mike Erwin for giving this opportunity and trusting me to grow and safeguard his vision.

In addition to my transition with JJ, I’m excited to announce that Paul Bell has been elected Chairman of the Board for Team RWB. Paul has served on the Board for the past two years and prior to that he was a member of our Advisory Board since 2012. Paul was previously the President of the Public Sector and Large Enterprise at Dell and is currently an Operating Partner at Lead Edge Capital. Mike Erwin will remain on the Board of Directors and actively involved with Eagle Nation.

If you have any questions or need anything from me, please don’t hesitate to ask.  Again, it has been an honor to serve this community in my current capacity, and I look forward to staying involved.
Best,
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Blayne Smith, Executive Director | Team RWB