Blog written by: Garrett Cathcart, Team RWB Southeast Regional Director

A few months after being hired by Team RWB a couple of years ago, I found myself in South Beach, Miami to talk to potential donors about Team RWB. I had no idea what I was doing.

I pull up to a luxury hotel in my rented Chevy Sonic. I park behind a Ferrari, throw the valet the keys and tell him, “don’t scratch it—it’s a rental. I’ll tip you later. I don’t carry cash.”  I walk into the palace of hotel–marble, fountains and high-end artwork covering the walls. I’m wearing a shirt I bought at Target, jeans and some worn out New Balance 574s with a ketchup stain on the toe that I can’t get out (not that I tried).  At the appointed time I go to the hotel restaurant bar—another bastion of opulence. I grab a gin and tonic that costs more than most dates I go on and nervously dove in to work the room. It’s a “get to know you” mixer so everyone is asking, “what do you do?” as soon as they meet you.

At this point to be honest…I’m not quite sure what I do yet. It was a little awkward. I used to be defined by what I did when I was in the Army—it was who I was, and I was still navigating who I was without it.

I’m only one of two non-profit representatives, and to say that everyone else there is extremely accomplished is an understatement.  A lot of these folks’ net worth’s are more than some small countries. It was going ok. I met a few folks, but didn’t really engage meaningfully. They knew I was there as a guest. I was an outsider, and I felt it. It was a snapshot in time that reminded me when I left the Army to work in private industry in LA. I felt disconnected, not part of a community and adrift.

Then I noticed a guy across the room and immediately knew he was an Army officer. He was in civilian clothes, but I could tell. Close cropped hair, ramrod posture and the government issue Blackberry dutifully holstered on his hip. I knew we would at least have the Army in common, so I went up to him and introduced myself. He shook my hand firmly and said, “Hi, I’m Tim.”  We did have a lot in common. We connected and I could feel myself relaxing.

In our conversation, I got the vibe he was a “sir”, so I asked, “Sir, what do you do in the Army?”  He told me he was getting ready to take command. Command is a huge deal. You are only a commander a few times in your entire Army career. It took me five years to get a company command. Battalion command usually takes around 15 years and Brigade command is over 20. I assumed he was taking a Brigade, so I asked him what unit he was about to take over.

“I’m taking the ISS next month.”

I stared at him blankly and tried to think what the ISS was. I thought it might be some signal or other technical unit. Tim could tell I was having trouble placing it, so he offered, “the International Space Station”.

I continued to stare at him blankly. “You mean the one in actual space? You’re a real astronaut or something?”  Yes. Tim was taking command of the International Space Station.  I couldn’t help but laugh. I mean I knew somebody had to command it, but I never expected to be talking to him or her in my ketchup stained running shoes.  I also just realized I had the ultimate wingman and icebreaker. He introduced me to everyone around the room. Sometimes I would introduce him to people who weren’t even in our group, “Have you met my friend, Tim? He’s about to take command of space!”, and the night got a whole lot better. Tim also taught me an important lesson very early in my time at RWB of what exactly we do here. We build community, we build authentic relationships, we help when we can and ask nothing in return, we lead and we embower others.

Tim asked for an RWB shirt to take up with him where he recorded this message wearing it while on the Space Station–effectively establishing our first extraterrestrial chapter. The Eagle is in space!

Its been a while since then and COL Kopra was kind enough to host a leadership development event for the Team RWB DC chapter at the NASA building, and send me a note on how much he believes in what RWB is doing to develop leaders across the country and build a community of communities.

Now when people ask me what I do now, I know the answer and I’m incredibly proud of it. Team RWB is changing the lives of over 120,000 people and changing hundreds of communities here on Earth and outside of it.

It all began for me with a handshake from an astronaut who commanded space.

I’m a leader for Team RWB…let me tell you about it.

By Blayne Smith, Executive Director

 

As you probably know, September is national Suicide Prevention Month.  Here’s a startling statistic: nearly 40,000 Americans take their own lives each year, making it the 10th leading cause of death.  Perhaps worse, each suicide creates ripples of pain that extend to countless friends, family members, neighbors, and loved ones.  It is a very real challenge for our society.  So, what can you do to help?

To start, I would just like to note that while many suicides are preceded by warning signs, not every suicide is necessarily preventable.  Very often, in the wake of a suicide, friends and family are overcome with guilt because they “should have done more”.  The truth is, we should educate ourselves on the signs, we should reach out, we should have the courage to ask if someone is considering hurting themselves, and we should lend an empathetic ear.  We should do all of this knowing that we can only do our best and that the outcome is not solely ours to bear.

The very best thing you can do is to simply be there, as suicides are often the result of overwhelming feelings of hopelessness.  This is why we focus so much on connection at Team RWB.  Each month we count up the number of Unique Veteran Interactions (UVIs) that take place across the organization.  This is a simple measure of how many times a veteran actually shows up to one of our local activities.  It may not sound like a sexy stat, but we understand its power.  Spending time with members of our community, especially through positive activities like exercise, builds trust, friendship, understanding…and sometimes, much needed hope.  If you’re an active member of our team, thank you for showing up and being there for one another.  You may not realize it on a daily basis, but what you’re doing is extremely important.  If you’ve been thinking about getting involved, but aren’t sure how to start, just show up.  Find the nearest Team RWB chapter and join the team.  Finally, if you are concerned about someone you love, please, ask the question even if it is uncomfortable.  You may not be an expert or a doctor, but you can be there for someone, and being there is a big deal.

If someone you or someone you know needs to talk to a professional, please visit our amazing friends and partners for free, confidential mental and behavioral health counseling.

Give An Hour is a nonprofit organization that provides free mental health services to military personnel and families affected by the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Vet Centers provide free and confidential readjustment counseling and other services to combat veterans and their families in more than 300 local communities.

The past weeks have certainly been one of remembrance and reflection. It has been amazing to see communities across the country paying tribute in their own special ways.

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A phone call update…actually several phone calls as they kept dropping. When the phone rang, Christel looked at the incoming call and thought, this could be it… and it was!! She got about three sentences in, and then they were gone again. Talking very quickly the third time, Brian said they were all doing well.

After Christel told them that they were halfway through their fundraising goal, Brian was choking up. They are so deeply touched, humbled and appreciative of everyone’s support and generosity. They really have the troops on their minds on their last day to the summit. (more…)

Wow, so the adventure has begun!  In 1998 I read the book Into Thin Air about the disaster on Everest in May of 1996.  I thought it was so riveting, I had my husband Brian read it. We both agreed we had no interest in climbing Everest (29,000 ft).  Shortly after, we were on vacation in Minnesota and Brian read an article about a woman who climbed Kilimanjaro (19,341ft).  She was older, but made it to the top.  At the time Brian said that he could see climbing Kilimanjaro some day, as it is not a technical climb.  Our son, Brendan, remembered this comment. (more…)