Blog written by: Pete Hitzeman

One of the most well-known phenomena of the military experience is the ability to form lifelong friendships with total strangers over a matter of hours or days. The crucibles of training and combat provide the proximity, unity of purpose, and common mindset that allow people from widely disparate backgrounds to understand and appreciate each other, and the bond of shared sacrifice cements the resulting relationships.

But it is equally true that, after separation, many veterans are hesitant to form such bonds with their new civilian peers. As the sociological divide between those who have served and those who have not becomes increasingly pronounced, it can be difficult for veterans and civilians alike to find the common ground and worldview necessary to create deep, lasting bonds.

Until a year ago, I had spent my entire life in the narrow slice of the pie chart depicting the portion of the public who has served. I was raised in a family whose tradition of military service runs uninterrupted from the Spanish-American War to Operation Inherent Resolve. No sooner had my ancestors arrived on American soil, than they took up arms to defend it.

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My entire understanding of our nation and culture was built through the lens of God and Country. While I held a variety of civilian jobs during the 15 years I served, I always considered myself an Airman first, and everything else second. So when I came to the realization that it was time for me to get out, I quickly discovered that it was going to be about a lot more than a change in employment. I was going to have to find a way to close the book on a long, demanding, dynamic chapter of my life, and find a way to integrate myself into the fabric of the “real world.”

There is no manual for that job; no challenge-and-response checklist to get you through the task. My last job in the Air Force required almost complete secrecy, and so I learned how to reflexively compartmentalize my thoughts and emotions. I took the same approach to my transition from military life to civilian: I grew a beard, boxed up my uniforms and awards, threw myself into my new careers, and more or less pretended that the previous decade and a half didn’t happen.

But I found that mindset to require a certain amount of internal dishonesty. My service is, and will always be, a huge part of who I am. It may be awkward to talk about in some social situations, but that doesn’t mean it can be ignored.

The trouble is that it can often be difficult to know how a new group of people will react to the “veteran” me. Some are casually curious, peering at me like a bear on the other side of the glass at the zoo. Too often, I hear a reflexive and insincere “thank you for your service,” which I try to accept with as much grace and dignity as I can muster, given how hollow the words can ring at times. In fairness, I don’t imagine it’s any more comfortable on the other side of the conversation, but the end result is that I have often simply avoided the topic, or situations in which it might come up.

So when my good friend and fellow veteran Amanda invited me to join Team RWB, I hesitated. For a year. I wasn’t sure what to make of all the cheering and flag waving I saw from Eagles at my local races. They were just so… unreasonably friendly. I thought it strange for a service organization aimed at veterans to have so many civilian members. In short, I didn’t get it, and wasn’t sure that I wanted to.

But then there was this bike ride.

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The (Des Moines) Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) is a weeklong, rolling celebration of everything with wheels and pedals. It begins at the western border of the state and ends at the Mississippi River. Along the way, the route is punctuated by postcard-worthy scenery and beautiful little towns left untouched by time; sprinkled with beer trucks, pork chops, and every imaginable nutritional transgression. It’s Woodstock for bikes, only with a more diverse turnout.

Amanda upped the ante, inviting me to join RWB specifically to go to RAGBRAI, and I ran out excuses not to do it. I can’t turn down an epic bike adventure, and a week of camping and riding sounded like just my kind of party.

The week started with what should have been a miserable car ride, but instead was a fascinating, stimulating, and frequently hilarious 18 hours. That we had three grown men sharing the back seat of a pickup truck did nothing to dampen our humor, even when Mike decided to use me as a pillow for the last couple hours of the drive.

That would set the tone for the rest of the week (the attitude, not the cuddling). Our crew of 28 riders, plus support vehicles, drivers, and family members formed a happy little band that, over the course of just a few days, started to feel a lot like the military family I recently left.

The most remarkable thing about that feeling was that, unlike most social situations, you couldn’t readily distinguish between veterans and civilians. What’s more, nobody seemed to care. It wasn’t that your service didn’t matter—quite the opposite, I’ve rarely felt such genuine appreciation—it was that everyone valued everyone else as a complete, complex person, rather than some imagined, monochromatic stereotype of a veteran.

This acceptance and positivity manifested in the smoothest week I have ever been a part of, inside the military or out of it. There were no fights or bickering, no cliques, and nobody causing problems for the rest of us. We rode out as a team every morning and reunited every evening, and in between we did whatever we felt like doing, together, in small groups, or alone (that is, as alone as you can be among ten thousand other cyclists). I learned that this was no accident; RWB leaders intentionally shape the culture of their chapters according to a carefully crafted Ethos, and RWB members cheerfully adopt and live to that standard.

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Over eight days and 518 miles, I would make more friends and create more memories than in any week in recent memory. We got up early, groaned through our aches and pains as we broke camp, and got on the road by 6:30 am sharp (ish). We rode fast, we rode slow, we drank beer and ate pork chops and shared grilled cheeses (with bacon!), and waited in line in the sun for ice cream churned by antique John Deere motors. We battled the wind, hid from the rain, and took care of each other when the going got rough. We learned from each other, laughed with each other, and created dozens of inside jokes that I won’t get to use again for a year.

Riding RAGBRAI with Team RWB gave me the opportunity to decompress, and to be my whole self among people who were my friends before they ever met me. Before that week in Iowa, I didn’t know those sorts of friendships could be formed outside of a grueling military experience. But now, I know that this team is full of people I would go anywhere with, to do anything, for any reason. When can we do it all again?

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Blog written by Amanda Rondon | Northeast Regional Director

At Team RWB, so many of us find passion and purpose in serving others.  We pour ourselves out for those surrounding us, enriching the lives of the veterans and supporters that we interact with every day.  We take pride in our physical accomplishments.  We share our logged Charity Miles, talk about our training plans, and celebrate medal Monday showing off the bling we earn each weekend.  Our social media profiles are full of training tips, PRs, and WODs we RX’d in order to hopefully inspire our teammates to go out and be their best selves that day, too.  But what about the workout that so many of us aren’t talking about?

On April 18th, 2015 I found myself on a collision course with an underwater boulder hiding just below the clouded, muddy waters of a tarzan swing obstacle at the Tri-State Spartan Beast.  The resulting injury left me out of commission and unable to walk for several weeks.  The hours each day I would typically dedicate to leading the Philadelphia Chapter of Team RWB and running, spinning, doing yoga and working out with my teammates to help me deal with the mounting stress factors in my life all came to a screeching halt.  Lying in bed, unable to do much to escape my reality, a familiar feeling of the one-two punch of anxiety and depression began to take hold.  My struggle with insomnia, hopelessness and feelings of worthlessness were not new; however, it had been since college that I had sought treatment for them.  At that time, I was fortunate to be surrounded by supportive friends who intervened, scheduled my appointment at the student counseling center, and lead me there on the long walk across campus, even sitting with me until I was ready to speak for myself.  Like any effective workout, together my therapist and I identified the areas that needed healing and strengthening, and we worked hard at building up those mental muscle groups.  There were sessions that left me feeling smoked and reluctant to revisit the same subjects, but the more consistently we worked at it and the more I allowed myself to be vulnerable, the less alone I felt and the lighter the load I had been carrying with me for much of my life became.

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By ensuring I received the qualified help I needed at that critical time, my friends saved me.  Not once, but twice.  I say twice, because on this second time around, twelve years later, as sleepness nights and days began to run together, I knew it was time to reach out and ask for support before I found myself in life’s starting corral undertrained, hampered by injury, and alone.  Despite having had an amazing therapist in whom I completely trusted, and previously experienced firsthand the benefits of seeking care for mental health, I still hesitated to make the phone call.  Just like showing up for that first group run or workout, it was difficult to acknowledge we aren’t meant to do it by ourselves.  We all want to be our own coach, and sometimes we can be, but sometimes we need another set of eyes to take a look at our swing when we go into a hitting slump and help us make the necessary adjustments to move up in the lineup again.  I felt frustrated with my inability to take on what felt like the weight of the world crushing me, and tried to convince myself to “just get over it” and that “it wasn’t that bad”.  Ironically, I didn’t deny myself care or physical therapy when it came to the partially torn tendon and gnarly laceration on my knee that prevented me from being mobile, yet when it came to healing the emotional scars I’d worn for so long and had recently been reopened, I somehow felt ashamed of my inability to heal myself.  My attempts at reaching out with subtle messages indicating I was suffering and the long talks with friends who had seen me through it all before did not make me feel any less alone.  They did not change the stories that I was telling myself about what was happening in my life and why it was happening to me.  Running out of emotional resources, the focus and concentration required to do my job effectively became impossible and I began to feel I was underperforming, further adding to my distress.  It was then that I recalled two things: at the Brene Brown Daring Leadership summit with Team RWB,  Brene pointed out to us that courage is setting boundaries, sharing our story, asking for what we need, and reaching out for support; a few months following that life-changing weekend in Houston with Brene, Mid-Atlantic Regional Director Brennan Mullaney encouraged all of his Eagle Leaders to seek balance in their lives and disclosed that he regularly visited a Give An Hour counselor in order to maintain balance in his.  Thankfully, those experiences combined allowed me to give myself the permission I needed to begin scheduling regular sessions with my therapist again.  Even after such a long break in contact, instantly she was once more sitting across from me, creating space for me to breathe, and holding the light so that I could again find my way.

It’s been two years of regular Saturday sessions since then, and those Saturday “workouts” with my therapist have been the cornerstone of my personal growth and the catalyst for gaining a deep understanding of myself and others.  It would be impossible for me to list all the ways that our time together has impacted my life and made me a better person.  When I was hurting, she was there with me.  When I didn’t have words to capture my thoughts, she held space for me in a gentle silence. When things began to turn around, we celebrated small victories together by acknowledging them rather than dismissing them.  It’s a relationship free of pressure, judgement, comparison, and competition, one that’s always consistent and true.  The road out of the depression that I was in was long and painful, but beautiful.  There were days I felt I was stuck and feared there was no way forward, on those days I truly learned what it meant to trust the woman sitting across from me not to give up and leave me where I was.  Days I couldn’t leave the shelter of the massive beanbag chair tucked into the corner of my attic, the quiet, safe space I had created for myself to retreat to. But because I had my therapist to reach out to and who checked in with me regularly, I was able to keep going, and keep growing.  The powerful message of empathy, of “I’m here with you”, provided the hope that our next “workout” would move us closer to crossing the finish line together.  Eventually those days gave birth to the moments where my fingers poured over the keyboard pounding out late night emails to the person that seemed to know me better than myself, somehow suddenly creating clarity and healing.  In those moments, after watching me labor and sweat, leaving my heart on the field after every practice, standing next to me while I chose what was right and difficult over what was fast and easy, my “coach” extended a hand to lift me up off the turf and say, “Well done. Look at how far you’ve come.”  On those days I learned that when properly supported, every human, no matter their circumstances, has the ability to grow and endure.

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Now that my battle has subsided, I continue to find tremendous value in the sessions with my therapist.  For those of us who spend so much of our time being for others, whether it’s caring for a family member, our teammates, or leading our local chapter of Team RWB, it’s necessary for us to make time to take care of ourselves as well.  So, although my acute need for care is over, our Saturday meetings remain.  I can change out of my Eagle shirt, turn off my phone, close the door behind me, and have someone, free of judgement, to think deeply with.  We talk about challenges, relationships, connection, service, life’s purpose and meaning.  In the time we’ve shared I have experienced the power of vulnerability and the profound impact empathy can make in cutting through the shame and feelings of loneliness and not being “enough” that no one is immune to.  I’ve become more courageous with my life knowing that showing up, being seen, and being brave is when I feel most alive.  By doing so I give others around me permission to do the same.  I now know that if I get knocked down, I will rise, each time stronger and more quickly than before.    

Recently at Eagle Leader Academy, along the peaceful shore of beautiful Lake George, nestled in the Adirondack mountains, I guided thirty team members through leadership development training.  We held discussions on empathy, being authentic, being genuine to others, and the power of sharing our stories.  It became clear to me that, combined with being physically active and being a part of our positive, inspiring community of Eagles, the work I’ve put in with my “trainer” exploring my own emotions, my own story, my own responses to stress and life in general, positioned me to be the most comfortable in my skin and confident in my abilities as a leader as I have ever been.  Looking back at my “training plan”, some days were much harder than others.  Some “workouts” left me sore and not wanting to go back and work that same muscle group ever again, let alone in a week’s time… but, we did.  Over and over again. Because as we all know, if it doesn’t challenge us, it doesn’t change us. Just like any other thing worth doing, it’s difficult.  It takes time, energy, and consistent effort, but if we trust the process and do the work we will see the results we are hoping for. There can be setbacks, sometimes “injuries” that make it harder to get to where we want to be, but with the right person in our corner and a willingness to embrace vulnerability, get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and trust in someone fully to keep us safe even when the path we’re on feels scary and uncertain, we can reach whatever goals we set for ourselves.  It is then, when race day comes, or when the moment arises to face a challenge head on, we PR and think, “Wow, I could never have done that four months ago, or even four weeks ago!”  

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Like so many Eagles, I’ve spent my lifetime competing and accumulating accolades in the world of athletics.  I’ve spent countless hours in the pool, on the diamond, in the weight room, on the hardwood, and between the goalposts, pushing myself mentally and physically to compete and excel at the highest levels.  I’ve accepted and completed difficult physical challenges and worked hard alongside my teammates preparing for them.  However, the workout that’s made the biggest impact on my life comes with no stats to share on social media, no medal to add to my medal rack.  It has, though, lead to the accomplishment I’m most proud of – the person I’ve become and the person I can now be for others, thanks to the hours of work I’ve put in with my all-star trainer, my MVP… my therapist.  

If you or someone you know needs help, please don’t hesitate to reach out to either of the following resources:

Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1

TAPS: 1-800-959-8277

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.

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.

Blog written by: Brandon Young; Team RWB Director of Development

I remember them, all of them. Every day. I don’t live for them, I could never do this justice. I cannot hold myself to any expectation worthy of their sacrifice because I could never earn what they willingly gave. Nobody can. Nobody ever could.

We cannot live for them. But we can live.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” John 15:13 ESV. These words, spoken millennia ago by Jesus of Nazareth are often echoed when we recall the memories of our fallen. When we recount their sacrifices. A powerful statement that projects what they gave, born of love in the purest. The part we routinely forget, though, is the preceding statement delivering the most powerful, actionable and clear sentiment in the very same scripture.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” John 15:12.

I will not live for my fallen brothers, I will live with them. I will love others, as I have been loved. Give an empathetic ear to the hurting, walk with the lost, care for the needy and act for the marginalized. As best I can in my limited capacity. I will not drown myself in alcohol, isolate myself from my family and my community or punish myself for not following them into eternity too soon. How could I remember them so? That is not the love they gave for me. Nor is it the love Jesus displayed in His often-quoted sentiment.

I could never forget them, they are my friends, they are my brothers.

Dave McDowell and his Ranger Buddy, Jake, welcomed me, always. I came home to A Co. 2/75 from Ranger School 155 lbs. soaking wet in 1999. Before my week of rest and recovery, I was required to zero my M240B and qualify, so I met the C Co. maggots in the parking lot at dusk, ready to jump on the trucks and head out. Even though I was an “A Co. guy”, Dave welcomed me with that big smile and I rolled out with new brothers. Years later, he would meet me at the C Co. CQ desk and welcome me, again. I was a new Madslasher, the platoon he grew up in. Open arms, warmly embracing his brother.

He used to laugh, but he used to make us all laugh. When we were Pre-Ranger Cadre together out at Cole Range, he’d zip around on the quad, smiling. A mountain of a man with his little MICH helmet and Oakley’s, we likened him to a circus bear on a tricycle. When I committed to the Best Ranger Competition (BRC), he was there for us. Any range, any training, anything we needed to be successful, that’s the kind of man Dave was. He used to say, “I’m not doing Best Ranger, but you guys are and I’m going to do whatever it takes to help you be successful!” To date, it was the best showing of any 75th Ranger Regiment BRC team, placing 1st, 3rd, 7th, 8th and 9th out of 15 finishing teams. I remember Dave. Man, how we laughed together.

Lance Vogeler was on that very same 2006 75th Ranger Regiment BRC team. He was so upset when he didn’t finish, having sustained an injury during training that forced him to withdraw from the road march. His laughter filled the vans during our months of train up. It never mattered that Lance didn’t finish that year. Lance had the courage to toe the line to begin with. His attempt was a success at its’ onset.

Jay Blessing was an incredibly talented artist. He went to Ranger School, as we all did, and found himself struggling in the Mountains, refusing to ever give up. He finally buckled and they discovered that he had been suffering from pneumonia and a collapsed lung. Back home at Ft. Lewis, Jay recovered slowly under the mentorship of Battalion legend and retired Marine, Mr. Ray Fuller, in the Battalion Arms Room. Jay was exceptional at the task and a sponge. He soaked up every drop of knowledge he could gather from the Legendary Marine and kept the Battalion heavy guns operational.

Jay would not accept defeat and returned to Ranger School, grinding through the suck to reach the “Ranger objective”. His body once again rejected the circumstances, but his resolve rejected failure. Jay limped into graduation with yet another case of pneumonia and lung complications and earned his tab. Mission Complete. He was on his way to the Special Forces Qualification Course when we got alerted for the Winter Strike of 2003. Committed to his brothers, Jay deployed becoming the first casualty of the 2nd Ranger Battalion in the Global War on Terror.

Casey Casavant was hysterical. The man with a smile and personality as large as the Big Sky of his home Montana was incapable of a straight face. He was full of belly laughs and cheer. You could always pick out Casey on an airfield or any other objective. He was the one with a 1-Liter bottle of Mountain Dew in his hand. He used to stuff at least two or three into his assault pack or ruck. When Casey and I attended the Primary Leadership Development Course (NCO Education System 1) with our Ranger Buddies, we felt like strangers in a strange land.

The cadre determined that the Rangers needed to allow our fellow “soon to be Sergeants” the opportunity to lead in the field, un-hindered by our experience or personalities. This was a good call. The solution was each of us “Batt. Boys” would serve as the Radio Telephone Operator (RTO) for every platoon in the field for the whole training exercise. This was a bad call. I cannot recall the specifics of the hilarity that ensued each night, but of one thing I am certain: the evenings full of Batt. Boy Radio hour, verbally thrashing each other and our fellow students and hitting pre-determined bump frequencies so as not to be detected by our instructors, was definitely Casey’s idea! I can hear him laughing from the other side of the Company bivouac now.

James Nehl was simply one of my heroes. When I arrived at the Blacksheep, he was the 1st Squad Leader and I was a Maggot under the leadership of his brother-in-law, Daryl. I was always at a slight distance, but James was quiet and strong; the kind of silent confidence that made you want to be better and win his respect. Growing up 3 squads down the hallways I always took notice to James because he was confident, intentional and innovative.

His squad always seemed to be doing something different, trying something new. In hindsight he struck me as a bit shy, but when he laughed, his smile would light up his face and quickly enlist the entire room in the joke. After becoming a young Ranger Leader, my M240B team was attached to James squad, “The Deer Hunters” and I couldn’t have been more elated. Being let into his circle was an honor. I forever wanted to make him proud.

Kris Domeij was one of the most confident young Rangers I had the pleasure to serve with. As his Squad Leader in charge of the maneuver section he was attached to at the beginning of the war he was always technically and tactically proficient. A Forward Observer to be counted on regardless of the circumstance, but more than this, one of the boys regardless of his youth in rank. You couldn’t dislike Kris, he was awesome. During our first deployment, I recall a long patrol in the Lwara Dasta, which left the section completely out of water and burning up in the heat of the dessert. The conditions were so bad that one of our Rangers had to be extracted due to severe heat casualty.

Kris would finish the mission. I looked over during a halt to see him finishing off the last drops of his saline I.V. bag. He looked over at me with that rueful smile and big cheeks and merely offered, “I was thirsty, Sergeant”.

“Domeij, you know you just basically downed a canteen of salt water, right?”

His shoulders shrugged off the matter. I shook my head and we moved on. Sometime later, Kris approached me and said, “Uh, can I have a sip of your water, Sergeant, my mouth is like a dry salt lick!?” Later that mission in a hide site, Kris asked me if he could take off his boots to cool down his feet. “Charlie is doing it…” Our Air Force Enlisted Tactical Air Controller (ETAC). I always see Kris and Charlie in that site together, two larger than life personalities and a combined force to be reckoned with. Exceptional. So talented.

Josh Wheeler had another smile that could light up the darkness. We met during Advance Special Operations Training course held by the Battalion. All of the Squad Leaders from the Battalion rallied for two weeks during one of the most memorable and constructive training session I experienced in the Army. We were, essentially, unleashed in small teams of SSG’s across a myriad of missions. Josh was so humble, so curious. He didn’t care what company anyone was from, he only cared about being better. I admired him so much.

Brian Bradshaw was so similar. I met this young man as his Platoon Instructor during Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course (IBOLC) at Ft. Benning in 2008. IBOLC is a 13-week cycle to prepare newly commissioned Lieutenants to serve as Platoon Leaders in the Army. Each of my 40-man platoon would leave at the end of our cycle, go to Ranger School and then immediately deploy to combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. I cannot imagine how this must have felt. Brian was sharp, quick and intelligent. He cracked me up with his silly throwback Oakley Razors that I was certain were created before even he was.

My time with these young men was a capstone to my military service and one of the most special experiences I had in the Army. Amongst a platoon of focused, young leaders, Brian was always one of the platoon mates who would tarry the longest, ask the last questions, gather the last pearls of wisdom from my training partner, Bryan Hart, and me. Only Brian would crack that last joke to cut the atmosphere. He would exhaust me with questions and I loved every minute of it. I just loved that guy.

Love brings us back. Back to the start, back to today. The smiles we see in the dark. The little chuckles and moments we carry to the end. More names pour out in the silence for me: Damian Ficek, Steve Langmack, Ed Homeyer, Ricardo Barrazza. Men I served with and respected. These names, these people and the thousands of others that will not be lost on my heart.

Today is Memorial Day. A Day to remember and for those of us able, a day to live. Perhaps a day to hike with the family, visit with our neighbors, reconnect with old buddies and remember. Hopefully, we remember with a smile, but I respect that some may do so with the bitter sting of a loss on such a deeply personal level that Gold Star Mother, Scoti Domeij captures in “Dreading Memorial Day”. I simply cannot imagine the loss of a child or a spouse. I also respect that Memorial Day may hold a completely different kind of sting to those who bare the pain of such traumatic loss experienced before their very eyes. Memories of loss seen under violent circumstances.

My heart is with you. Truly.

Wherever you are today, however you remember, please do not remember alone. Call a friend, call your family or a neighbor. Draw close to someone who loves you, please. If you feel the weight of your loss today in such a way that is so heavy, so profound that it chokes out the love that our brothers and sisters displayed in their sacrifice, please call one of the resources below.

Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1

TAPS: 1-800-959-8277

“One for the Airborne Ranger in the Sky”

Read more on the Havok Journal.

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

Each year around Memorial Day I find that a lot of veterans and veteran supporters get pretty fired up when someone wishes them a “Happy Memorial Day” or “to have a great Memorial Day Weekend”. As a younger man fresh out of the Iraq and Afghan wars I would do the same. I felt anger and wanted everyone to recognize that it was about remembering those that were killed not a joyous occasion to be celebrated. People like my close friends Dave, Adam and Ian. My Soldiers Justin, James, Kris and Santos.  Andrew, the S1, who asked me if I knew what the Captain’s Career Course was and when I said no, that he was going to send me as a Lieutenant because it was “like a vacation where you get to drink bourbon in Kentucky and learn how to command a company.” The classmates and acquaintances are too many to count.

It is true there is a distinction between Veterans Day–a day to honor all those who have served in the military and Memorial Day–a day to honor those that have given their lives in America’s wars. Most American’s blur them together and see Memorial Day as another patriotic holiday meant for a day off work, backyard barbecues and beer–and it used to piss me off.

Used to. Time, distance and growth have given away to reflection.  No longer when someone thanks me for my service or tags me in a social media post on Memorial Day is my reaction, “uhh, thanks but I’m still alive if you haven’t noticed.” The question turned from “why don’t you know what Memorial Day is?” to “how do you really honor the fallen?”

A metal bracelet on your wrist? A tattoo? A scar on your heart? A wreath on a headstone? Its become clear over the years that it is intensely personal and no ones to question. For me, it has evolved into how I live my life. I try and pursue life of purpose, meaning and service to others. To be challenged, to help people, and to find opportunities to have an impact. Something in my bones knew that before I was ever aware of it. It’s why I was miserable in a corporate job in LA, and have never been happier than now working at Team RWB. The amazing thing is that I have discovered that I’m not the only one like this. Team RWB is literally led by thousands of volunteer leaders who have chosen to have purpose, to serve and to make impacts. Maybe its why I feel so at home here.

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I often think of one of the closing scenes in the film Saving Private Ryan, where Captain Miller played by Tom Hanks who in his dying breaths looks at Private Ryan and told him to “earn it” after so much life has been lost on his behalf.  I feel those same words were bestowed on me after the death of so many I have loved, and I try and earn it every day. It’s why I live life a little too fast, say yes a little too often and burn the midnight oil a little too long. There is too much to do, too much to see, too many to make an impact on, and only so much time to leave the community, the Country and the world in a little better shape than we found it.  They don’t have that chance. I do.

Some things you never forget–the bone jarring impact of a 500-pound IED or the adrenaline of a complex ambush. The feeling of picking up the leg of someone you love and putting it into a body bag. The rest fades and the edges aren’t as sharp anymore, but we must never forget that to honor the fallen is to help each other in whatever way that means to you and to live and enjoy this life. That we must not let the past define us, but to let it shape us and inform us to live a life worthy of their sacrifice—to earn it.

No longer is Memorial Day a day that I observe filled with anger and solemnness, but one that is celebrated for the best men I have known. Today I will be at a barbecue and I will be drinking beer. Shiner Bock for Dave. I will be celebrating the lives of those who made it possible.  And I know for a fact that is where they would want me to be.