- 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.
With this in mind, Team Red, White & Blue is launching The Final PCS Program today (PCS standing for “Permanent Change of Station”). In classic military practice, we’ll refer to it as the FPCSP. Team RWB has a chapter-based model and we are organized in 72 different cities across the country. And that number is growing every month. Instead of thinking of the last day on duty as an ETS date, we want members of our military—especially when they are within 6 months of that last day in uniform—to join Team RWB and view it as “a final PCS” to Team Red, White & Blue chapter. There, in their new home, veterans will find veterans and non-veterans alike, who are looking forward to linking up with them to stay physically and socially active.
Veterans who have struggled to make the transition from service member to civilian are not weak. In fact, a government report released in March 2013 indicates that 44% of veterans had trouble integrating into civilian life. And there’s a good explanation for why: The military is structured—and camaraderie and esprit de corps is high. Leaving behind that structure and sense of brotherhood is challenging. So what many veterans need, as they start life beyond the military, are some people in their new community to connect with them on a personal level. To talk with them, to ask questions, to share their story—and have a group of people to exercise with as they encounter life’s challenges outside the military.
So if you’re a leader in our Armed Forces and you have a service member who is slated to retire or ETS within the next year, please talk to them about joining Team RWB. The military has a transition assistance program (TAPS) that will help prepare them for transition, but this resource is only available while they are still in uniform. By definition, a transition spans more than one phase. So Team RWB will be there waiting for them after they have signed out of your duty station, providing support to the men and women who have served with you. And if you are a leader in the military, we need your help—and encourage you to continue leading in Team RWB when you exit the service.
I wish my personal story had a better ending, but the truth is, I still don’t know where Miguel is. A few of my former Soldiers recently told me “they think he’s married with a child somewhere in Texas, but none of us really know.” Team RWB believes that through the FPCSP, we will have fewer stories like Miguel’s over the next decade…and more stories of veterans making a successful transition. We hope that you download these 5 slides that explain Team RWB’s mission and how to join the Team. If you have any questions about Team RWB’s Final PCS Program or any of our veteran programs, please email us at: FinalPCS@teamrwb.org.
Thank you for your service to our country. We are fired up for the road ahead and the opportunities it will bring!