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.

 

Eric Frohardt is a former Navy SEAL, an entrepreneur, and the CEO of StrongFirst.  While on active duty, Eric served on various SEAL Teams and deployed numerous times to hot spots around the world.  He’s co-founded a number of different businesses, most notably the BluCore Shooting Center, a firearms training facility. He is currently the CEO of StrongFirst – a premium strength and fitness education company with a global presence of more than 2,500 instructors that operates on 6 continents. 

In this episode we discuss:

• Military transition

• Being an entrepreneur

StrongFirst and Kettlebell training

• Leadership lessons and ownership

  

Chapter: Team RWB Midatlantic / Richmond

Member Since: 2015

Motto: “To have courage for whatever comes in life, everything lies in that. ~ Mother Teresa.”

Why Did You Join Team RWB?

“I joined to give back to my community, serve others, and enrich Veterans lives.  My foundation has always been health and fitness so this seemed like a great fit because the mission is to enrich Veterans lives through physical and social activity. Plus it’s free and anyone can join! Another Eagle put it best; “At the most basic level, we are trying to connect people to their community because we feel the equation enrichment=health+people+purpose matters.”  In my opinion, it matters a lot, and it works!”

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What has Been Your Favorite Event or Experience with Team RWB?

“My favorite experience with Team RWB has been the one on one interactions and connections that happen before and after the actual physical and social activities with other Eagles. That is when the real bonds form and you become friends with each other; sharing your stories and listening to each other. We focus so much on our own stories in today’s society but at Team RWB its about creating white space during our activities to listen to others and form those bonds at a very basic level. When an Eagle comes to me with a question or concern outside of the mission, it makes me feel like we have created a safe space. So the creation of connections that without Team RWB I may not have formed – that is my favorite experience. And this year I’m an ELF – Eagle Leader Fellow!  When we were in Tampa, FL at the kick off, Blayne Smith (Executive Director) said “We don’t want you to be good, we want you to be GREAT!” – that was pretty inspiring.”

How Do You Serve Your Community?

“I’d like to think I serve the community by bridging the gap between the military and civilians. So many of the freedoms we have are because of our military. One of my favorite quotes; “The public is often accused of being disconnected from its military, but frankly it’s disconnected from just about everything. Farming, mineral extraction, gas and oil production, bulk cargo transport, logging, fishing, infrastructure construction – all the industries that keep the nation going are mostly unacknowledged by the people who depend on them most” – it’s not a bad thing, but there is a gap and I’m thankful for organizations like Team RWB that are working to bridge the gap.”

What Inspires You?

“It is always inspiring to see someone try something new they have never done before. That is where growth happens. I am inspired by anyone who tries to go out of their comfort zone to better themselves or others.”

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How Has Team RWB Impacted Your Life?

“Team RWB has impacted my life in such a positive way. Running has always been a huge part of who I am and while we are not “just a running club” its been a place I could join others doing an activity I love – a physical or social activity. 2016 was a very difficult year, we discovered that our 3yo daughter, Scarlett June, had a pretty serious medical condition. Team RWB was the light during many dark days. Whether it was an activity or connection with someone I made through the organization, they always provided light. Team RWB helps me during a transition – it’s not what you do once in a while, it’s what you do everyday that matters. Team RWB provides that consistency and balance.

What Would You Say to Someone Who is Thinking of Joining Team RWB?

“I’d say “do it” – it is free, anyone can join, there are no fundraising requirements, and you have nothing to lose. Anyone can be an Eagle, at the basis it is about creating genuine and authentic relationships; enrichment=health+people+purpose. I think we could all use more positive people in our lives!

By Scott Henson, Nike Brand Director & Brandon Young, Team RWB Director Development

Mia Hamm, Michael Jordan, Serena Williams and Team USA Olympians like Allyson Felix and Ashton Eaton. These individuals, and many others, are American sports heroes we look up to. They challenge us to run harder, move faster, add another rep, and win for the team. They inspired us with their charisma and performance, but mostly their commitment to their craft. The unwavering passion to compete and win on the field of play. Each of them wore the colors of their nation on a uniform emblazoned with the U.S. Flag and with the Nike Swoosh.

I’m no professional athlete, no hero of sport. I never will be. But there is a kindred connection that unites me to these American champions. I honed my craft in the service of our nation, moved “further, faster and [fought] harder”, committed to an unwavering passion to execute the mission and win on the battlefield. Today and into the future, I get to share another special similarity with these icons as I wear my jersey emblazoned with the colors of the U.S. Flag and with the Nike Swoosh.

A simple garment is not so simple after all. It can inspire us, identify us and connect us in meaningful ways. When we were served, we always knew which team we were on. Old Glory hung on our shoulders, our branch of service above the right breast pocket marked us as Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard. Whichever unit you were assigned to, you always knew you were a member of the “big team”, you always knew you were “in”.

Nike Brand Director and US Navy Petty Officer First Class, Scott Henson, reflects how the challenges of reintegration can compound into catastrophic outcomes at times in our community. “This March, I attended the funeral of a Navy shipmate who took his own life. He had a wife and a newborn, and always appeared in good spirits when we saw him at Navy Reserve drill weekends. Unfortunately, that was not the case.”

Despite years of operating in concert with others, when we take off that uniform, we can feel alone. Immediately unsure of where we fit, at times unsure of who we’re supposed to be. At Team RWB, we understand and embrace this challenge. We are a team committed to meeting our veterans where they are at and connecting them to their community through physical and social activity. We are committed to reminding veterans where they “belong” after exiting service…with us. Home. And we are committed to executing veteran enriching programs that increase health, connection to people, and a regained sense of purpose.

Scott is one of the Nike Leaders committed to enriching the lives of America’s veterans, who has labored to bring our teams together for years. “Seeing the growth of Team RWB over the past few years gives me hope that Veterans can find others who may share similar experiences, and find fulfillment and purpose through the engagement and support of those who appreciate their service and sacrifice, and help them toward more positive outcomes.”

We are excited to announce this month that we will continue our partnership with Nike, for the next 5 years, fueling veteran enrichment together. Since 2014, and into the future, every veteran who signs up for Team RWB, receives their Nike Team RWB Dri-Fit Performance shirt emblazoned with the Eagle and the flag they fought to protect. A gift and a humble symbol of unity and inspiration. An invitation to join the Eagle Nation fueled by Nike, an American icon birthed in the Northwest by U.S. Army veterans Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight.

“Phil Knight served in the Army Reserve, and Bill Bowerman served on active duty in World War II before going on to be a world-class track coach at the University of Oregon, and the co-founder of Nike.” Scott asserts that, “supporting Team RWB through this partnership is our way of saying ‘thank you’ to those who have donned a uniform, and allows us the opportunity to join Team RWB in inspiring Veterans to apply the same dedication and commitment to whatever their next pursuit will be.”

As part of this celebration, Nike has created a special METCON 3 Team RWB shoe. Supplies are limited and a portion of the proceeds directly fund veteran enriching programs.

Metcon 3 RWB

Lebron James, Landon Donovan, Derek Jeter, The American Veteran. United by sport and inspired by our great nation. Together.

It’s Our Turn.