Meet Laura Allen, Chapter Captain, TRWB Maine

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“What’s always intrigued me about you is you’re a progressive liberal with veterans as her main cause”, said my friend and mentor, Sergeant George O’Keefe, as we were catching up after his second deployment to Afghanistan. I understand why my leadership of Team Red, White & Blue Maine is surprising. A female civilian – with few ties to the military – is not your “typical” veteran advocate.

But, in actuality, I come from a long line of people who have pushed for social change. My grandmother was an outspoken advocate for women’s rights who became a State Senator at 52 and helped pass the Equal Rights Amendment in Vermont. As an attorney general, my uncle has led major cases against Big Tobacco and nuclear energy. Though she was never in the military, my mother firmly believed in “no man left behind” and instilled in me a powerful commitment to community service and a lifelong dedication to volunteering.

So, when news broke in 2007 of the horrific conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, I was galvanized to take action. As the daughter of a Vietnam veteran (USMC) and the grand-daughter of a WW II veteran (Army), I grew up hearing stories of the courage, sacrifice, and honor of serving in the military. Wounded veterans coming home to moldy, rat-infested conditions was unspeakable to me. I felt that helping veterans feel respected and supported as they returned to civilian life was righting an awful wrong.

After searching for a good “fit”, I heard about TRWB in a 2012 NPR story. I loved their hands-on approach to supporting veterans and their emphasis on physical fitness, a long-standing passion of mine. Immediately, I committed to starting a chapter and launched TRWB Maine in January 2013 with a lot of drive and a list of 10 names.

Since that time, I’ve grown the Maine chapter to 180 members and expanded our events from 10 to more than 30 per year. While I’m enormously proud of the quantifiable ways our chapter has evolved, it’s the more intangible, personal growth I’ve experienced that is much more meaningful to me.

Over the past 22 months, I have learned so much from TRWB members about commitment, resiliency, and inspiring others. The young vet who helps homeless vets get active in their communities, while coping with his own PTSD symptoms. The civilian wife, left home to deal with a long driveway and one of the worst winters in Maine while her husband was deployed for nine months. A vibrant, tireless veteran advocate who privately told me that without TRWB she would be “so depressed” in her return to civilian life.

I’m so proud to serve all of them and it’s their energy and fire that inspires me through long nights answering e-mails and early mornings driving to races. In the U.S., we honor veterans on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, but in Eagle Nation we honor veterans every day.

With the approach of “Make a Difference Day” (October 25), I’ve reflected on what I’ve learned from making a difference in my community. In Team Red, White & Blue, we are guided by six Core Values: Passion, People, Positivity, Commitment, Community, and Camaraderie. I think that the following are key to my success in leading a TRWB chapter and to anyone who wishes to make a difference:

PASSION: I believe that our society will prosper only if we maximize the talents, training, and dedication to service exemplified by our 1M+ returning veterans. So, I’m committed to making TRWB Maine a crucial resource veterans turn to for guidance, support, and fun as they evaluate the next chapter of their lives.

Maybe your PASSION is that you care about this country, and you want to have a positive role in our future?

COMMITMENT: To me, COMMITMENT and PASSION go hand in hand. It’s wonderful to want to help others, but success comes down to COMMITMENT. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. But consistent, high-quality execution is the only way to demonstrate to yourself and others that you are determined to make a difference in your community.

POSITIVITY: A recent Pew Research study found that divisions in American society are the deepest since the Civil War. But in TRWB, we stand for inclusion and collaboration. Our POSITIVITY fuels our growth and inspires others to join our team.

As you’re evaluating how you’ll make a difference, consider – in a negative, fractured society, what will you do to spread POSITIVITY? In April The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that volunteerism is at an all-time low in America. But I don’t see that in Eagle Nation. Our more than 50,000 civilian, active duty, and veteran volunteers come together at 5Ks, in bowling alleys, and at pasta parties worldwide to share our experiences, our passion, and our commitment to building a better society.

So, as we prepare for Make a Difference Day, I ask you – if I, a civilian woman, can successfully lead a veteran advocacy organization, what will YOU do to make a difference? As a first step, why not Join Our Team? (