Super Patriot Civilian

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At a recent Team RWB leadership summit in Philadelphia, we were asked to self-identify as veterans or “super patriot” civilians.  More than half of the 50 Chapter Captains and other leaders present at that summit were civilians.  This may seem odd for a veteran advocacy organization, but I actually think it’s one of Team RWB’s greatest strengths and a critical component of its future success.

I am a civilian.  A civilian who became the State of Maine’s first Veteran Outreach Specialist and first Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services (MBVS). Roles I would not have had if not for my leadership as the founder and Chapter Captain of Team RWB Maine from Jan 2013 to August 2015.  The Director of MBVS,  LTC Adria Horn, (a USMA graduate, and 17-year veteran who still serves as an IMA soldier), hand-picked me because of my commitment to to veterans’ issues while leading Team RWB Maine and my tireless efforts to grow the organization from eight to nearly 300 members.

The 2007 scandal at Walter Reed Hospital was my inspiration for getting involved in veteran advocacy.  To me, the scandal was an horrible example of the benign neglect that the 99% of us who haven’t served in the military can often have towards the other 1%. An assumption that “the government” will just take care of all of a veteran’s needs.  An assumption that proved to be completely false and for me became a call to action to do better, and to show up for veterans by contributing my time, energy and passion to supporting them in their communities.

I first heard about Team Red, White & Blue in an NPR story in 2012.  At the time, Team RWB had a one-to-one veteran advocate/veteran model, but that quickly expanded to the “community of communities” approach we see today  I’m so glad that Team RWB found a way to engage civilians.  I think the organization stands alone for the one-of-a-kind environment it creates that allows veterans and civilians to work together as leaders, Fellows, and advocates.  Only through collaboration and understanding can we as a society bring together the “100%”.

My personal experience of this collaboration culminated in early 2015 in a military-style pinning ceremony to recognize my service to Team RWB Maine.  A group of veteran, civilian and active duty members of our chapter, led by Alley Smith, Adam and Katie Davis, and Mark and Baerbel LoSacco, “promoted” me to Captain, bars included!  I was pinned by my father, a USMC Vietnam vet, and Lee Manning, and Army vet who had served with Mike Erwin and was introduced to me by Mike when Lee was looking for connections and support.

The ceremony was one of the proudest days of my life and Adria Horn even gave me a set of her actual Captain’s bars as an honorific.  My volunteer work with Team RWB completely changed the course of my life.  I became the leader I never knew I was, found a calling as a veteran advocate, and discovered what we’re capable of when the 99% and the 1% come together with passion, camaraderie, and commitment.