Every Saturday for the past two months, I have stood outside a church on National Road, waiting. With an American flag neatly curled around its pole, I adjust my shoelaces, trying for dear life not to let the flag touch the ground as the pole rests against me. A man who serves in the U.S. Army taught me proper flag etiquette. Sometimes, I have a few runners and walkers join me. But more often than not, I’m alone. I’m still trying to understand this group run thing.
“Which branch are the military are you from?”
I get asked that almost every time I go out with the flag. I give the same answer every time:
“I’m a civilian.”
I also tell people how I’m a member of a group that unites veterans and … The word “veterans” triggers an “Oh, I can’t participate” response almost immediately, by either being cut off mid-talk or a nod and “That’s nice.”
But I’m not a part of what you know as a veterans organization.
In the past, veterans’ organizations were only for those who served. Spouses and other family members could join the auxiliary, part of the same organization, but not necessarily the same.
But Team Red, White and Blue unites the community to enrich veterans’ lives through social and athletic activities. The community … civilians and veterans … everybody united to help veterans.
My journey with Team RWB started on Facebook with The Sub-30 Club that has a member from Texas. She chronicled her epic RWB adventures of relay races, being part of a pace-leader team with a Vietnam veteran and other great things about Team RWB, in our Facebook group.
She is a civilian; her father served in World War II. And I wanted to join Team RWB.
Once I became a member, I meet another amazing civilian. She started the chapter I joined, which was in the beginning stages of formation.
Her journey with Team RWB began in Wilmington, N.C., where she worked with veterans and others battling addiction. She saw the positive effects Team RWB in North Carolina. She moved back home to West Virginia, she saw a need and gathered people together to start West Virginia’s first chapter, Morgantown.
When I joined, I was an overworked mom who felt lost. I had been so sucked into work and family, I forgot what it’s like to be with adults, what it’s like to have peers point each other toward a goal. The chapter captain stayed with me throughout my entire first group run. I admit, I was out of shape. I also had the privilege of having three hours of sleep before the run. But it was the greatest run of all time.
The faster runners always came back to check on us slow pokes, probably putting in an extra mile or two into their run. I was hooked and joined in every activity I could.
While I didn’t know it at the time, the RWB members were building me up. Eventually, I felt stronger, not only as a runner but as a person. If I was able to do X as a member of Team RWB, I was strong enough to do Y in regards to work, home, etc.
As humans, we all deal with our personal demons. For some, it’s the nightmare of seeing soldiers in uniform knock on the door with bad news about a loved one. For some, it’s a lack of belonging. Other long for someone to comfort their fears as they relive trauma suffered during a battle.
And that’s why Team RWB is so powerful. The chapter is as strong as its members. Each chapter is unique and has activities based on what its members want and need. There can be a book club or a part of a team that concentrates on training for obstacle course races.
The heart of the chapter is the civilians. They are there to help veterans get back into the real world when they leave the military. Team RWB’s civilian members are often family members of those who have/are serving. They are also people who care about others.
At times, civilians may feel that they aren’t worthy to participate in some of the activities in the same capacity as a veteran. I argue that they are just as important and as worthy. Many have sacrificed a good night’s sleep while watching the news broadcast about a foreign battle. They have comforted a veteran in the throes of a post-traumatic stress episode triggered by a careless kid who slammed a door (sorry, Uncle Bob, WWII veteran, deceased). They have stood by their friends through good times and bad.
Together civilians and veterans make the community. And through Team RWB, they unite to do extraordinary things.
It is free to join Team RWB. Click on the link to find a chapter near you. If you can’t find a chapter near you, let the nonprofit know. There may be a chapter, like mine, that’s in the beginning stages of being formed.