Team Red, White & Blue continues getting more colorful in helping veterans, especially with a brand new Myrtle Beach chapter stepping forward.
The organization, based in Tampa, with dozens of groups making a difference across the country, is open to all veterans, and civilians who want to help them, for greater community connections, through health, people and purpose. Activities cover fitness and athletics, ways to improve social and well being, and volunteering, which all intend to help veterans embrace camaraderie, unity, and in redefining purpose and inclusion.
Three members of Team RWB’s leadership team in Myrtle Beach, which also has civilians, teamed up to answer some questions as their group navigates its growth, each a veteran: Toni Birchler, from the Air Force, athletic director; James Farr (Marine Corps), veteran engagement assistant; and Nick Mateo (Army), community engagement director.
Q: How is Team RWB an innovative avenue of outreach to attract younger veterans, the heroes who have endured so many deployments since this war on terror began earlier in this century?
A: Team RWB provides, ... specifically those who have served since Sept. 11, 2001, with a plethora of opportunities to build relationships within their community. ... As veterans, you know what others have been through, and it’s easy to relate to one another.
Our Team RWB leadership locally is younger; they are in the community working, raising families, and volunteering. We hope to connect America’s younger veterans with older veterans who have the knowledge and experience to help, and we’re fortunate that our area has a high population of veterans.
Q: How does each means of fitness and recreation, such as running, walking, and bicycling, bring renewal, hope and camaraderie, with not only fellow veterans, but everyone in the community who cares and turns out for such outings?
A: Team RWB uses physical fitness as a common ground for civilians and veterans to bond. One of our main goals is to have the veterans be a part of a team again. ...
Fitness was a regular lifestyle for veterans while they were serving our country. For most, that lifestyle brought and encouraged camaraderie, motivation, and helped those who fell behind to feel a part of something bigger and grander than themselves. Group activities push a person to do more than he or she would do alone. ... Exercising as a group provides much needed support – there’s someone to say “Good Job!”
Q: When did this itch for fitness outings hit veterans in Team RWB? Or was it something in motion long before their departure from military service?
A: The military instills a sense of pride in physical fitness, so being active is part of a veteran’s life. Prior to deployments troops have certain work-ups that include all sorts of physical challenges to help keep them safe when deployed in a combat zone.
One of our veterans completed multiple tours in Iraq and has learned adaptive sports, ... because he can’t run, lift weights, let alone walk that well anymore. So he started recumbent and hand cycling, wheelchair basketball, and seated volleyball. When he joined Team RWB, he began participating by riding his hand bike with the running group.
One of our veterans hated running in combat boots but loves running now. The military develops troops as a cohesive unit: You never leave a person behind, and teamwork is the only way to reach a common goal.
Q: Are such outings, among fellow veterans, successful because of the family kind of feeling in doing and accomplishing something together, part of your routine in uniform?
A: Exactly, that’s how it’s designed: to mimic a military unit, a model that has proven to be very successful. In the military, you are part of a brotherhood/sisterhood. and upon the departure of service, veterans miss having that aspect in their daily lives. Doing group fitness, having social outings with other Team RWB members, and volunteering with Team RWB allows you to be a part of a team again, to help others when in need, or even for any of us to reach our own hand out for that extra motivation when needed.
Q: How did this local chapter sprout its legs?
A: It began with our chapter captain, Cecilia Finch, a civilian supporter whose family members were in the military. She was part of a Team RWB chapter in Pensacola, Fla., and wanted to start a chapter here. ...
The first group activity began with the weekly running/walking group at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays at the Black Dog Running Company, near The Market Common in Myrtle Beach. We have greatly expanded our reach on social media and are working on other fitness activities such as yoga and cardio boxing; social activities that include movie nights, college basketball games, and outings for ice cream; and volunteer efforts at veteran vegetable giveaways, Habitat For Humanity, and more.
Q: When thinking about veterans’ plights and challenges in starting a new chapter in life, what elements have become most important to consider as valuable tools – besides Team RWB – in making that transition?
A: Many veterans find that leaving the military creates a huge void in their lives. After completing combat tours, they begin to see how much the little things in life really matter. ... Leaving the military is bitter sweet: happiness in being able to walk away, but sadness for all the brothers and sisters left behind.
The transition is also very difficult for veterans who haven’t faced combat. Life becomes the military base where you know everyone and you’re comfortable and feel protected. ... Veterans need people to help them with benefits, education, and “fitting in,” through connection with other veterans, finding a support group, and finding a place of sanctuary and peace to get away when you need to help to get past those times.
Having a battle buddy/military best friend is invaluable: Only those who have lived it with you can understand you.
Contact Steve Palisin at 843-444-1764.