“Team RWB: Enriching the Lives of Veterans and Civilians Together”

By Fall 2017 M-VETS Student-Advisor Amy Hilton

To be clear, I am not a veteran, nor have I ever served in the United States Military. I am a female, a civilian, and a close friend of many veterans and active-duty members of each of the branches of the U.S. Military.  I did not grow up in a family where the Military loomed a large presence, but rather, only heard my grandfather speak of his service in the Korean War on a handful of occasions.  Usually these stories were relayed in the dusty and tool-ridden workroom in one of his large barns on his cattle farm.  I worked as his “farm hand” during the summers growing up, and, on those long summer days, he talked with me about everything from politics, to how to properly and evenly distribute molasses on homemade biscuits, and, most importantly, how to maintain farm equipment so that it would last for a long time.  I learned much from him, and would not trade that time for anything in the world.

My grandfather was the head of the mechanical engineering department for a heavy industrial machinery company, and was a truly brilliant engineer. He was also an extremely hard worker, and his service in the Korean War reflected those two strengths.  During the War, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, and was stationed at Fort Belvoir in Virginia.  As he described to me, he, and a handful of other engineers from across the U.S., were assigned the task of training tank repairmen on how to maintain and repair the tanks the U.S. Army used in its ground offensives.  He told me he was selected for this task after testing among the top in the country for mechanical engineering on an Army-administered skills test.  Needless to say, he had to adjust his performance expectations for his 14-year old granddaughter who repeatedly got the 1970’s model Cub Cadet lawn mower stuck in ditches and forgot to grease the blade before putting it away for the evening.

Thus, when I began working for the Department of Defense in 2012, I had very little familiarity with the U.S. Military, service member and veteran culture, and the common issues that veterans face after leaving active duty. However, after working in a joint command for the past 5 years, I have become somewhat familiar with the challenges those leaving active duty face.  Many colleagues have described these difficulties on numerous occasions, including knowing what sorts of jobs they are interested in and/or qualified for, how to begin or further their education, and how to manage their finances.

In the fall of 2014, a friend who is now in the Air Force Reserves introduced me to Team Red, White & Blue, or, “Team RWB”, as it is more commonly known. I quickly learned that this group supports veterans and active duty service members by assisting their transition back into the civilian world through physical fitness and social activities[1].  I participated in a few races with Team RWB members, and was extremely impressed by how positive, encouraging, and welcoming everyone was.  I really appreciated how they were constantly organizing and publicizing all sorts of group runs, bike rides, yoga classes, trail hikes, service opportunities, and group dinners so that, wherever you are in the greater D.C./VA/MD area, you can participate in fun and healthy activities.  I joined Team RWB a few months later, and have participated in group activities as frequently as my busy schedule allows.  Through my participation in Team RWB events, I have made close friends who are more like family to me, and I have heard numerous veterans and active duty service members articulate how much they depend on Team RWB to provide a social circle of supportive and active friends who help them stay connected to healthy people and behaviors.  Because I have been so impressed by Team RWB’s steady stream of diverse activities, and the ways I have seen the people and events benefit the lives of Team members and my own life, I have consistently recommended Team RWB to coworkers, new acquaintances, and especially active duty service members and their spouses who are new to the area and are looking to get involved in a healthy and supportive social group.

Over the past 5 years, through conversations with friends, Team RWB members, and through my work at the George Mason University Law School Veterans and Service Members Clinic, I have become familiar with some of the more common issues facing veterans and service members: job security/placement after leaving the military, financial management, furthering or beginning their education, accessing medical treatment, staying physically active while dealing with service-related injuries, accessing  veterans’ social services and benefits, and  staying connected with the military community where they feel a part of a shared culture and experiences.  I have heard Team RWB members discuss many of these things among themselves over dinners, while participating in a relay race, and/or at a picnic or bridal shower.

Recently, I began to wonder if Team RWB is truly making a difference in veterans’ and service members’ lives long-term, and whether it is connected to any larger organizations that assist veterans. I questioned whether all of the physical fitness activities and group meals they organize actually help veterans stay positive, create strong social networks, and decrease the tendency toward depression and suicidal thoughts that are so prevalent among veterans.  I hoped that the group where I have felt so supported and included was making a lasting and substantive difference in the lives of veterans.

After doing a little research, I found that I was not the only one asking those questions. The Institute for Veterans and Military Families[2] at Syracuse University conducted a case study on Team RWB to examine whether this organization was successful in its efforts to “enrich veteran’s lives through physical and social activity”[3].  The study culminated in the report “Enriching Veterans’ Lives Through An Evidence Based Approach: A Case Illustration of Team Red, White & Blue”.[4]  Below, I will highlight some of the report’s key points, which illustrate how Team RWB is positively impacting the lives of its military and civilian members:

  • Because the “transition from active military service to civilian life”[5] is a major change in a veteran’s professional and personal worlds, Team RWB works to smooth this transition by helping to create social structures and supporting relationships “through physical and social activity”.[6]
  • “Team RWB also partners with outside organizations in events and annual races, like the Old Glory Relay in which thousands of veterans, family members, and community supporters carry one American flag on an Olympic torch-style relay across America.”[7]
  • “Team RWB considers civilian membership within each community to be of critical importance for reintegrating veterans back into society and providing them with a support network.”[8]
  • “Team RWB’s surveys have captured the impact of participation on team members’ sense of belonging (2015 data) and social support (2014 data).”[9] The data shows that “veterans build authentic relationships through participating in Team RWB.”[10] “Half of RWB veterans report making lasting, positive relationships, which increases to more than three out of four veterans (86%) for those who are frequently to very actively involved with the Team.”[11] “Even veterans who describe themselves as inactive or rarely active, experience personal relationship growth.”[12]
  • “Veterans also report increased social support since joining the team through access to information (72%), emotional support (57%), and resources (64%).”[13] “Veterans say that, as a Team RWB member, they have supported other veterans, even those not on the team (52%), and provided personal advice (37%) and career advice (25%) to their teammates, including helping them to find jobs (11%).”[14] “Interestingly, those who are frequently to very active are twice as likely to help their teammates in this way.”[15]
  • “Veterans report that participating in Team RWB is reducing the civilian-military divide, (the gap in knowledge and understanding of service members’ skills, experiences, and values between civilians who have never served in the military and active duty military members and veterans).”[16] “Veterans report that being part of Team RWB has given them an opportunity to share their strengths (54%) and challenges (47%) as a veteran with civilians, feel more connected to civilians (32%), and have more trust in civilians (25%).”[17]
  • “The value of life enriched by participating as an RWB team member can translate into profound spillover effects into other areas of life.”[18] “The positive interdependence between different areas of life has been noted in which satisfaction in one area of life has positive effects in other areas, such as life satisfaction and perceived quality of life.”[19] “In the 2015 impact survey, veterans said they felt that being part of Team RWB helped them feel more personally fulfilled (42%) and improved their mood (42%), which resulted in them being a better family member.”[20] “They also reported improved relationships with family and friends (36%), increased work satisfaction (20%) (a strong positive predictor of employee retention), increased productivity (21%), engagement (21%), and reduced stress (24%).”[21] “Team members were able to build a better network of contacts (43%), with a small but meaningful percentage finding a job (5%), earning a promotion (5%), and/or salary increase (6%) as a result of participating on the Team.”[22]

Conclusion

 I was particularly pleased to read the statistics (from the 2015 Team RWB Impact Survey) that, “being part of Team RWB increases veterans’ sense of purpose[23] and has helped veterans feel greater life satisfaction.”[24]  “Veterans involved with Team RWB find more purpose in life (45%), create more meaning (45%), and have a stronger sense of direction (41%).[25]  It is very encouraging to know that Team RWB is making such a positive impact on veterans’ lives.  I appreciate having the opportunity to participate (in a very small way) in an organization that is substantively assisting veterans’ transition back into civilian life and strengthening their personal, professional, and social lives.  These men and women have sacrificed so many personal comforts and conveniences to serve the U.S. Government’s military and political agendas, and I feel that we owe our fellow Americans a debt of gratitude.  I am grateful that Team RWB provides the forum for me to run alongside them in a road race, cheer them on as they carry the flag in the Old Glory Relay, and talk with them over dinner about different professional networking or health services that are available to veterans.  In short, I am thankful that team RWB facilitates friendships and activities that have positive impacts on veterans’ lives.

I was thrilled to find the Institute for Veterans and Military Families report on Team RWB. This report substantiated my positive personal experiences as a civilian member of Team RWB, and revealed that these are not unique experiences, and rather, are in line with Team RWB’s overall mission to provide an inclusive, supportive, and healthy team environment where veterans, service members, and civilians can come together and support one another.  I look forward to seeing future Team RWB annual reports, and hope that they reflect wider and deeper benefits to our veterans, active duty service members, and civilians.

[1] https://www.teamrwb.org/our-approach/mission.

[2] https://ivmf.syracuse.edu/. [Accessed 28 Nov. 2017].

[3] “Enriching Veterans’ Lives Through An Evidence Based Approach: A Case Illustration of Team Red, White & Blue”. (2016). [online] Available at: https://ivmf.syracuse.edu/article/enriching-veterans-lives-through-an-evidence-based-approach-executive-summary/. [Accessed 28 Nov. 2017]. [hereinafter: Case Illustration].

[4] Case Illustration.

[5] Case Illustration at 6.

[6] Id.

[7] Id., at 9.

[8] Id.

[9] Id., at 12.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id., citing (2014 Impact Survey.

[14] Case Illustration at 12.

[15] Id.

[16] Id., citing “The political science field has a well-established civil-military relations literature that, in essence, describes the civil-military “gap” in terms of attitudes of alienation felt between the military and civil society.” See the journal Armed Forces and Society or key texts such as Feaver & Kohn (2001), Huntington (1957), and Janowitz (1960).

[17] Case Illustration at 18.

[18] Id.

[19] Id., citing Greenhaus & Powell, 2006, p. 73.

[20] Case Illustration at 18.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Case Illustration at 14; defined as having more “meaning and direction in life” (Ryff, 1989).

[24] Case Illustration at 14; defined as “a cognitive judgment process of an individual’s quality of life according to his or her own criteria” (Diener et al., 1985; Shin & Johnson, 1978).

[25] Case Illustration at 14.