WICHITA, Kan. - While many Americans were enjoying a three-day weekend in October, courtesy of Christopher Columbus, a little-known event was making its way through Kansas. The event was a part of a much larger one called The Old Glory Coast to Coast Relay, in which one American flag was carried by runners from California to Washington, D.C.
The relay was organized by a nonprofit veteran's organization called Team Red, White and Blue. According to their website, “Team RWB's mission is to enrich the lives of America's veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.”
Current and retired Kansas National Guardsmen participated in the relay, which spanned more than 400 miles from the Colorado to Missouri state lines. Despite windy conditions, Airmen assigned to the 184th Intelligence Wing joined other Team RWB members from Wichita to carry the flag 132 miles from the small towns of Dighton to Holyrood. Chapters from Fort Riley, Fort Leavenworth and Kansas City were also part of the relay.
October 1, 2014 - Team Red, White and Blue gets together twice a week for fitness activities and once a month for social events. The gatherings offer a fun and welcoming environment where veterans can be part of a supporting team. (U.S. Air Force photo by Matthew Mccoy)
Team RWB takes an active approach in helping veterans deal with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries. In developing their approach, they've conducted studies that revealed the wants and needs of veterans.
According to their research, veterans desire a connection to community, physical activity, camaraderie, opportunities to serve and meaningful relationships. The research also found that the participants fell into one of three groups, which included connection-seekers, family-focused and driven veterans. Team RWB has developed ways for veterans in each category to fulfill their needs through social activities centered on physical fitness and sports events. The events are designed to set the stage to build meaningful relationships.
“Suicide is most often the result of deep despair, a total loss of hope,” said Blayne Smith, executive director of Team RWB, in a testimony delivered to the United States Senate. “We can proactively address this challenge by ensuring that veterans are connected to a supportive community with programs that provide a sense of purpose, identity, and camaraderie.”
Master Sgt. Marla Urban, 184th Sustainment Services Flight, discovered Team RWB through her connection with the Veterans of Foreign Wars. She learned that a chapter was forming in Wichita and signed up through the website.
“When I learned more about it, it seemed like a group that I needed to belong to,” said Urban.
While researching the organization, she found that Team RWB was an inviting and accepting community. Fitness, friendship and a sense of belonging drove her to meet some of the members.
“Once I met the members, it was like we connected right away,” said Urban. “After a long day, meeting up with others that may be struggling even harder then you just seemed to help all of us. If we walk, we talk about things, or we may run to get our stress level down.”
Urban also found that membership was free and didn't require participants to be veterans.
“My husband joined and has volunteered for a lot of events, so it's just not a veteran-focused community,” said Urban.
She began spreading the news about the organization to coworkers, veterans and retirees.
“This is a way to keep that ‘belonging' going once members retire or just decide to get out of the service,” said Urban. “Some feel lost or may not know how to adapt after retiring, so this is one way that we can offer to help that transition.”
Urban currently serves as the Team RWB's community outreach director in Wichita. Gene McCreight, retired Kansas Army Guardsman, is the chapter captain and Susan Ballard, retired Kansas Air Guardsman, is the athletic director. Together they partner with running companies to provide support and runners for events. They also organize running events with local charity groups to raise funds.
“Fitness is the goal; how we get members to do the fitness is the key,” said Urban. “We have members that are coping with PTSD, depression, health problems and more, but I see them show up to events and it seems like our team is their medicine.”
Learn more about Team RWB in Wichita
By U.S. Air Force Matthew Mccoy
Provided through DVIDS
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