MAKING A DIFFERENCE
How Team RWB Helps Vets
Learn about the fitness app that fosters connections to enrich veterans’ lives.
Where Veterans Belong
Each year, roughly 250,000 members of the U.S. Armed Forces—a population the size of Orlando—return to civilian life. A number of them end up settling in communities that don’t share their experiences, which can lead to loneliness and isolation. Many stop exercising and caring for themselves.
For the past decade, Army captain Mike Erwin has been helping vets with that shift using two tools: fitness and community.
“Vets need a few things,” Erwin says. “They need their health, they need connections with people, and they need a sense of purpose.”
Inspired by his experience training for Minnesota’s Twin Cities Marathon with 75 of his friends, he founded Team Red, White & Blue, a nonprofit that brings vets together through exercise, social events, and community service. Events range from virtual meetups to hikes to preparing care packages for deployed service members.
The organization is growing fast. Today, Team RWB is 250,000 members strong, with chapters across the country. Each is run by volunteers, called Eagle Leaders, who collectively host tens of thousands of events a year.
“People see a lot in the news about the hard transitions,” says Dan Brostek, a retired Army field artillery officer and member of Team RWB’s board of advisors. “We’re the antidote to a lot of those challenges.”
We don’t see veterans as needing to be fixed, but as having a lot to offer.
—Scott Jensen, Team RWB’s chief operating officer
The Team RWB app, released in the summer of 2019, is taking the organization to the next level, says Brostek. Events used to be organized mostly through social media. But because not everyone uses the same platform, coordinators often had no idea how many people were attending. The app makes it easy to discover nearby events.
And because the mission is, at its core, to create and foster relationships, Team RWB has added to the app both direct messages and the ability for users to comment on posts.
Scott Jensen, a former Marine Corps helicopter pilot and Team RWB member, sees the Armed Forces as a tribe. “At Team RWB, we re-create that tribe,” he says. “I know people who were on the edge of suicide or struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. Through Team RWB, they walked away from that.”
Team RWB allows anyone to join, regardless of when, where, or whether they served. Thirty percent of members are what Team RWB calls civilian supporters— friends and family of service members, or others who just want to be part of the community.
“If you’re going to integrate a veteran,” Brostek says, “they can’t just hang out with other veterans.”
“We want to leverage the positive attributes that exist in veterans, active duty, and reserves,” Jensen says, speaking about service members’ sacrifice, discipline, and commitment to each other. “We don’t see veterans as needing to be fixed, but as having a lot to offer.”