Rejecting the 'Broken Vet' Narrative: Group Helps Veterans Find Community

Active duty service members, veterans and their families run the streets of San Diego during a Team Red, White and Blue (RWB) hosted Veterans Day run. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Gerald Dudley Reynolds)
Active duty service members, veterans and their families run the streets of San Diego during a Team Red, White and Blue (RWB) hosted Veterans Day run. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Gerald Dudley Reynolds)

Team Red White and Blue has carved out a niche among the thousands of nonprofit organizations seeking to serve veterans by focusing on helping them recover the "sense of belonging" they had when they wore the uniform.

"We have rejected the narrative of the 'broken veteran,' " said Bana Miller, an Army spouse and spokeswoman for Team RWB.

The organization, she said, is committed to getting veterans involved in their communities through social and physical activities, from ultra-marathons to yoga and even knitting circles.

The group's message, particularly to transitioning service members, is to "Find Your Tribe" again, in the communities where they live, or in Team RWB's more than 200 chapters nationwide, she said. The organization has more than 130,000 registered team members.

For Veterans Day, a Team RWB cross-country relay run by hundreds of volunteers carrying a single U.S. flag will begin in Boston and culminate at the Navy Pier in San Diego, aboard the aircraft carrier Midway, now a museum.

In addition, Mike Erwin, a former Army captain and veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who founded Team RWB in 2010, will serve as an honorary grand marshal for the annual Veterans Day Parade in New York City..

The grand marshal will be former Army Capt. Florent Groberg, who received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Afghanistan.

The work of Team RWB, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit based in Tampa, Florida, and its unique mission, were recently recognized in the academic journal "Translational Behavioral Medicine."

At least two Team RWB officials contributed to the article, titled, "Team Red, White & Blue: a community-based model for harnessing positive social networks to enhance enrichment outcomes in military veterans re-integrating to civilian life."

"Military service assimilates individuals into a socially cohesive force to address dangerous and traumatic situations that have no counterpart in civilian life," the article says.

As a result, veterans can experience a ‘reverse culture shock’ upon leaving active duty, when trying to reintegrate into civilian institutions and form new community bonds, according to the article.

To counter that, Team RWB "was created to help veterans establish health-enriching social connections with communities through the consistent provision of inclusive and locally tailored physical, social, and service activities," the article states. "Physical activity is a cornerstone of Team RWB's health concept because of the strong evidence base regarding its effectiveness in preventing and managing many forms of chronic disease and disability, improving sleep quality, and extending longevity."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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