Imagine you are a 23-year old American soldier deployed to western Afghanistan. Life is highly organised because it is ‘mission driven’. Everyday your life, and those of your comrades, depends on you bringing your ‘A game’ to the battlefield in pursuit of the shared mission. You are a valued part of a team and if the day comes that you have to sacrifice your life in pursuit of the mission, or to protect a comrade, you’d do it, all would, because we are a team. But what happens when the mission ends and its time to return home and transition to life as a civilian? Life after war should be a far simpler mission, but for far too many US military veterans, it is one they are poorly equipped to deal with. Adjusting to the rhythm of civilian life becomes a daily challenge because it now lacks purpose and those unique skills acquired and honed on the battlefield are not in demand here. For many, this can lead to depression and addiction to alcohol and drugs.
Step up Team RWB
Mike Erwin, a major in the US Army had the foresight to recognise that the reintegration of war veterans into civilian life would become increasingly challenging given the rise in overseas deployments with estimates that approximately one million military personnel will retire or separate from the military over the next five years. So Team Red, White & Blue (Team RWB), a non-profit organisation was founded in 2010 with its own mission – to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to people in their community through physical and social activity. War veterans often report feeling ‘disconnected’ when they return home and so Team RWB’s vision is to increase the connectivity between America’s combat veterans and people in their communities.
Team RWB Chapters
The organisation has created local groups or ‘chapters’ across the United States that hosts regular activities that provide an opportunity for veterans and the community to come together. This may be a weekly running group, hike, ball game, or post-race gathering where other war veterans meet each other, but more importantly, meet members of their local community, because it is the sense of belonging that they truly crave.
A purpose beyond fitness
Forrest Walden founded Iron Tribe Fitness, but from the outset believing that the organisation possessed the ability to achieve more than merely transform the lives of its own ‘athletes’. So it operates by the philosophy that fitness has a greater purpose and its gyms are a platform to help others. This is what they believe:
‘Yes, it’s to teach healthy lifestyles. Yes, it’s to be a leader in results-based fitness. Yes, it’s to encourage fellowship within our tribe and global community. But it goes beyond that. It’s to make a real, tangible difference in the lives of the ‘downtrodden’ by partnering with local and global charities. By partnering with these charities, we get to help people we’ll never meet. Our venue to do this, of course, is Iron Tribe Fitness. Together we can touch those lives.
Walden says ‘never meet’ because he also operates a ‘Neverthirst’, a charity that builds clean water wells in India and South Sudan.
Two school friends re-unite
Jim Cavale joined Iron Tribe Fitness in 2010 as Chief Operating Officer and is a life-long friend of Mike Erwin, the founder of Team RWB. The two organisations began discussing a collaboration and quickly saw they were a perfect fit. So in 2011, they kickstarted their partnership when Iron Tribe created an event called ‘Workout For Warriors’, dedicated to military personnel, past, present and future. This entails Iron Tribe Fitness athletes coming together to complete military-style exercises in 11-minute stints representing the November 11 remembrance. The inaugural 2011 ‘Workout For Warriors’ raised $30,000 for Team RWB. This is now repeated yearly taking place each Veterans Day (November 11) and Memorial Day (last Monday in May) across all Iron Tribe Fitness gyms.
Workout for Warriors is spreading
As Iron Tribe Fitness grows so does Workout for Warriors. With 33 gyms now open, approximately $150,000 has so far been raised to support the work of Team RWB. However, Iron Tribe Fitness want the idea to spread and so Workout for Warriors is now run by other American gyms (under a revised name: Workout of the day with Warriors), thereby raising more funds for Team RWB.
Every year, On November 11 at 11:00am, many of us will stop for two minutes to remember the sacrifices made by members of the armed forces, but surely the fitness industry with its 132 million global members can do more than quietly stand. So get involved, but remember these war veterans need more than just money; above all they are looking for someone to recognise their potential and help them to discover a new mission.