For someone who has been serving in the military, the transition back to a civilian lifestyle can add extra pressure in addition to memories of events already causing stress. A new group hopes to provide a place for veterans and civilians to gather and have fun, easing that stress.
Team Red, White and Blue is a free organization with a goal to simply “enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity,” according to an article by Leo Shane III, which is posted on the Team RWB website.
Local Vietnam veteran and one of the organizers of the Elkin area Team RWB, Dr. Bill Blackey shared the article as he explained the purpose of starting a local team. “Getting out in nature has positive impact on people who have been in combat,” he said of research. “This is a group for civilians and veterans.”
Kasey Nowalk, whose brother served in Afghanistan, explained, “Team Red, White and Blue is a national movement trying to gather community to support and enrich veterans. The community is going to help heal and support veterans in our town.
“We’re wanting to make sure our veterans aren’t isolated,” she said.
The events hosted by Team Red, White and Blue are free, and include social and physical activities. “Research shows physical activity improves the lives of those with post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Nowalk, who is an assistant librarian at the Elkin Public Library.
There is no fee for being part of Team RWB, and all veterans who register and join receive a free T-shirt, said Blackley.
The first local event for the group will be April 10 at the Elkin Municipal Park tennis courts from 3 to 5 p.m. “We are asking all veterans and civilians to come join us,” said Nowalk, who explained those attending will be able to learn to play pickle ball, and other games such as bocce will be available to participate in. “You can play games, hang out, have refreshments and learn more about Team Red, White and Blue.”
Also, the group will be raffling off two passes to the Elkin Recreation Center.
The library also is getting involved. A new book club is starting called Talking Service Book Club, which is focused on veterans. The first book the group is reading is called “Standing Down.”
“It is stories about different aspects of combat experience and war,” said Blackley, who is reading the book, “and the ways veterans are standing down as they transition into civilian life.”
From the article Blackley shared about Team RWB, he said, “Of veterans surveyed, 81 percent said their involvement made them feel more satisfied with their lives, 64 percent said it helped them maintain a healthier weight, 53 percent said it helped them better connect to their civilian peers and 70 percent said it helped them build a better network of professional contacts.”
He explained that many times veterans come home and either their families or communities don’t want to hear about what they experienced, or they aren’t comfortable sharing it.
“Even World War II veterans got home and internalized it, and they didn’t want to talk about it,” said Joe Hicks, another local Vietnam veteran who is helping organize Team RWB.
“Post-traumatic stress wasn’t even a disorder until 1980, and it wasn’t treated,” said Blackley. “Even now veterans don’t want it on their record because they can’t serve certain roles or be eligible for promotions.”
He said his first encounter with Team RWB was in Arlington, Virginia, exercising with his son, who is a runner. “We met a Team RWB, and they were young, vibrant and impressive,” Blackley said.
The Virginia Team RWB put him in touch with the Sand Hills Team RWB and he gave a talk at the Sand Hills Community College in eastern North Carolina about the book he has written. “My book is dedicated to Capt. Mark Garner, and it turns out Brennan Mullaney was Mark’s roommate at West Point and neighbor when he was stationed overseas,” said Blackley, explaining Mullaney is Mid-Atlantic regional director for Team RWB.
Mullaney shared more information on Team RWB with Blackley and then the local group became reality.
“We want good company for our veterans,” Blackley said. “We are hoping maybe they’ll want to get out and do trail work, volunteer and be active.
“One thing they encourage when exercising is go with someone so you’re not a longer,” he said, adding the hope is Team RWB allows for friendships to build on the concept of not being alone.
“We are hoping to get Iraq and Afghanistan veterans involved as well,” Blackley said.
According to Team RWB’s website, “the nonprofit has grown to include 85,000 members in 180 chapters around the country.”
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.