Camaraderie and a shared sense of purpose are the things veterans often say they miss most about serving. Two organizations, Team RWB and Team Rubicon, have recreated that for veterans by providing opportunities to do challenging work in supportive groups, but the two organizations are going about it in very different ways.
“When we push ourselves together, we build resilience and relationships,” said Bana Miller, Team RWB’s chief marketing officer. “Service members learn this during their time in the military and, without it in their daily lives, they feel less purposeful, less healthy and more isolated. The military has really cracked the code on overcoming isolation and Team RWB offers all our members a chance to apply those lessons to everyday life.”
Team RWB, which stands for Red, White and Blue, is a nonprofit veterans service organization that was founded in 2010 to support struggling and transitioning service members by connecting them to their communities through physical activity, Miller said. Veterans, their family members and supportive civilians can join one of the 200 local chapters for free, and then meet up with like-minded people to engage in other sports and physical activities. Participants join at every fitness level and with a wide range of goals. For some, their goal is simply to make friends, for others it’s to find something similar to what they experienced serving.
“It is much harder to do hard things alone,” Miller said. “On active duty, service members never have to, but afterward veterans often do. This is the first hard thing veterans face during the transition to civilian life.”
Team Rubicon meets the same need for community and purpose, but does so in an entirely different way. The group mobilizes veterans to use their skills to help people prepare, respond, and recover from disasters and humanitarian crises, said Marc DeNofio, the public relations and social media manager for the organization. Team Rubicon volunteers — who include veterans, military family members, first responders, and civilians — travel around the world as a volunteer disaster relief force. DeNofio said they even have a few service dogs in their volunteer ranks.
Though both groups represent a departure from how previous generations of veterans congregated, these organizations are not just for Millennials and Gen X’ers. Older veterans from previous generations of service are active participants too. Miller said Team RWB has members from every generation and representing every conflict since WWII.
DeNofio said the same is true for Team Rubicon. “We have Vietnam-era veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, Gulf War veterans and veterans who served during peacetime. There is a great blend of generations on our operations. The common purpose and mission of helping others is one that definitely resonates across all these generations.”
With 200 chapters nationwide, someone interested in joining Team RWB can likely find a chapter near them to join the more than 200,000 existing members. There are no membership fees, Miller said, and those interested in learning more can go to TeamRWB.org and sign up. They’ll be connected to the nearest chapter and immediately plugged into a local network. Also, membership is open to the veteran’s family members as well as to supportive civilians.
“Team RWB gives me motivation to get out and get moving with the bonus of building relationships with fellow veterans in my community who I might not ever meet otherwise,” said Matt Bailey, captain for Team RWB’s New Orleans chapter.
Team Rubicon does not have a local chapter system, but operates from the national level with territorial teams that can respond to disasters across the country and on a local level. To join the more than 100,000 volunteers already in the network, people can sign up online at TeamRubiconUSA.org. There are no membership dues, but volunteers do undergo an application process which includes an orientation to the work Team Rubicon does, some basic courses to understand disaster operations and a background check. If a volunteer is called on to respond to a crisis that is not near his or her hometown, Team Rubicon will cover expenses for travel, lodging and most meals. And, of course, volunteers are not obligated to respond to every crisis. They can opt in or opt out as their schedules and obligations permit.
“I’ve been with Team Rubicon for seven years,” said Navy veteran Donna Burdett. “After getting out of the military, I was missing my mission and purpose in life. Team Rubicon gives you three things when you leave the service: a mission, a purpose and a sense of community.”